Bang or Whimper? Y2K TOP-10 TRAVEL LIST Over the past several months Kevin Mitchell, head of the Business Travel Coalition (BTC), has been conducting focus groups with corporate travel, human resources, security, and information technology managers regarding the Y2K issue, specifically as it relates to business travel. BTC's efforts also included a survey of corporations on their Y2K-related travel plans. Among the findings:

* 88 percent of corporations have not developed Y2K-specific contract language for use with hotels or other suppliers.

* 24 percent of participants plan to ban or discourage noncritical domestic travel during the crossover.

* 44 percent of participants plan to ban or discourage noncritical international travel during the crossover.

Travel Top 10 1. Get passports, visas, and inoculations completed before December 15, 1999.

2. Due to the possibility of delays, unpredictable situations, and the potential for computer problems, all travel planning in late December and early January should incorporate greater-than-usual scheduling flexibility, particularly if travel includes connecting flights.

3. Use only paper tickets.

4. Stay abreast of travel advisories right up until departure.

5. Verify that your local contacts outside of the U.S. are fully informed of your expected arrival and expected stay in that country.

6. Make sure that essential possessions such as passports, medications, eyeglasses and contacts, and emergency telephone numbers are in your carry-on baggage.

7. Have in hand contact information (name, address, phone number) for the U.S. Embassy at your business destination, emergency assistance contact, local contact, your travel management company hotline phone number, and the travel manager's or special company hotline phone number, as well as your personal health, passport, and visa information.

8. Make a photocopy of your passport/visas, medical information, and key contact names and numbers, and keep in a separate and safe place.

9. Have extra cash and traveler's checks on hand.

10. Confirm all flight reservations by phone prior to leaving your foreign hotel to travel to your next business destination, or to return home.

Do Unto Others FIREMAN'S SERVICE SPREE During an afternoon break from their National Customer Service Managers Conference last year, 35 managers from Fireman's Fund In-surance set out in their headquarters city of Novato, Calif., to get some service. Teams were given "challenges" such as buying something at a store and trying to return it without a receipt. After each exercise, they rated the service they received.

The purpose of these exercises was to teach the customer service managers to view ordinary situations from a business perspective. Jan Schultz, senior director of corporate human resources, developed the program along with Adventure Associates of Berkeley.

The teams reconvened at a Victorian home for high tea to share the stories--the good, the bad, and the hilarious. "People are still talking about it," says Schultz.

Better yet, they're sharing it with staff members, improving service companywide. --Lauren Wiley

LIMRA Surveys BRIGHT FUTURE FOR INSURANCE Life insurance CEOs are optimistic about the future for their companies and for the industry in general, scoring 694 out of a possible 1,000 on LIMRA International's CEO Outlook Index. This third-quarter 1999 reading is up from 670 in the second quarter, when the index was first measured. The index is part of LIMRA's annual Life Insurance CEO Survey.

According to the CEO Survey, the number-one concern of chief executives in 1999 was growth. Growth topped the last survey as well, but holds on to the number-one position by an even wider margin this year. Rounding out the top five major issues: profitability, distribution, expenses, and strategic planning.

More findings: * 90 percent of CEOs say their companies' sales will be higher this year than last year while 80 percent of CEOs say their companies' profits will be higher.

* 80 percent of CEOs say banks will be strong competitors in life insurance mar- keting, but only 20 percent believe they will be a major force in underwriting.

* The one pessimistic note: Only 33 percent think the regulatory climate will be friendlier in three years than it is today.

A Case for Incentives INCENTIVE INDUSTRY 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 the business world. Three-quarters of U.S. companies do not use incentives. And even though incentive programs are de rigueur for insurance companies, there are always those who question whether they are worth their price.

As part of the 15-month effort, 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. A Web site, www.incentivecen tral.org, also was launched, with information and articles for potential incentive users.

"I've been around a long time, and this is the most important incentive industry initiative ever," said Robert Vitagliano, outgoing executive vice president of the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives, at a press conference at the Incentive Travel & Meeting Executives Show in Chicago in September. --Barbara Scofidio

What's Hot MEETINGS, LATIN AMERICA-STYLE The first-ever Meetings and Incentive Travel Market-Latin America, a trade show for companies interested in holding meetings and incentives in Latin America, will take place in Guadalajara, Mexico, January 14 to 17. The show will bring buyers together with more than 150 suppliers from the region for individual 15-minute appointments, and will feature seminars on subjects such as creating RFPs and managing risk for Latin American programs. Post-show tours will visit Puerto Vallarta and Oaxaca.

The show's $350 rate for qualified buyers includes transportation on American Airlines, hotel room, 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 or jim@worldincentivenexus.com; or Carol Krugman, CMP, CMM, (954) 796-0606 or krugman@krugman.com. Details are also available at www.worldincentivenexus.com

Reading all Formats ESPERANTO FOR E-RFPS? Event planners today can send electronic requests for proposals to hotels from any number of Internet sites. The problem, however, is that almost every site has created a different format for those RFPs. The situation can bog down hotels with translation efforts, which can mean missed opportunities for them and lagging response times for planners.

But Newmarket International, Inc., of Portsmouth, N.H., may have a solution in a new service called Meetingbro- ker.com. The service can translate any electronic RFP format into a standard format and integrate the information into a hotel's Delphi computer sales and marketing system. (Delphi is also a Newmarket product.)

Meetingbroker.com is not designed to compete with meeting planning Internet sites; neither is it the hospitality industry's elusive standard e-RFP. Meetingbroker.com is a "big translation engine," explains Eric Blonda, program manager for Newmarket's e-commerce efforts. "Everyone will still use the software and sites that are best for them." Currently testing the service, Newmarket hopes to sign on its initial subscribers by the first quarter of 2000.

