THERE WAS A PALPABLE BUZZ in the air at the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives' international conference in Mérida, Mexico, in early November — an energy that hasn't been felt since SmithBucklin took over management of the association two years ago.

At the society's annual meeting, just five minutes into his new role as the association's president, Bill Boyd, CMP, CMM, CITE, and president of Sunbelt Motivation & Travel, Irving, Texas, announced a new capital campaign, FutureSITE, which is dedicated to raising $3 million for educational programs at upcoming conferences and for programs at the chapter level. Even better, Boyd was able to announce that SITE is already $1.2 million toward that goal (with $300,000 from Marriott International and $250,000 each from Starwood Hotels, Hilton Corp., and Intercontinental Hotels).

“To implement something of this magnitude coming out of this economy and have it greeted in such a positive way is huge news for the incentive industry,” said an elated Boyd.

The fund-raising efforts, the first in the association's history, will be headed by Roger Dow, senior vice president, global and field sales, Marriott International. (Dow will be moving into a new position as president and CEO of the Travel Industry Association of America in January, but is expected to continue his work with FutureSITE, according to a SITE spokesperson.) SITE has organized a 17-person committee to work with Dow that includes many incentive industry heavy-hitters.

Planning for educational programs began at the Mérida conference, and included a Bridge the Gap Forum to discuss educational offerings for Gen X/Y members.

At a luncheon, SITE celebrated the best incentive practicioners in the business with its annual Crystal Awards. Programs were evaluated in terms of return on investment/budget maximization, creativity, logistics, and their ability to overcome program and implementation challenges.

Those challenges were significant. For example, a program for Drive, a classified section in Melbourne, Australia's The Age newspaper, was expected to achieve the same results as the previous year's trip to the Italian Grand Prix (which had a budget of AU$3.5 million), with a budget that had been cut 85 percent. For that accomplishment, incentive house 212F of Melbourne won a Crystal in the category “Most Creative Use of an Incentive Program to Solve a Marketing Problem — External Marketing Campaign.”

Another winner with an extraordinary challenge was Incentive Travel LLC, San Diego, whose client, Viacom Television, had chosen Russia as its destination, but changed plans because of the war in Iraq. Incentive Travel developed an alternative using Palm Springs, Calif. and a 24-hour trip to Las Vegas.

Many of the winning programs were proof that luxury is returning to incentive trips. For example, a WBNS-TV program for top advertisers planned by Travel Dynamics Group, La Jolla, Calif., included a flight in from Ohio to Vancouver on a private jet, a sunset cruise on a luxury yacht, a private lunch at the Capilano Suspension Bridge, and a floatplane transfer to Whistler.

For a complete list of the Crystal Award winners, see the box at right.