Eyes on new frontiers

Annette Gregg, the freshly-minted CEO of SITE (Society for Incentive Travel Excellence), endeavours to spur the incentive travel sector to greater heights. She talks about how the association plans to adapt to the changing needs of the market, and how smarter programme planning can benefit all parties

Congratulations on your appointment as CEO, Annette! How do you feel about joining SITE at this point in time?
This is such an important time for SITE, celebrating 50 years of incentive travel excellence in 2023. For half a century now, SITE has elevated the transformative power of incentive travel and motivational experiences to help move businesses forward and celebrate human achievement. I am honoured to lead this vibrant, exciting community, and craft the direction for the next 50 years.

SITE will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023, and the Global Conference in New York will be a wonderful opportunity for me to meet many SITE members in person for the first time. I’m looking forward to hearing from them about what they want from SITE going forward.

How does the current global situation shape your to-do list?
Associations with global memberships will always be affected by geo-political situations, including travel restrictions, employee visa requirements, and military conflict, to name just a few. It all affects the locations we choose for programmes, and the ability and willingness of people to travel. It is our role as the only association focused exclusively on incentive travel in our industry to inform our communities of risks and opportunities, equip them to make good decisions, and advocate for more open, safer travel.

Also key, of course, will be continuing to watch trends and patterns play out with regard to how and where people are working. The need to motivate and incentivise teams is greater than ever in an era of “quiet quitting” and challenges with retaining and recruiting top talent. The rise of remote working also elevates the importance and strategic potential of in-person gatherings – including incentive programmes.

We also need to remain mindful of the challenges the incentive industry is facing in motivating their own teams and keeping up with the strong recovery the industry has experienced this year. We are learning together about how to navigate this post-pandemic period, and I look forward to prioritising ways we can help and support our members further here, too.

What do you think SITE members are looking for in an association these days and how is SITE answering these members?
By 2025, nearly 75 per cent of the workforce will be millennials. This will be a staggering shift from a workforce made up of primarily baby boomers. We need to look at our current members and our members of tomorrow – including those already connected with us through the SITE Young Leaders programme – and make sure we are offering values that resonate with these different generations. Younger professionals want professional development for career advancement, and tools that help them plan programmes with purpose.

Beyond generational-specific needs, today’s incentive professional needs a professional community that will help them succeed in an ever-changing environment.

SITE is planning to revise its success CIS (Certified Incentive Specialist) certification to reflect today’s needs. We also remain committed to offering incredibly relevant educational content and, most importantly, continue providing and enhancing the strong sense of community SITE is known for.

How will future challenges impact incentive travel, and how is SITE helping members to tide through these challenges?
We are still facing issues related to supply chain and staffing – including flight delays and cancellations, and hotel housekeeping and service delivery.

These threaten the qualifier experience and also affect the programme planning. We are also seeing longer response times from smaller companies, which intermediaries like DMCs and tour operators rely on for fulfilment.

Incentive and event organisers are juggling these longer response times and, at the same time, are also facing shorter planning timeframes. With the threat of global recession and inflation in major markets like North America and Western Europe, planners’ budgets are getting stretched. SITE is helping members mitigate these threats through our online educational resources, as well as co-creating a solid programme with planners and suppliers at SITE Global Conference.

What are some of the other trends you see in incentive travel?
Incentive travel has an opportunity to support many of the United Nations SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), not only those related to climate change and environment. Every programme can benefit local communities where they are being held by smartly partnering with the destination and local suppliers, and including projects focused on education, environment, and promoting local industries.

This past summer, SITE’s Florida and Caribbean chapter had an event that specifically supported SDGs 4, 7, 13, 14 and 15. Memorable incentive travel showcases the unique assets of the destination, and the more we can craft programmes that tap into the authenticity of the destination, the more the destination benefits. The demand for these authentic experiences will continue as more millennials participate in these programmes. They value purpose-driven companies and programming, unique and authentic experiences, and a commitment to the community.

How important is incentive travel moving forward and why should companies choose this instead of cash rewards?
With destinations opening up after the pandemic, we’ve seen a huge increase in “revenge travel” with people making up for the experiences they lost during 2020-2021. Even with increased costs and travel delays, people are still taking trips and often combining work trip and leisure travel. This trend aligns with incentive travel, where many top performers will bring families on their trips.

The need for community is underscored even more by more employees working remotely, away from office environments. Incentive travel can be an even more powerful vehicle to bring teams together and provide truly transformational, culture-building experiences that rewards like cash or free giveaways simply cannot. Finally, the younger workforce craves experiences rather than “stuff” like cash or products, so incentive travel will be more appealing to younger top-performer participants.

How do you think the global incentive travel market will look moving forward, and where does Asia-Pacific play into all this?
I think the reason incentive travel has always survived economic downturns and remained a priority for achievement programmes is our inherent need to experience new destinations. Humans want to be together, and are drawn to explore. The incentive market will continue to lead the way in presenting new locations, unique experiences and immersive programming.

Regions in Asia-Pacific that are committed to cultural authenticity and sustainability will be attractive to newer, younger participants – many of us were excited, for instance, to see Japan relax its entry requirements, as a destination that was gaining increased interest pre-pandemic and one that has invested in research and planning tailored specifically to incentives in the interim.

But with 278 Asia-Pacific properties and assets on the UNESCO World Heritage list, the region will remain a desirable region for incentive programmes.

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