Incentive travel programs remain an important business tool even in companies where sales are sluggish and less-traditional incentives (individual incentives, as well as programs for nonsales employees and teams) are on the rise, according to the members of the Society of Incentive Travel Executives' (SITE) Corporate Advisory Council.

The group held its first panel discussion at SITE's 1996 University of Incentive Travel in Orlando this summer. Here are some highlights of the discussion by members Don A. Duck, John Deere & Co.; Peter Humphries, Westbury Canadian Life; Bobbie Roth, House of Lloyd; Frank James, Kelly-Springfield Tire Co.; Henry Kroesen, NN Financial; and Peggy Domber, Summit Bank.

* Westbury Canadian Life plans to increase its budget for incentive travel programs. "Even when sales dipped and we had to watch expenses, we considered incentive travel an investment," said Humphries. He added that qualifiers expect more of the incentive trip each year. "We still have group movements, but they are now much more tailored to individual needs of people who are increasingly well-traveled."

* NN Financial has gone to a two-tier incentive meeting and conference to provide more relationship-building oppor- tunities, according to Kroesen. He added that today's younger sales force does not have not the same interest in group incentives that the past generation of salespeople had. "They want to do more on an individual basis. We must be flexible with optional tours and award them with what they're looking for."

* Summit Bank is now offering employee incentives, as well as incentives for customers who open new business. Of the latter, said Domber, "You have to get their attention; they are not employees and you have no leverage with them."

* House of Lloyd, a direct sales organization, uses incentive travel to retain its independent contractors, who are not em- ployees. According to Roth, her industry has seen a great deal of cost cutting and dramatic drops in sales, "so we must motivate more now. It would be crazy to say we can't afford incentive travel because sales are down. We have to use it, as well as focus on training and networking to share ideas."

* John Deere is involving more nonsales employees in team incentives, organizing teams to work with dealers, and having dealers organize teams within their dealerships. "There is more emphasis on groups establishing qualifications and winning together," said Duck.

For the eighth consecutive year, the National Life of Vermont travel and conferences department turned the tables on suppliers, hosting them at Hopkins House, National Life's newly renovated country inn in Montpelier, for a weekend of fun in the sun.

It used to be fun in the snow. The seasonal change drew positive reviews, though one participant was heard to lament, "The weather's no different!" This year, instead of skiing, the 11 supplier attendees and their hosts enjoyed golf at the nearby Stowe Country Club, horseback riding, bicycling, and shopping. As he does every year, National Life Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Fred Bertrand joined in the day's recreation, playing 18 holes (only some of them in the rain).

At the Saturday evening reception, Bertrand also surprised guests by borrowing the guitar of local entertainer Tim Caira and stepping up to the mike to offer his rendition of "Glory, Glory Hallelujah." (The crowd, having just been inspired to sing along with Tim to "Take Me Home, Country Roads" willingly joined in the chorus.)

Newcomers this year included Kim Bradford, director of incentive sales, Charles-ton Place/Orient Express Hotels; Anne Erickson, director of insurance and incentive sales, Boca Raton Resort & Club; Bruce Leet, sales manager, The Breakers; and Alex-is Romer, director of sales, Ritz-Carlton Hotels.

Returning Flatlanders included: Scott Corey, director, group marketing, Sonesta Beach Hotel, Bermuda; Hea-ther Dobbins, vice president of sales, Hotel del Coronado (CA); Francine Liem, director of sales, insurance accounts, Hilton Hotels; Patti Motto-lese, director, insurance market development, Westin Ho- tels & Resorts; Michael Murphy, director of national accounts, Renaissance Hotels; Alison Rakoske, senior editor, Insurance Conference Planner; and Diana Voto, director of national accounts, Omni Hotels.

National Life of Vermont representatives included: Lynn Averill, director, travel and conferences; Patti Brown, travel advisor; Melissa Clark, travel and conferences assistant; Jennifer Davis, conference planning specialist; Tam- my Davis, conference coordinator; Jennifer Rico, travel and conferences assistant; and Scott Uselding, director, incentive programs and special events.