REGIONAL INCENTIVE programs aren't the norm for most insurance and financial services companies, but mergers and consolidations — and tight meeting budgets — have caused companies such as Allmerica Financial Corp., headquartered in Worcester, Mass., to rethink some of their traditional travel incentives.

When Allmerica took over Citizens Insurance Company of America several years ago, Michael Burke, Allmerica's senior conference and travel specialist, also took over responsibility for Citizens' annual incentive meeting. Citizens, which is headquartered in Howell, Mich., used “to take this program all over the place,” Burke says. And a critical part of the incentive was that children were invited.

Allmerica wanted to keep the family program intact, but couldn't afford to fly families to far-flung locations. The solution was a drive-to, regional meeting in the Midwest, near the Citizens headquarters. The three-night, four-day program in July will be held at the Heidel House Resort in Green Lake, Wis.

“I think the attendees would rather fly to a place like Hawaii at the company's expense,” Burke says. “But they appreciate the fact that we are continuing to do the [family] program.”

For Allmerica, the regional approach to family-friendly incentives really works. Shortly after Allmerica took over the Citizens incentive, a top Allmerica executive was ready to eliminate the program because of the cost, says Burke, but before doing so, he attended the event with his children. The experience completely changed the executive's tune: “This [regional incentive program] is here to stay — we're not going to touch it,” he said to Burke after the event.

This means the family aspect of the incentive was retained as well. Burke recognized that one factor critical to the success of the program was the quality of day care provided for the attendees. When he took over the meeting management, he discovered that the previous planners had used nonprofessional day-care providers. “It was always a successful event,” Burke says, “but if something had happened, the liability would have been incredible.”

So Burke searched for a company “that did this as a business.” This means the kind of supplier, Burke notes, that has liability insurance and makes sure its staff is trained in first aid and CPR. He first retained a company out of California, and while it handled his program successfully, the company eventually went out of business. Last year he found Accent on Children's Arrangements, which is based in New Orleans.

“Everything's more professional now,” Burke says. “I can sleep a little better.”