I've just returned from theResearch Foundation's Annual Invitational in Palm Springs, Calif., where a huge ballroom-full of some of the biggest names in the business struggled over the future of the incentive industry. You could feel the collective angst in the room during the two roundtable discussions.
Most in the group felt this industry is suffering from recent perception problems because there's never been a unified voice promoting the value of incentives. Representatives from the group had contacted all the major incentive firms looking for corporate CEOs like Texas Roadhouse's G.J. Hart (recently seen on CNBC extolling the virtues of his 2.5 million incentive trip for his restaurant owners) who would be willing to speak out on the value of their programs. None of their clients was willing — not a single CEO!
“We can't be ashamed of what we do,” cried out one incentive house member of my roundtable discussion. Ironically, when I approached her later, she was unable to speak on the record. And therein lies the problem.
So what does all this mean for the group travel incentive program as we know it? For one, the group agreed that companies will need solid metrics — tracking revenue, orders booked, units sold — to prove there was a spike as a result of the program. There'll be no more “it pays for itself by generating incremental revenue.”
Also, adding meetings to an incentive event for the sake of adding meetings is not enough. Companies now realize they have their brightest and boldest in the room and are tapping them for real action plans.
The group also agreed that adding corporate social responsibility events to an incentive trip as a way of justifying it doesn't ring true. If companies have a culture that embraces, great. If not, this could be a trend that will soon fade.
This month's cover story is a collection of some of the brightest names in the industry — 20 people who are leaders in, green/CSR efforts, and in their work to elevate our profession. Craig Ardis, director of event management at Zimmer Inc. — one of our 2009 winners — embodies the spirit of a Changemaker: When Zimmer canceled a program in California last year, the company decided that rather than pay hefty cancellation fees, it would donate the rooms to a nonprofit organization that could use them to reward volunteers. As a result of the donation, Zimmer has enhanced its relations with the community. Meet Ardis and our other Changemakers, starting on page 20.
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See our newly updated section on Incentives and Motivation, on our Web site.