A Life-Changing Experience: From PEI to Istanbul - My Journey in the Incentive Travel Industry

by Julia O'Grady

David Riddell Scholarship Recipient

Each year, SITE Foundation proudly presents a few of its members with David Riddell Scholarships to support their Global Conference registration and attendance costs. 

Here is the original essay submission from Julia O'Grady, one of this year's recipients who will be joining us at Global Conference 2024 in Istanbul from February 26-29. 

by Julia O'Grady

The incentive travel industry has the remarkable power to transform lives. It can take ordinary individuals and thrust them into extraordinary experiences that not only change their careers but also shape them as individuals. I will recount a pivotal experience that altered the trajectory of my career and helped shape me into the person I am today. It all began with an unexpected journey to the picturesque Prince Edward Island (PEI) for the CanSPEP conference, an event that not only introduced me to what is possible but also left an indelible mark on my life.

The Turning Point: CanSPEP Conference in PEI

In the early days of my event management company, I found myself at a crossroads. The company was struggling to find its footing, and I was searching for a breakthrough. It was at this juncture that a colleague recommended I attend the CanSPEP conference in PEI, an event attended by seasoned event professionals. Little did I know that this decision would not only connect me with industry experts but also profoundly impact my life.

The PEI conference was my opportunity to be in the same room with individuals who possessed a deep understanding of the event industry. I hoped they could guide me towards the success I yearned for. However, what I experienced went far beyond my expectations.

A Feeling of Belonging

As I arrived on the picturesque island of PEI, I was enveloped by an inexplicable sense of belonging. It felt like coming home, even though I had never set foot on the island before. It wasn't just another conference; it was a transformative experience. The conference organizers had crafted engaging off-site activities designed to foster lasting relationships, and it was during these moments that I truly understood the power of incentive travel.

The Culinary Revelation

Among the many memorable experiences at the PEI conference, one stands out vividly in my memory. We were taken on buses to explore the island, with the final destination kept secret. As the buses veered off the road and onto a grassy path, curiosity filled the air. It was only when we reached a vantage point overlooking the ocean, surrounded by sand dunes, that the magic unfolded before our eyes.

A lobster dinner awaited us on the beach, an experience unlike any other. I can still recall the feeling of excitement as I took off my shoes and reveled in the sensation of warm sand beneath my feet. We enjoyed succulent lobster, captivating entertainment, and witnessed a breathtaking summer beach sunset. It was an experience that resonated with me on a profound level.

The Epiphany

That evening on the beach was a turning point. It was the moment I realized that I wanted nothing more than to recreate such magical experiences for my clients. However, my subsequent clients were not as enthusiastic about creating immersive experiences. While my business thrived in terms of revenue, my soul yearned for more meaningful and transformative event planning.

Fast forward to 2023, and my business goals have evolved. I aspire to break into the incentive travel industry, to create experiences that leave a lasting impact on participants. To achieve this, I joined SITE, the organization that would provide the resources, connections, and knowledge needed to excel in this specialized field.

The Challenge: Financial Constraints

As I delved into the world of incentive travel, I encountered a significant hurdle: financial constraints. Networking and connecting with industry leaders often requires attending events in larger cities like Toronto and New York City, a costly endeavor for my small, growing company. Our budget primarily goes toward staff salaries, operational expenses, and a modest profit margin. There simply isn't room for extensive travel for networking opportunities.

Why the David Riddell Scholarship Matters

This is where the David Riddell Scholarship becomes indispensable. Just as the CanSPEP conference was my ticket to a transformative experience in the industry, this scholarship presents an opportunity to attend the SITE Global Conference in Istanbul, a chance to be in the room with the right people, to unlock the possibilities for our clients, and to reignite the passion that drives my company.

Istanbul represents the missing piece of the puzzle, akin to the CanSPEP conference that propelled me to where I stand today. Being at the SITE Global Conference would provide invaluable experiences, connections, and insights that can help me propel my company into the incentive travel industry where we truly belong.

The incentive travel industry has the power to shape careers and lives. My journey, from the CanSPEP conference in PEI to aspiring to attend the SITE Global Conference in Istanbul, is a testament to the profound impact of such experiences. I yearn to make a difference in this industry by creating transformative events that leave lasting memories. The David Riddell Scholarship is not just a financial opportunity; it's a chance to further my growth, ignite my passion, and ultimately contribute to the industry that has already given me so much. I hope to be granted this scholarship, as it will allow me to continue the journey that began on the shores of PEI, leading me to the vibrant and dynamic world of incentive travel.

Written by

SITE Staff


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