SITE held its first webinar of 2022 on Friday, with experts from across the incentive travel industry joining moderator Jennifer Attersall, Director of Incentive Travel for Destination Canada, in a 45-minute conversation.
Here are just some highlights from the conversation with Anne DiGregory, Vice President of Global Sales for Auberge Resorts Collection; Patty Karsten, Vice President of Industry Relations & Event Solutions for BI WORLDWIDE; and Ellie MacPherson, Senior Vice President of Customer Experience & Insights Canada for Creative Group, Inc.
Being kinder and gentler, but also more direct
Patty Karsten and Anne DiGregory both commented on a reset in the relationship between clients and suppliers. They agreed this reset has, in many cases, encouraged "kinder and gentler" ways of working.
The panelists also agreed everyone is better served by asking direct questions — especially about staffing levels, what’s realistic to expect, and supplementary program options if service levels haven’t rebounded yet.
Time to be upfront and honest
Ellie MacPherson noted that she sees more time being spent consulting clients on industry changes — the rebuilding we're doing and how circumstances have changed. She emphasizes for clients how past crises were not as long-lasting and didn't do as much long-lasting damage, as hallmarks of these honest conversations.
Ellie also shared a couple of examples on how the realities of surging demand are requiring creative new approaches to navigating the market — giving examples of recent upfront conversations she’s had about exploring different travel times for more potential flexibility during the week versus over a weekend, and communicating upfront with chefs about meeting client expectations around food & beverage offerings even as soaring costs challenge budgets.
Clients, especially in the US, were staying closer to home – but that could change soon
When asked why clients are staying closer, Patty Karsten chalked it up to a mix of changing entry requirements, reluctance to be away from family, and more interest overall in playing it cautious. But the desire to venture further is there, she says, and conversations are happening — especially with the US lifting its testing entry requirements.
Understanding the real rewards of incentive travel
Goals driving the use of incentive travel are focused on encouraging retention, attraction, and loyalty, said Ellie MacPherson. Clients understand that meaningful networking between qualifiers and senior leadership will drive behavior and reinforce culture. Ellie also noted that clients have seen how incentive travel can bring connections back more quickly and more deeply, post-pandemic.
Patty Karsten also mentioned incentive travel is featuring at the forefront of conversations around attraction, retention, and treatment by a company — also reflected in digital sources like Glassdoor reviews.
Where incentive travel might go next
Ellie MacPherson referenced recent data she’d seen that suggests young people are interested in hybrid work models — with a desire to spend time in the office for mentorship and career development purposes. This is not only encouraging for industry teams looking for up-and-coming talent, Ellie pointed out, but also might offer new avenues for incentive travel to provide those same kinds of opportunities and perks.
Patty Karsten rounded out our webinar data by sharing that inspired employees refer family and friends to a company 44 percent more often. Certainly, a well-designed incentive program provides the perfect anecdote to open up a conversation.
The final trend is that there are no trends
As Patty Karsten put it, there really are NO trends these days. Internal and external conversations, demands, pressures, and successes look different for everyone and every destination right now.
Anne DiGregory also drove this home when posing questions around staffing. Suppliers are wrestling with decisions about whether current socio-political conditions and spiking client demand suggests the need to staff up, or if they should manage with current resources in case conditions turn again.