WHILE PARTICIPATING in a panel discussion last month at The Luxury Show in New York City, it struck me how hard it is to be a supplier in our industry.

The audience consisted of travel agents and tour operators who were trying to break into incentive travel. As we prepared for the session, my fellow panelists — John Udell of Allied Hospitality Marketing, New York, and Ira Almeas of Impact Incentives, East Hanover, N.J. — and I kept returning to the same conclusion: Even though we were supposed to be talking about “Fresh Ideas for Incentives,” we couldn't discuss incentive travel without talking about the business of incentives — and the business reasons behind them. We needed to let this group know that incentive travel is different from leisure travel, that the hotels have to be of a certain caliber, that the infrastructure has to be up to par, and that the destination management companies have to understand the market. We needed to tell them that it's not just about the events, the itineraries, or sometimes even the destinations — it's about the results.

“Have you ever marketed any part of Russia other than St. Petersburg and Moscow?” one audience member asked. Another was there representing Vietnam, and another was promoting learning tours that travel into the heart of Africa. All of these trips are ideal for wealthy, well-traveled individuals, but as Almeas put it: “You can't educate and motivate at the same time.” With attendee safety and security front of mind for companies, and the need for a destination that “wows” qualifiers and motivates them to sell, there's little room for a risky choice.

That goes for the suppliers as well as the destination. A CITE (Certified Incentive Travel Executive) designation after a person's name or a membership in the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives proves that suppliers understand the business. If I were a planner, I wouldn't go with anything less in this cautious corporate environment — I'd choose suppliers such as my fellow panelists.

Speaking of which, after 30 minutes of expounding on procurement and ROI and the perceptions of senior management, we realized we had yet to talk about those fresh ideas. I wrote a reminder on a notepad and passed it to the other two. Udell agreed it was time to change the topic and give the audience what they came for. “All this time we've spent,” he said, making the transition, “and we haven't even gotten to the cocktail party yet.”

And isn't that the truth?
Barbara Scofidio

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