Budgets and Attendance: Still Rising London Pacific Life Insurance clearly isn't the only company investing in incentive programs. Incentive budgets rose again this year, up to a median of $1.1 million. (The median is the midpoint: An equal number of respondents had budgets higher than this figure as had budgets lower than this figure.) Perhaps even more interesting, incentive meeting attendance rose significantly - from a median of 325 attendees in 1998 to a median of 500 attendees in 2000. This could be a result of continuing mergers in the industry, as newly joined companies combine their incentive programs.

Training meetings showed even greater increases, with median budgets up to $250,000 from $150,000 in 1998 and median attendance nearly doubling to 400. Mergers could be at work here, too, as employees from newly joined companies are brought together to learn new processes and philosophies. Technology, certainly, continues to be a factor. And with most insurance companies moving away from selling only insurance, producers have new education and certification goals to reach.

Incentive Meeting Projections * We'll hold more incentive meetings in 2001 than in 2000: 23 percent

* We'll hold the same number of incentive meetings in 2001 as in 2000: 69 percent

* We'll hold fewer incentive meetings in 2001 than in 2000: 8 percent

Training Meeting Projections * We'll hold more training meetings in 2001 than in 2000: 37 percent

* We'll hold the same number of training meetings in 2001 as in 2000: 57 percent

* We'll hold fewer training meetings in 2001 than in 2000: 6 percent

Searching for Sites: Online and Offline Back when we surveyed you at the end of 1998, we didn't even ask whether or not you ever did online searches for meeting sites. Two years went by and, now that we've asked the question, a whopping 68 percent of you report that you do use the Internet to do site searches.

Most of you stop there, however, preferring to contact properties or national sales reps directly rather than use any of the Web sites that offer e-RFP capabilities. E-mail seems like the way to go: 44 percent of you most often send RFPs by e-mail, while 22 percent of you most often send RFPs by fax. Perhaps even more surprising, 31 percent of you don't use RFPs at all.

The big meeting planning Web sites are on your radar screens, even if you choose not to use all of their tools. More than one-third of respondents reported that they had used PlanSoft and EventSource for site searches; more than one in five had used StarCite; and one in 10 had used AllMeetings. But these figures pale in comparison to the 88 percent of you who had used hotel chains' own Web sites for site searches.

Going offline, there was a surprise in store as well. Use of third-party site-selection firms is increasing. While only 5 percent of respondents said they "always" use a third party for site selection, just about half of respondents said they "occasionally" use a third party.

For the past few years, hotel companies have been wrestling with the increased use of third parties that charge 10 percent commissions for delivering business to their properties, and Ritz-Carlton recently announced that it would pay a maximum of 3 percent commission to site-selection firms as of November 2000. Some third parties are paid on a retainer basis by hotels, rather than by commission. Depending upon how many other hotel companies follow Ritz-Carlton's lead, planners may see site-selection firms rethinking their revenue streams and charging fees to planner clients instead of taking commissions.

Cyberspace: Know How to Use It Almost half of respondents said attendees can register online for meetings now or will be able to by the end of 2001. About the same number said attendees could log on to a Web site to find out more about a meeting. If you're among the 54 percent of respondents without a meeting Web site, consider the savings in time and money that can come from reaching your potential qualifiers electronically. And consider that, fully a year ago, 92 percent of respondents in the ICP Agent Preferences Survey said they have Internet access. Get your content up there.

Likewise, 53 percent of you reported that your department does not have a home page or site on your organization's intranet. See ICP November/December, page 10, to read about how some of your peers are using intranet sites to to get the word out about their departments' services and availability, and to effectively manage meeting requests throughout their companies.

Heading Farther Out About two-thirds of respondents said they had held international meetings or incentive trips - that's up from 57 percent when we last surveyed you.

This is a trend worth watching as competition for producers' attention continues to increase. And it's not just companies working with independent producers who have to be concerned. Even those with captive agents risk those agents being lured away, especially the top performers. "We need to ratchet up our incentives," says Tom Joyal, assistant vice president, events planning, Lutheran Brotherhood, Minneapolis. "We have to create unique experiences."

What does that mean? For many companies, it means looking overseas for destinations that may offer more "bragging rights" for producers than domestic sites.

Of course, most companies alternate their international meetings with domestic ones. So domestic resorts should now expect planners to be more demanding when it comes to creating compelling experiences for qualifiers.