BOB VITAGLIANO, CITE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT OF SITE SINCE 1993, began his travel incentive career as a corporate buyer for SCM Corp. in New York City. He moved to the supplier side of incentive travel in 1981 at Dittmanin New York, and then held positions at several destination management companies, including McNabb & Associates in New York and Destination Dimensions in California. Before assuming the management reins at SITE, he was western regional manager for Dittman. Vitagliano is the only executive vice president at SITE to hold the joint title of chief executive officer. We interviewed him recently in his New York office.
How do you see incentives evolving over the next 25 years? What do you think will be some of the greatest changes?
Vitagliano: I believe there are going to be many more options. The average program for a group of, say, 200 people, was to take them somewhere and plan every minute of their time, and everybody loved it. But there was nothing really personalized about it.
Today, people want to have things done their way. So on a trip to New York, everybody won't have to see "Ragtime" on Tuesday night. More likely, they'll be able to see that, or see the Yankees play, or eat at a fine restaurant--or practically anything else that suits their fancy. That's a somewhat subtle change, but I think it's a big indicator of what's down the road. Similarly, there will also be more individual travel.
I also think there will be more "off-the-shelf" programs for individual incentives. So once you've developed a shelf of programs, people will be able to choose from them. And if they want to go to New York, you can give them 10 or 20 things to do there.
Q: Do you think the destinations that companies choose for their programs will change? What about the ways people travel?
A: Destinations are constantly changing. We're looking at Vietnam now, Eastern Europe--many places that weren't available in the past. Twenty-five years from now, maybe we'll go to the moon! If it's possible to get there, I think people will want to do it.
We're going to see much faster transportation, and that's going to make more of the world available to us. Today if you try to sell someone in New York on taking an incentive program to Australia, Asia, or New Zealand, the biggest objection is that they can't put people on a plane for that many hours. Well, it won't be that many hours. But the length of trips, which now averages about four days, will stay that way, because people are taking shorter vacations.
Q: How will technology shape the planning and implementation of incentive programs in the future?
A: Much of the communication that currently exists, if not all, is going to happen on the Internet, through e-mail and other avenues. Yesterday, we'd print a four-color brochure for an incentive program, and we'd send videos to people's homes. Then throughout the program we'd mail promotional pieces. I think all of that's going to disappear in favor of Internet communication. If we can see the video on our computer, why send one? Perhaps the only thing that's slowing it up now is accessibility. At SITE, for example, only about half of our members have e-mail. Down the road, it's going to be as common as TV.
A lot of properties have very good CD-ROMs and Web sites today, but they're still a long way from the actual experience. Some people say that in the future, we'll be using virtual reality to give people a real feel for a place--not only to motivate participants in the program, but also for meeting executives. It might not be necessary to fly around the world to do a site inspection.
Q: Do you envision continued growth in incentive areas other than the traditional group sales-oriented incentive, such as individual and nonsales incentives?
A: I think there will be fewer large-group incentive programs as individual incentives grow. In fact, already the numbers are down considerably from what they were 15 years ago. I don't think group travel will ever disappear entirely, but I think groups will get smaller.
There will always be a place for group incentives because companies have to find ways to bring employees together to create a sense of camaraderie. Today, many people work out of a virtual office or on site at the customer's business, and they don't develop the ties that happen when you go to an office every day and get friendly with your co-workers. Now employees may only set foot in the office once every three months--and without a way to develop a sense of loyalty, companies are going to lose their best people to the next guy who comes along with a bigger paycheck.
I think we're going to see more applications for incentive travel. We're already seeing that with the growth of nonsales incentives, and I think people will undergo the mind-change to take incentives into every aspect of business.
For example, some companies are already using incentives to recruit and retain employees. In the high-tech industries, where there's a real shortage of talent, corporations are offering travel incentives to employees who recruit other good people. They're also offering points for staying on the job, which can be redeemed for travel.
As we've emerged from a manufacturing to a service society, we've realized that it's not just about sales, but also about providing quality service and products. And we've realized the sale is made not only by the salesman--it's a team effort. The person who writes the proposal or who expedites the order is also involved in the sale.
So although the rules and structure of incentives will probably stay pretty much the same, the objectives are going to change as more companies understand that they can motivate virtually anyone. For example, a company with an absenteeism problem may reward employees who never miss a day of work, or who decrease their absentee rate.
What it takes to qualify could also change. Programs are being designed to get people to do things that influence the bottom line. These may reward people not for the sale, but for getting the product qualified, for example. I've also seen programs aimed at developing good sales habits--for example, to get salespeople to make more cold calls, if that's what it takes to sell the product.
Q: How will SITE's role evolve in the future?
A: The key is to build more awareness. That's probably been the greatest failure of the industry overall. We haven't gone into corporations and said, "Do you realize you can accomplish this and that with incentives?"
The Incentive Federation Study issued last October said that about 76 percent of American corporations use no incentives other than cash. The vast majority of those companies aren't using other kinds of incentives because nobody has penetrated them and said, "Let me tell you about a fantastic business tool that you may not have realized exists."
I think that this is SITE's future: We have to get to those companies, educate their decision-makers, and explain to them that an incentive is not a boondoggle or a bribe. It's a form of motivation, and companies need to motivate their people for a variety of reasons. Employees don't stay in their jobs out of fear anymore.