For incentive planners, it's a small world. One incident in Southeast Asia has repercussions all the way across Europe.
“If there's an international travel incident anywhere in the world, our participants are not going to want to go on their trip,” says Richard A. Kaback, vice president, travel services and incentives, at Don Jagoda Associates Inc., in Melville, N.Y. “One client asked me, ‘What if there's another incident in Bali?’ — even though their trip was to the Mediterranean. It's hemispheres away, but they said, ‘It doesn't matter.’”
That's why, after October's terrorist attack in Bali, Corporate Meetings & Incentives surveyed our readers to see if they were still planning international incentive trips in 2004. While three-quarters of our readers answered yes when we asked that question just a month before, this time only 37 percent said yes — and 45 percent were uncertain.
“We're seeing more international destinations for 2003 because there was such a dropoff in 2002 — but they're falling off again for 2004,” reports Mary Rigby, vice president of travel services for EGR International Inc., an incentive and meeting management firm based in New York City. “Our two major clients have given directives not to go offshore for 2004.”
“Since 9/11, we've backed off on international incentives, and we'll probably continue to do so as long as there's the threat of war with Iraq,” agrees Peter Morgan, vice president of sales for Peerless Boiler Inc., based in Boyertown, Pa. “That won't prevent us from going to shows and meetings and conventions in Europe and the rest of the world, but for purely incentive or reward travel, we'll pull back.”
Most of the planners we spoke with consider certain international destinations to be safe, and others not. And that perception is what's driving their decisions about venues.
“We're seeing a great deal more interest in Canada, Mexico, and Central America,” says Rigby. “People seem to be looking at Canada a lot more favorably, in particular. It's still coming in at second place, but it used to be around fifth place.”
“I've always been very cautious to select places that are not in trouble,” says Christine Woidi, manager, meetings and incentives, BMO Nesbitt Burns, Toronto, Ontario. “So has it deterred us? No. In fact we're just on our way to New York City with 400 to 500 people — and going to New York is proof we're not reacting to terrorists. We'll also be going to Bermuda in March or April. As long as the area is safe, we're going.”
“Every three years or so, we also do a high-end trip, usually to Europe. For 2003, we're looking at … southern Spain or Italy, unless something serious is going on at the time,” says Elliott Collier, vice president of marketing for First Supply Group, a plumbing and building supplies distributor based in Madison, Wis.
Incentive firms that see a lot of international bookings report they're moving forward with caution. “We have some pretty safe destinations,” notes Rigby. “We have several groups going to Ireland, and that seems like a safe international destination. We also have some going to Australia. I think when people chose international destinations for 2003, they had terrorism in mind and booked places that they probably would continue to go to.”
Of course, in September, most Australian tourists probably thought Bali was a safe destination. That's one of the problems with the current climate — conditions seem to change almost daily.
“It's clear from the terrible attacks in the resorts of Bali and Kenya that the terrorists are going after the ‘softer targets’ as the airlines and government facilities have improved security,” says Rick Werth, CPP, president of Event & Meeting Security Services, Franklin, Tenn.
What Can You Do?
To that end, planners — and attendees — are asking questions they might not have in the past. “Our clients are interested in booking insurance for emergency medical services, in case some kind of traumatic event happens, or participants need to be airlifted to medical facilities,” says Rigby. “They want to make sure the services have been contracted.”
Ken Wheatley, MA, CPP, PPS, vice president of corporate security for Sony Electronics Inc., Park Ridge, N.J., recommends having a security team in place if you're going ahead with an overseas trip. While it may not need to be as sophisticated as for aor other high-traffic gathering, having organized liaisons with hotel event personnel, security, facilities, local law enforcement, medical and emergency services, and your own security, communications, and media relations experts, can reduce confusion and wasted effort if anything does go wrong.
“The people who are going into international venues — the winners — are also questioning more,” he adds. “You want to also give them the tools they need to educate themselves about the destination.”
10 Tips for Enhancing Security
Make security and emergency planning an integral part of the planning process from the beginning.
Conduct a risk assessment for all your events, destinations, and facilities to determine potential issues and concerns. Be sensitive to attendees' anxiety about being away from home.
Stay alert to local and international news events, which can change very quickly. One good resource is the U.S. Department of State's travel warnings and fact sheets (http://travel.state.gov/).
Consider low-profile destinations, venues, and/or alternative meeting solutions.
Reduce the organization's name and/or event public exposure as appropriate to the nature of the event. Use low-profile signage, name badges, merchandise items, luggage tags, etc., without the company's name.
Examine existing eventfor cancellation clauses, security, safety, etc., to determine appropriateness. Review insurance policies to determine specific coverages. Remember: As important as insurance can be, it is not preventative, it is only used after the incident or problem has occurred.
Establish a good working relationship with hotel/facility security management and know how they will support your group.
Provide attendees with useful security, health, and local/cultural guidelines that are customized to the destination, venues, and activities.
Ensure that emergency plans are integrated into every event. Develop an emergency plan that includes critical local resources and 24-hour contact information. Maintain accurate lists of all attendees, their hotel(s) and hotel room numbers, and their emergency contact information. Develop contingency destinations, facilities, airports, etc., in case venues must be changed.
If a crisis or emergency occurs, leadership and communication are critical. Establish a single point of leadership to avoid confusing and/or contradictory communications.
SOURCE: Rick Werth, CPP, president of Event & Meeting Security Services, Franklin, Tenn.