CIM: What are the key findings of the latest SITE Index? Pádraic Gilligan: This year’s Index – now known as the Incentive Travel Industry Index (ITII) - is a joint undertaking with Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) and Financial & Insurance Conference Professionals (FICP), attracting input from over 1,000 incentive travel professionals in 81 countries. Key findings are: Incentive travel continues to grow; per person spend is stable at 4,000 euros. Optimism and resilience are very high. There’s a strong increase in focus on relationship building between qualifier and management as key outcome of event. Wellness is front and centre as a programme inclusion. Amongst buyers, third parties/agencies take the lead in innovative programme design. CSR initiatives more important for European incentive professionals than North American.
What does the rise of large volume Chinese incentive groups mean for the European industry?
The clear majority of programmes stay within their own region. Thus, large volume Chinese incentives tend to remain in Asia with Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and lately, Australia, as the main destinations used. Some high profile mega-groups travel further afield to Dubai, for example, Paris and Southern France. This is surely set to continue as Chinese companies seek to match the qualifiers’ aspirations with high profile destination brands. The size of these programmes means they have a different look and feel to the high touch intimacy of an event for 50 qualifiers! In addition, cultural and culinary preferences impact programme design with guests requiring Chinese food throughout and cultural visits more akin to leisure groups.
How do you attract more industry players to become a member of the SITE European chapters?
SITE has a long legacy in Europe with strong chapters in many countries. The SITE + MPI Global Forum, which took place in Rome in January, was the biggest SITE conference ever staged outside of the US. These days SITE has taken on a decidedly “European” physiognomy with the Italian President Annamaria Ruffini, the Belgian CEO Didier Scaillet and the Irish Chief Marketing Officer, myself, amongst the volunteer and executive leadership. So, accusations of being US-centric are exaggerated! For 2019, we’re launching Incentive Summit Europe (ISE), the EU edition of the successful Incentive Summit Americas. Like ISA, ISE will be a late winter event, bringing professionals to a boutique, intimate education and networking event at a ski destination to be announced. SITE exhibits at both IBTM World, and at IMEX Frankfurt, staging SITE NITE Europe on the Monday before the opening of the IMEX show. A lively event with over 400 attendees, SITE NITE bears witness to SITE as a dynamic association with deep roots in Europe.
You have observed a slight drop in charity elements. What could be done to make CSR more appealing to qualifiers?
While overall figures for the impact and inclusion of CSR in incentive travel programmes are lower than last year, the 24-month scenario and regional story are quite different. Comparing the two years 2015/16 with 2017/18, CSR is up 2 points across all regions. While South America shows a net decline, numbers are up significantly in Europe (from 38 to 43 per cent) and dramatically up in Asia (17 to 38 per cent). Across all regions, CSR and sustainability are second only to the national economy in terms of impact on planning and implementation of incentive travel programmes. That said, the de-prioritization of CSR inclusions in programmes – it’s now listed in 5th position – and attendant increase in wellness (2nd), might indicate a switch from altruism to egocentricity. However, as I’m not a social psychologist, I cannot really comment on that!
During a presentation of the Index, an agency panellist expressed his reservations of CSR stating, in his opinion, it was an inclusion required by the corporate sponsor and encouraged by the planner but not really bought into by the qualifier, his viewpoint being ‘I worked hard to earn this trip, now I want my own ROI!’
In the past, we may have been guilty of CSR tokenism and this brings benefits to no one. CSR activities in incentive travel should be optional for qualifiers but they should be thoroughly engaging and meaningful because when they are qualifiers will opt in. When properly implemented – and there are some wonderful examples from South Africa in particular – CSR activities can be truly transformational for both qualifiers and their sponsoring companies.