‘On such a full sea are we now afloat’

The entry below by SITE’s Chief Marketing Officer Pádraic Gilligan originally appeared in the May issue of Conference & Meetings World.

In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare talks about “a tide in the affairs of men.” He’s referring to the swell of opportunity that presents itself at given moments of our lives.

Hesitate, you miss it and then risk the voyage of your life being bound “in shallows and miseries”:

There is a tide in the affairs of men.

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

On such a full sea are we now afloat,

And we must take the current when it serves,

Or lose our ventures.

Shakespeare’s powerful words have been twisting and turning in the windmills of my mind for the past month or so. It may be the obvious connection to our metier — voyages, journeys, fortunes and ventures — or, maybe the more tenuous reference to climate-related matters — floods, full seas — that has me thinking about sustainability and its place in the world of incentive travel professionals in a post pandemic world.

Following an unthinkable two-year hiatus, our industry is cranking back into motion, with demand stronger than ever. The problem is this demand is pressing on a frail and fragile supply chain, greatly weakened by various versions of “the great resignation.”

Many of our so called “lifers” have cut and run into the outstretched arms of gleeful ICT HR managers weaving enchanted spells of better money, better hours and free gym memberships.

Formerly well-resourced hotels and DMCs are left struggling to deliver their service standards with massively reduced staff numbers, comprised, often, of clueless new recruits — if they can get them! I witnessed it myself at a renowned five-star property in Barcelona when the only thing at breakfast that wasn’t scrambled were the eggs.

Now I fear that our worthy pandemic resolutions will simply be cast aside. If we’re struggling to attract, pay and train staff, will we have time to ‘build back better’? Or consider work/life balance? And what about the even bigger real and present danger? Climate change and all those issues that our industry categorises under the catch-all header of ‘sustainability’? How will all that play out?

There are, indeed, positive signs emerging in this regard from research. SITE Foundation’s Corporate inSITEs, Edition 3, conducted in March/April 2022 with a panel of 100 US corporations that use incentive travel, paints a very positive, robust picture of recovery.

It demonstrates unequivocally that recovery is well underway for most corporations, with US domestic meetings and incentives already up and running and international incentives not so far behind.

More telling in relation to the focus of this article, however, is the increase in the relative importance of sustainable travel — up almost 20% on April 2021 when Edition 1 of Corporate inSITEs was conducted.

Granted, sustainable travel ranks well behind concerns such as contracts, risk management, health security and data but a 20% spike on its previous ranking augurs well.

Even more encouraging are the results of preparatory work undertaken by SITE for the Dublin Manifesto, the Society’s latest treatise on the nature, purpose and direction of incentive travel.

Fourteen themes were identified across a series of workshops and put before SITE’s global community for ranking. The top three ranking themes were:

  1. Social responsibility – ethics in business, accountability, staff empowerment, fair wages, climate justice, DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion); ESG (environmental, social, governance); purposeful corporations
  2. Sustainability – macro-issues: climate change, carbon emissions, destination selection; micro-issues: programme inclusions, F&B, giving back, CSR
  3. Health and wellbeing – stress, burnout; staff shortages, migration, and loss of talent; mental health; isolation; flexible hours and working conditions; #WFH; unreasonable work practices.

While stress and burnout do rank in the top three, it’s encouraging to note that more global incentive travel professionals are concerned about social responsibility and sustainability.

On such a full sea are we now afloat, indeed. We must not waste this opportunity.

Written by

Pádraic Gilligan

Pádraic Gilligan


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