As I write this from AIME (the premier conference for Asia-Pacific meeting planners held each year in Melbourne), a major news story on Australian TV is about ANZ, one of the country’s top banks. In the same week it slashed 1,000 jobs and raised interest rates independently from the country’s Reserve Bank, the media got hold of the promotion for the company’s upcoming incentive program and broadcast the details across the country: For the $1.2 million program on the Silver Shadow cruise in early March, employees will be able to take a guest and will even have their own butlers. Some newspapers went so far as to detail all the amenities available on board: champagne on arrival, marbled bathrooms, choice of nine pillow types.

At first, the bank stood by its decision, citing that this is how it rewards its younger employees. But by day eight, a spokesperson announced that it would review future programs “and make them more modest.”

The general public here is furious. After all, this is the bank whose logo is, “We live in your world.” Incentive trips are not in their world.

And this is the problem.

There was no response from any of the Australian meetings media or industry associations, and AIME chose not to make a statement. As long as the incentive industry focuses primarily on incentive delivery and not strategy and advocacy, this story will repeat itself again and again.

If we don’t take these opportunities to tell the other side of the incentive travel story—to educate the public and the consumer media about travel as motivation and as a business tool—perceptions about incentive travel will remain one-sided. Add to that the threat that the repercussions from one of these media frenzies could turn into another AIG and it’s time for the international incentive travel industry to come together and put something in place … fast.

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