* TRENDS Custom Incentives: Choose Your Own Award Let them choose their own rewards. If there was a single resounding message from two recent American Express Incentive Services surveys, this was it.

When asked what type of non-cash reward worth $1,000 would motivate them, 40 percent of respondents picked a trip to a destination of their choice. Then, when asked if they preferred a group trip over an individual one, a full 88 percent opted for the latter. Only 10 percent indicated any interest in traveling with co-workers.

"These results have profound insights for the incentive industry," says Darryl Hutson, CEO of AEIS. "It doesn't mean that individual incentives will erode group travel, but that there's a lot of built-up demand for it."

Also, adds Hutson, "Many employers think they're doing a favor planning these trips from A to Z--and they're not."

These findings are right in line with another survey AEIS did earlier this year, where 63 percent of respondents said their loyalty would increase if their employers offered ongoing incentive programs that allowed them to choose awards that were personally relevant. Half also said that a personalized incentive program would be an important factor when making a decision to join a company.

The surveys of 1,010 working Americans were conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide for AEIS.

Online Training a Plus, Says Survey More and more companies view the Internet as a means of boosting productivity, especially through distance learning. So says a recent survey commissioned by MCI WorldCom Conferencing.

The survey shows that 52 percent of the companies surveyed view the Internet as a central part of their daily business practices, while 35 percent make it available to employees and encourage its use. A full 40 percent had used the Internet to deliver training to employees in remote locations, which was viewed as a major plus by respondents. A majority of 61 percent said it reduces travel, and in an obviously related finding, 68 percent said it reduces travel costs.

MCI WorldCom Conferencing surveyed 300 business professionals in U.S. companies.

Imagine your group partying at its own private mansion in Acapulco, only to be invaded by a group of Mexican Navy SEALS (toting champagne bottles instead of weapons), then later "dive-bombed" by ultralight aircraft shooting...rose petals! "Experience designer" Greg Patrick of Houston-based Tours of Enchantment specializes in staging just these kinds of antics for corporate groups.

The above experience (for a Fortune 500 oil company) didn't end there. When guests repaired to their rooms at the mansion (which is owned by a movie director whose identity Patrick couldn't reveal), their paths were lit by 3-foot-high candles leading to private baths stocked with chocolates and individual CD players wafting romantic music.

What does it cost for a Patrickdesigned experience? Anywhere from $2,000 per guest into the five figures.

New Corporate U BI, a leader in the performance improvement consulting industry, has launched its own corporate university, modeled after those it has designed for its clients. BI will offer more than 200 courses to both its "associates" and its customers, in areas ranging from professional development to PC training to marketing and measurement. Several courses focus on incentive and reward systems, while there are also some basic courses on meeting planning (such as "site inspections" and "meeting icebreakers").

Some courses are offered regularly at both the main campus in Minneapolis and in Eden Valley, Minn., others on demand, and several online.

The goal of BI's corporate university is twofold: to build its 1,400 employees' knowledge and skills and to create a model for customers who want BI to develop a corporate U for them.

3COM As one of Silicon Valley's elite high-tech firms, 3Com pioneered Internet hardware for offices and homes. Its engineers are some of the most sought after on the planet.

Stephen Meyer, 3Com's director of training and organizational development, says these highly educated, well-paid engineers look more for challenge and meaning in their jobs than for material forms of compensation. So 3Com differentiates itself from its competitors by creating a corporate culture that attracts employees who rank satisfaction and passion above salary and pension.

"The old way of looking at the world as a machine managed by a hierarchy doesn't work in a high-tech environment--it's far too complex," he says. "Our philosophy is to trust the intelligence of the people doing the work."

The work environment is the greatest incentive, says Meyer. All employees have offices, but they also all have wired-in laptop computers to work from home. "As for rewards," says Meyer, "we think they imply that people are motivated externally, and that's the sort of environment we don't want."

Incentives Work, Says New Marketing Campaign In the most significant promotional campaign ever launched in the $23 billion incentive industry, the Incentive Federation plans to illustrate the value of incentives to U.S. companies--three quarters of which do not use incentives.

As part of the 15-month campaign, titled "Breaking Down Barriers," the umbrella group of incentive industry suppliers and organizations will commission research, launch an advertising and public relations campaign, and participate in trade shows in related industries, such as marketing and human resources. Also brand new is a Web site (www.incentivecentral.org), with information and articles for potential users.

"I've been around a long time, and this is the most important incentive industry initiative ever," said Bob Vitagliano, executive vice president of the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives (an Incentive Federation member), at a press conference at the IT&ME Show in September. "We know that incentives work. Now we need to get potential customers to understand that."

As part of that initiative, the Incentive Federation released information from a just-completed survey of 2,000 companies, which showed that a 21.2 percent increase in sales from incentive programs was achieved by 88.3 percent of the companies that had used them.

