SITE leaders share insights into trends shaping the incentive travel industry.

Even as budgets grow, what are Buyers doing to manage costs?

Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Director, Sool Nua and SITE Foundation Vice President of Content & Research: A headline from this year’s SITE Index was definitely the dramatic increase in per person investment for incentives, with overall average increases from $3,000 per person in 2016 to $4,000 per person in 2017. The figure is even more dramatic for the corporate sector, with a year over year increase of $1,900 per person.

However, the survey results also clearly demonstate that Buyers are focused on cost containment and intent on extrapolating maximum value from every dollar invested. For corporate buyers, this has led primarily to the selection of less expensive destinations as well as less expensive amenities. Even with the more intense focus on budgets, the average length of stay increased both for programs with any travel time and for programs requiring more than three hours of travel time. This may indicate a trend towards more elite programs with fewer qualifiers given even more extraordinary experiences for their exceptional performance.

Bonnie Boisner, Vice President Event Management, One10 and a SITE Foundation Trustee: Room rates are up and it’s clearly a seller’s market. Air has been going up based on seasonality and demand, even in markets that have good lift. Some clients have been reducing their attendee numbers or other program content to make up for these increases. Examples of this include more time at leisure or less production of Awards Dinners/Galas. Wellness is a continued theme. We have seen a decline in golf and very rarely will we do any kind of organized golf tournament- or even best ball. Spa continues to be very important and with an increasing younger demographic we are seeing an increase in high adventure sports like zip lining and mountain biking.

What are Buyers and Sellers doing to add more creativity and greater value?

Rajeev Kohli, Joint Managing Director, Creative Travel Pvt. Ltd. and SITE President 2017: Buyers and Sellers can no longer have a one-size-fits-all mentality. With over four generations of people in the workplace, each generation is a set of individuals with varying interests. Planners need to spend time researching participants to understand what they are interested in, what will motivate them and what will connect them in a very personal way. It might be an understanding of their preferences in destinations, what kinds of food and beverage they like, what activities they enjoy and even the selection of room gifts and amenities. Then we can begin to ensure that what we design delivers on the personal aspect of the business.

Aoife Delaney, Director, Marketing and Sales, DMC Network and a SITE Board Member: Participants are craving for new and truly authentic experiences, with less of a focus exclusively on the luxurious, the opulent, and the elaborate; and more of a spotlight on the local experience. A destination that can customise an event in a way that only a local expert can, that is the connection into the very fabric of that destination, is invaluable. To that end, there are some really fun things being offered to clients right now that are definitely trending! We’re increasing our use of non-traditional meeting spaces in our programs. ”Pop-up” event spaces created exclusively for our clients are an offering that is becoming increasingly popular. We also are using live tech more and more – gauging the client’s reactions to the experiences in real time and adjusting our program on the spot is something that I’m really enjoying in particular- it’s exciting to see the innovative ways we can update a program throughout the day based on how our guest’s are enjoying the opportunities we are putting in front of them.

Philip Eidsvold, Director, Client Services, One10 and SITE President-elect 2019: Personalization and customization of individual itineraries is definitely trending. Participants are asking for a lot more free time and building your own day at leisure with local staff is big right now. During event registration process, we are asking questions on food and beverage preferences so that amenities are customized with attendees’ favorites- and can also use those preferences to help guide the group menu planning process. Clients are offering more personalized gifts such as boutiques where people can select their own gift or amenity basket and customized gifts, such as a monogrammed suitcase or tote bag that can be sent to winners in advance of the incentive travel program. Also, many more clients are looking for creative approaches to “Give Back” that have local impact, instead of traditional CSR programs such as “Build a Bike”.

What are the primary influences on destination consideration and choice?

Pádraic Gilligan: New to this year’s SITE Index survey were questions about what influences destination selection. Survey respondents ranked seven criteria for selecting one destination over another for incentive travel programs and destination appeal topped the list. For corporate buyers, overall safety and destination infrastructure ranked second and third, whereas access from participants’ city or origin -a key criteria when selecting a destination for a meeting or conference – came in at fifth place. Clearly destinations seeking to grow their market share in the lucrative incentive sector must tell a convincing story around desirability and appeal.

When it comes to learning about a destination, a large majority of buyers believe that familiarization trips are most effective. If a client commits time to visit your property or destination then it’s serious business and you need to take it super-seriously. Site inspections are a statement of earnest intent – they mean that your property or destination has made it past several filters and is in real contention to win the business. It’s now up to you to wow the client and convince him or her that you offer the best solution for their meeting or incentive.

Rajeev Kohli: Today’s incentive customers are seeking new or ‘reinvented’ destinations that provide unique, authentic and memorable experiences. Even if a program returns every year to the same destination, local suppliers need to think outside of the box and design an event that is unique and memorable, one that makes participants feel special. It is essential to start afresh on each project beginning with a strong understanding of the target audience and business objectives. It is easy for a destination to fall in love with its own story and lose sight of what the customer really wants. Just because you think you have great scenery, food or history does not mean others see it the same way. It is a very competitive market and many destination-marketing messages sound the same. It is important to understand that different source markets require customized messaging. What sells to the Americans may not be relevant to the Germans or the Chinese. Destinations who are able to adapt their marketing to different cultures are ones that will be most successful in attracting new business.

Paul Miller, Managing Director, Spectra DMC and SITE Past President: Today’s incentive travel participants are sophisticated and have very high expectations. To stay ahead of the competition, destinations must find more innovative ways of selling their products and services to a wider and more demanding audience. Sometimes it’s not all about what people will see when they arrive, it’s about what they will experience and the perceptions they will share when they return home.

Having been in Destination Management for over 20 years, I have seen the UK grow and evolve over the years to a vibrant and diverse country. When buyers say to me, “we’re looking at Europe as a destination but we’ve been to London before”, I am tasked with explaining how the UK has changed and describing the different venues, hotels and activities that are available. Explaining what is new isn’t always the answer to re-inventing a destination, especially one that is considered to be mature. People want to go to the “must see” places so to sell your destination it is best to describe what is different or has changed. People who sell countries, cities and regions know all too well that they have to keep re-inventing themselves to stay ahead of the competition as many new and exciting destinations enter into the ring hungry to receive quality, high-end incentive travel programmes.

Bonnie Boisner: Many of our clients are looking farther out – for some large pieces of business we are searching out to 2025. We are seeing a trend in our clients with larger programs looking much further out…especially for those that have traditionally gone to destinations that have been impacted by hurricanes this year. Our clients understand that inventory is much less in affected areas and that they need to be prepared to act quickly in order to secure preferred space and dates. We are also seeing a greater demand for new “exotic” destinations for larger groups. Generally, they want resorts in sun and fun locations, but often struggle due to lack of product in the Caribbean. New, emerging destinations are being considered and sold, such as Iceland and Croatia.

To learn more about trends and forecasts from SITE Index 2018, go to