Scott Dillion has a nose for a bargain. “Why not look at a mix of hotels and destinations?” he says. “The more options you have, the better your chances of finding a special deal. In this economy, you’ll almost always find someone who is very hungry.”

It’s that mindset that has kept Patricia Brennan, meetings and events manager of BD (Becton, Dickinson and Co.), returning to SDI Meetings and Incentives, where Dillion is president, for the past 27 years. As one of BD’s key meeting planners, managing high-level executive meetings, large sales meetings, and incentive trips, she needs someone she can rely on. “Our budgets are scrutinized closely year after year, and mine has been reduced for meetings but has remained flat for sales incentive trips for four years. [Dillion] has worked diligently to find locations for me, as well as destination management companies that are going to help us with costs.

“We may not be going to the Ritz-Carlton or the Four Seasons,” she adds, “but SDI finds resorts that are wonderful.” Like the JW Marriott Costa Rica, the site of last year’s U.S. President’s Club sales incentive trip. Dillion also has been able to avoid attrition when BD had to cut a day from a program. “Scott and his team have been instrumental in creating mutual solutions.

“SDI offers so many services, but the most important is the money we save,” she adds.

Dillion, who has been involved in the industry for 35 years, offers some perspective on the fragile economy. “For the first time since 2007, we’re starting to hear that hotels are sold out,” he says. And with room rates going up, he expects groups to feel the pinch. Clients, he says, are likely to increase their budgets, “but I don’t think it will be enough to compensate for the anticipated increase in hotel rates.” 

As a result, companies will need to make the same kinds of program changes they made when rates were higher, like being more flexible about which month to hold the program, or sending fewer attendees. “There’s only so much you can cut from the program itself,” he says.

As Brennan puts it, “It’s about figuring out what we can take away from a meeting that a participant is never going to notice. I rely on SDI to come up with those ideas.”