Why aren't more companies using this business tool? According to Howard Henry, executive director of the Incentive Federation, the key obstacles identified in focus group research done by his organization in June were "fairness to all," "cost," and "the ability to measure results" of the programs.

All can be overcome by education, he says. "Companies simply need more information on the costs of these programs, how to set goals, how to administer them, and how to measure their return."

* CP to rebrand--After purchasing Delta Hotels and Resorts last spring and Princess Hotels last summer, Toronto-based Canadian Pacific Hotels will combine forces with Fairmont Hotel Management, which manages six properties with the Fairmont name (including those in San Francisco, New Orleans, and Chicago), as well as The Plaza in New York City. Six Canadian Pacific hotels will be moved to the Delta brand (The Prince Edward, The Lodge at Kananaskis, Hotel Halifax, Hotel Toronto East, Calgary Airport Hotel, and Hotel Beausejour), while the remainder--those with a more upscale profile--will become Fairmonts. The 35 hotels in the new Fairmont collection will include such landmark properties as Le Chateau Frontenac, Banff Springs, Hotel Vancouver, and the Southampton Princess.

* New Marriott sales strategy--Marriott is turning the old sales landscape upside down by re-allocating salespeople to cut down on the current duplication of effort, where customers work with both national sales reps and those from meeting properties. The plan is to have more salespeople working in regional, local, and even home offices countrywide. Buyers will be able to book a meeting through an account exec., on the Internet, or through an Event Booking Center (for small programs), and information on Marriott's 1,800 hotels will be available online to salespeople. Finally, at the individual hotels, meetings will be in the hands of "event managers," who are part convention services manager and part salesperson.

* New Hyatt concierge service--Hyatt Hotels Corp. is taking some of the headache out of meeting planning by hiring 60 meeting concierges for its major U.S. properties. The new concierges will be available to assist companies with meeting preparation and any on-site meeting needs.

New Trade Show for Meetings in Latin America The first-ever Meetings and Incentive Travel Market (MITM)-Latin America, a trade show for companies and organizations interested in bringing their meetings and incentives to Latin America, will take place in Guadalajara, Mexico, January 14 to 17. The market will bring together more than 150 suppliers from the region with buyers for individual 15-minute appointments, and feature a full day of seminars on subjects such as how to put together an RFP for a Latin American program and risk management in Latin America.

Optional post-show tours will visit regional destinations including Puerto Vallarta and Oaxaca. The show's $350 rate for qualified buyers includes transportation on American Airlines, hotel accommodations, and meals.

MITM-Latin America is being sponsored by GSAR Marketing, American Airlines, World Incentive Nexus, Meeting Professionals International, and Adams Business Media. For information, contact Jim Skiba, CMP, World Incentive Nexus, (415) 626-1784; fax (415) 626-1445, jim@worldincentivenexus.com; or Carol Krugman, CMP, CMM, (954) 796-0606, fax (954) 796-4111, krugman @krugman.com. Details are also available at www.worldincentivenexus.com.

* During a site inspection, the CVB sales rep not only treats you to a lovely dinner, but also presents you with two Waterford goblets. Is it ethical to accept such pricey gifts? That was one of the dilemmas raised on the Meeting Matters MIMList, a new listserv for meeting organizers sponsored by the Meetings Industry Mall and Cardinal Communications. Industry veteran Joan Eisenstodt is the listserv's moderator. To sign up, visit www.mim.com/mim list.

* Attendees who registered early for Web Attack, an Internet marketing conference, got more than a seat at the meeting--they also earned points toward a seat in the air. ClickMiles@Work, launched by the San Franciscobased company Netcentives, allows companies to award ClickMiles-- redeemable for airline frequent flier miles on eight carriers--to their employees, customers, or partners over corporate intranets, extranets, or the Internet. For more information, contact Netcentives at (415) 538-1888 or partners@netcentives.com.

* Convincing attendees to fill out your meeting evaluation forms is always a chore, but MHA Communications, Highland Park, Ill., has created a survey incentive that's hard to resist. Attendees receive a phone card that is activated if they respond to a prerecorded survey. The cost of a typical program is about $6 per card and includes about six survey questions; tabulated results from MHA on a daily or weekly basis; and, of course, the cards themselves. Minimum order is 1,000 cards. For more information, contact MHA at (847) 831-5091.

Keep Your Meeting "Orderly" When it comes to keeping meetings on track, Robert's Rules of Order are an institution. A newly released version of the old standard, Robert's Rules of Order: Simplified and Applied (1999, Macmillan) includes tips for keeping informal staff meetings moving. Among them: * Try to minimize the number of attendees. * Include time, place, start and end times, and agenda in the call of the meeting. * Answer this question: Do I really want the ideas of others, or do I just want to tell them what to do? If you really want input, refrain from passing judgment on what is said and allow everyone to speak. * Don't allow one person to dominate.