As the 2021 SITE Foundation President, I had the distinct pleasure of leading a very committed Foundation Board of Trustees and working daily with excellent SITE staff. We continued to support the industry through scholarships, grants, and research projects with the help of our great SITE Foundation sponsors.
Today, I wanted to focus on SITE Foundation’s research activities. After putting the Incentive Travel Industry Index on a one-year hiatus due to forced inactivity in the incentive travel market, we concentrated our 2021 efforts on new research, the inSITEs series.
This series currently consists of three multi-faceted studies that provide useful insights for all parts of the incentive travel industry.
What better place to study the effects of COVID-19 than the root of our industry: corporate end users of incentive travel. In April 2021, we went directly to more than 80 corporate buyers and planners to gauge the effects of COVID-19 and their firms’ reactions to this unexpected and devastating pandemic. Results were shared via:
- A downloadable white paper
- SITE Night All Night
- SITE Chapters during education days and other touchpoints
The first iteration of Corporate inSITEs gave all segments of our industry an understanding of how those who fund and operate incentive travel programs were dealing with COVID-19. Insights included:
- The use of virtual programming as a temporary stopgap tool
- An overwhelming commitment to resume incentive travel programs at the first opportunity
- Confirmation that senior managers recognize and support incentive travel as an invaluable business tool
- The value of industry partnerships, as we all did the Force Majeure dance
- Unique ways corporate respondents were adjusting rules and content in preparation for a post-pandemic return to incentive travel
Our second round of Corporate inSITEs, with an identical audience and set of questions, allowed us to look for new trends and changes several months later.
The Delta variant prompted slightly less optimistic views compared to April — but optimism overall remained strong. The data was shared similarly to our April results, and was also the basis of a great panel discussion during Smart Monday at IMEX America in November 2021.
In my mind, the greatest value of Corporate inSITEs is its ability to make that light at the end of the tunnel shine bright, especially when the entire industry needed reassurance that the pandemic delivered a significant body blow — but was not a knockout punch.
Corporate end users remain strong incentive travel advocates, and it was clear that once the pandemic was behind us, we’d bounce back.
A third round of Corporate inSITEs surveys are wrapping up now in spring 2022, with results due out shortly to confirm whether this bounce-back is indeed underway.
For our second inSITEs research phase, we partnered with the Southern Methodist University (SMU) Cox School of Business. To gather further insight into corporate leaders’ support for incentive travel post-pandemic, we conducted interviews with approximately 40 C-Suite and director-level users of incentive travel. This work will be presented in Leadership inSITEs.
Early results confirm that incentive travel remains the strongest single motivator amongst incentive products, enhancing corporate efforts to:
- Recognize personnel
- Drive desired behaviors (e.g., sales, safety, growth)
- Gain market share, especially in dealer-based businesses
- Target specific products for a sales push
- Retain employees and increase loyalty
- Build culture
Not surprisingly, leaders also shared that incentive travel’s soft benefits far outweigh the use of cash or gift cards.
Participant inSITEs (results tentatively debuting fall 2022)
SITE Foundation is just now launching our third inSITEs series, Participant inSITEs. A select group of program participants will be surveyed about their incentive travel experiences. This research will be of great value to anyone planning incentive travel programs.
With much to be proud of and more still to come, we would like to thank all of our SITE Foundation sponsors: without you, this research would not exist. Our thanks extend to individuals within SITE who have donated personally, Chapters that have provided funds, and to all of our strategic sponsors.