Insurance companies have long been major users of incentive trips to motivate agents and to differentiate themselves in a competitive environment. Hoteliers say insurance conference planners are among the most savvy planners in the business. Part of the reason for this reputation comes out of the tight-knit peer group of which insurance conference planners are a part. These planners share information with each other--a lot. If you're new to incentive travel planning, your industry peers are your best resources. Meanwhile, we offer the following information to make your job easier, whether you're a novice or a pro.

GOING OUTSIDE: working with incentive travel suppliers

Most insurance companies have in-house meeting planning departments, but many also rely on incentive houses and other third parties to help with their meetings. If you're considering hiring an incentive house, step one is to confirm what your needs are. "If a corporation has an objective and wants help achieving it, the best bet is a full-service incentive marketing company or a performance improvement company," says Bob Vitagliano, executive vice president/CEO of the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives (SITE), "which can help with everything from creating the most suitable award to tracking performance, from promotion to post-program analysis."

If you and your company intend to handle the strategic decision- making and simply need to contract out the planning details, a fulfillment company works best. This type of company deals with all travel suppliers, figuring out how to get the winners on site, and negotiates with the hotel or cruise line.

Whichever route you take, be an informed buyer! Get the answers to these questions before you sign anything:

* What commissions is the third party receiving?

* How does the control and responsibility of the meeting split between the you and the third-party staff?

* Will comp rooms and other value items from suppliers benefit your company or the third party?

* Who is the client as far as suppliers are concerned--your company or the third party?

* Ask about other clients, and call some of them for references.

With more than 2,000 members in 87 countries, SITE is the only international not-for-profit professional association dedicated to excellence in the multibillion-dollar field of incentive travel.

"As a professional organization, we are about education," says Bob Vitagli- ano, the association's executive vice president and CEO. Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, SITE is based in New York. Its membership includes both buyers and suppliers of incentive travel and related services.

Vitagliano says educational programs range from an introduction to incentive travel, offered at industry trade shows, to specialized seminars for corporate users, destination management companies, and other members, held at SITE's international conference and universities.

The association also fulfills its educational role by offering a self-study course for continuing education units, articles and theses, studies, surveys, and books about incentive travel (see page 116), as well as awarding the Certified Incentive Travel Executive (CITE) designation.

"In terms of service, probably the thing we do most is get people together," says Vitagliano. "If an incentive travel planner is looking for an incentive house, a destination management company, or a hotel, they know that when they deal with a SITE member, they are working with people who subscribe to SITE's code of ethics."

The SITE Resource Manual (one copy free to members/$400 for nonmembers) indexes members by name, company, discipline, and geographic region. Vitagliano says the manual will be up on SITE's Web site (www.site-intl.org) this month.

The Web site also features information about publications available through the organization, mailing list rentals (either the entire list or broken down by discipline or geographic region), an educational calendar, case studies, and member- ship information.

In addition, SITE will make referrals to anyone--member or not--who is interested in finding a certain kind of supplier. "If someone wanted to know all the incentive companies in Illinois, for example," says Vitagliano, "we would provide them with information about all of our member companies there."

How often do you hold incentive programs?

EVERY 12 MONTHS - 71%

EVERY 18 MONTHS - 11%

EVERY 24 MONTHS - 7%

OTHER - 11%

SOURCE: Insurance Conference Planner

1997 Salary & Practices Survey