ANNE WOLD-GRAHAM, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, EGR INTERNATIONAL, began her career in the incentive travel industry in 1968 as director of incentive travel and convention conference sales for the Irish Tourist Board, a position she held until 1974. That year, she founded her own travel incentive firm, Gallagher-Wold Inc., in New York City. She was one of the founding members of the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives (SITE) in 1973, and she was SITE's first president.
Corporate Meetings & Incentives:
What was the first incentive program you ever planned?
Wold-Graham: When I was with the Irish Tourist Board I did several huge ones in '70 and '72. One was for A.C. Spark Plug-United Delco for 700 of their dealers, distributors, and employees; the other was for Gibson Refrigerator Sales Corp. for 5,000 salespeople.
A.C. Spark Plug was a five-night program based in Dublin. Gibson was three nights in Dublin and two in Killarney. All the elements of an incentive program were there, including theme parties. Gibson had 30 back-to-back charters--each group was approximately 180 people--coming into Dublin, and a group departing from Killarney every day.
There are some funny stories about Gibson's program. The hotel in Killarney wanted us so badly they added 24 rooms in order to take the group! The fully loaded land package for five nights was $398.
In those days, people tended to tour and go with the group more than today. A trip was basically sightseeing, parties at night, and different lunches.
Q: What problems did you have then that you don't have now?
A: You didn't have instant communication then. Planning was basically letter writing and phoning. We used telex machines, and it wasn't easy to get all your information on them. There were no word processors; everything had to be typed. Some people were still handwriting airline tickets at that time. So it involved a lot more effort than today--much more talking and preplanning.
In many ways, though, it was a lot easier to do incentives. You talked directly to the decision-makers and you did everything on a handshake. It was also easier because there wasn't the heightened security.
Q: What were the trends?
A: Back in those days, I'd say that perhaps 75 percent of the total incentive business was handled by the big houses, and they were only going for big trips that volume-wise would give them a return. Of course, now the big houses have no more than 70 percent of the market. Also, incentives basically involved group charters on 707's. There wasn't the emphasis on individuals.
Q: What was the perception of incentive travel?
A: Companies thought they were getting a good return on their dollar because putting on an incentive program produced the results they wanted. That's why, in the years that followed, incentives extended beyond sales to service.
But incentives were never completely accepted as a marketing tool. So it took a little bit more selling, because there wasn't as much of a track record or enough literature. The magazines in those days barely covered incentives.
Q: How and why was SITE formed?
A: The nucleus of 10 to 15 people who formed SITE were all involved in the Incentive Travel & Meetings Exhibition (IT&ME) in Chicago. A lot of us were on the advisory committee for the show, which predates SITE by about two years. We decided that there was a great need for an association of individuals to share their knowledge, try to increase business, and educate people about the value of incentives. So SITE was founded for the purpose of education and to foster the industry. The first year, we had about 100 members.
SITE's goals are still the same, except that they're more focused. The SITE Foundation, for example, is coming up with return-on-investment tools that will measure the value of incentives to a corporation.
I was privileged to be awarded SITE's first Lifetime Achievement Award a few years ago. I stay involved in SITE because I've been in this industry for about 30 years, and I believe that with any business in which you've made your living for that length of time, you should give something back.