Success will depend on how many customers choose to subscribe to this service instead of developing their own e-RFP translation systems. But Newmarket has a significant head start: The company's customer base for its other software products numbers about 3,000 and includes hotels, convention centers, and CVBs. --Anna Chinappi

EXECUTIVE MEMO When Do Air Charters Make Sense? If it's hard to justify actually buying a corporate jet (Warren Buffett named his "The Indefensible"), it's often easy to make a case for chartering one. Here are some of the situations that might lead you to look into an air charter, according to Flight Time, a Waltham, Mass.-based air charter broker:

* When three or more passengers are traveling together in business class or first class

* When airline flight schedules require travelers to miss a large part of a working day just to catch a flight, or to stay overnight in a hotel to catch an early morning flight

* When it's critical that travelers have quality time to work together during a flight

* When scheduled flights require stops or aircraft changes at airports where delays are frequent

Earlier this year Flight Time launched AirCharter.com, an air charter reservation Web site. Log on to www.aircharter.com and get an immediate price quote for domestic or international travel on more than 2.000 aircraft, including turboprops.

Choice--The Greatest Reward? Let them choose their own rewards. If there was one resounding message from two recent American Express Incentive Services surveys, this was it. When asked what type of noncash 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.

"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."

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. --Barbara Scofidio

STARWOOD UPDATES INSURANCE CUSTOMERS Okay, Cabo is a little hot in August. But it's no less beautiful, especially at the stunning oceanside Westin Regina Los Cabos Resort, owned and managed by Starwood, recently renovated, and sporting a fresh coat of its signature terra-cotta-colored paint.

John Jeffrey, global account director, insurance sales, and Michele McShane, sales manager at the Westin Regina, hosted a small group of insurance conference planners at the resort for a weekend of getting to know Starwood and Los Cabos. Andy Finn, vice president, resorts and specialty markets, opened the meeting by discussing the Starwood sales organization and the company's plans for growth. Starwood brands are its "six-star" St. Regis brand, the Luxury Collection, Westin, W, Sheraton, and Four Points. Its properties worldwide total more than 700 in 72 countries. Recent changes in the portfolio include selling Caesars properties to Park Place Entertainment and the Desert Inn in Las Vegas to Sun International. As for growth, 60 hotels joined the portfolio in 1999, 55 new and five conversions.

Among the company's recent initiatives: a friendlier Starwood Preferred Guest program, which now has no blackout dates; and, of course, the Heavenly Bed. (All Westins and W hotels will have them by first quarter 2000.)

Also on the agenda was an update from each planner on his or her company. The bottom line: It's hard to find anyone who isn't dealing with the implications of a merger or acquisition.

Giving advice to the group about meeting south of the border, Michele McShane said, "I've seen Mexico advance tremendously in the past 10 years." Los Cabos also is developing, she noted. "It's become a real golf destination, with El Dorado, a new Jack Nicklaus course on the Sea of Cortez, and several others in development or recently opened." There are also other upscale hotel projects under way, but McShane noted that a limited water supply means "the destination will never become overrun."

John Jeffrey has been creating his new position for the past year, and is focused on development of insurance accounts outside the Northeast. He is based in Dallas. --Alison Hall

insurance notes * Financial services companies made another good showing on this year's Working Mother magazine list of the 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers. In the top 10: Prudential, CIGNA, and Lincoln Financial. Also on the list: Allstate, Aetna, Phoenix Home Life Mutual Insurance, Fleet Financial Group, The St. Paul Companies, Mutual of Omaha, Merrill Lynch, MetLife, MBNA America, Bank One, Chase Manhattan Corp., Deutsche Bank, J.P. Morgan, Bank of America, First Union Corp., and First Tennessee Bank.

* The Million Dollar Round Table has announced the 25 companies with the most 1999 MDRT members. The top dozen are New York Life, New York; Northwestern Mutual Life, Milwaukee; Mass Mutual, Springfield, Mass.; Prudential Life Insurance, Newark; AXA Financial, New York; Sony Life Insurance, Tokyo; MetLife, New York; MONY Group, New York; Prudential Life Insurance, Tokyo; Lutheran Brotherhood, Minneapolis; Guardian Life Insurance, New York; and New England Financial, Boston (the last two are tied).

KSL EVENT The Northwest Airlines second officer set the stage for the KSL Insurance Advisory Board, held in Octo- ber in Hawaii: "The temperature in paradise is 88 degrees." After a short trip to Maui on Aloha Airlines and a transfer by Mary Charles & Associates, attendees entered the luxurious world of KSL's Grand Wailea Resort.

Reps from KSL properties (La Quinta Resort, Grand Traverse Resort, Doral Resort, and Grand Wailea), with senior executives and regional marketing staff, joined 10 meeting professionals to share how KSL's current and future products can meet insurance industry needs.

The agenda opened with Peter Faraone, KSL's director, sales and marketing, who explained the corporate concept. KSL owns and operates all its properties and golf courses, and therefore is able to deliver consistent and valued products and services. A working lunch found planners sharing issues of ongoing concern in the continuing seller's market. Roundtable discussions on contracts, program operations, and RFPs filled the first afternoon.

Mike Shannon, KSL's youthful president/CEO, reviewed KSL's position and how properties are qualified for expansion. Multiple-year contracts to different destinations are a chief component of the KSL marketing plan.

The meeting demonstrated KSL's concern for future growth based on insurance planners' input. Dedication to continuity of guest service across the product line was discussed during the final morning. The resolution of executives, sales reps, and planners was that advisory programs are an important part of continuing to create quality products. --Jerry Schmidt