In the wake of September 11, insurance conference planners say they are determined to proceed as normal — or whatever passes for normal in these troubled times — and to set a personal example. “If we aren't brave enough to travel and we don't promote traveling within our organization, then we might as well close shop,” says Sally Klapper-Randa, director of field recognition and corporate travel, Aid Association for Lutherans, Appleton, Wis.
Klapper-Randa was quoted in the AAL newsletter about her positive reactions to a trip she took in late September. To reassure producers who qualify for AAL's 2002 incentive program, a cruise leaving from San Juan, she will be putting together mailings with information on security measures — and also with a personal report by Lynn Schwandt, field conference manager, on a site selection trip that Schwandt will take prior to the February program. “Hearing about Lynn's experience will help qualifiers to feel comfortable about their own travel,” notes Klapper-Randa.
Brett Barrowman, director travel, conferences, and corporate event planning, American Fidelity Group, Oklahoma City (and 2002 president of the Insurance Conference Planners Association), notes that “people still have to be motivated to sell and still have to be educated. Where and how they get together to do that may be a whole different thing.” Barrowman's department plans six major incentive trips and is involved in 70 to 100 smaller meetings annually; he doesn't expect that to change based on the events of 9/11. But he does foresee extra contingency planning by his department to make sure attendees can get home if the airports close again and they are stranded in meeting locations. “We'll need a higher level of preparedness,” he advises.
What does the future hold for international meetings post 9/11? “It's a hard call,” says Jana Stern, director, conventions and conference planning, ING Reliastar, Minneapolis. Stern had four waves of international incentive trips scheduled for late September to early October. The top 20 producers were slated to go to ING's world headquarters in Amsterdam; 100 “top ring” producers and spouses were to visit Rome; 200 more qualifiers were bound for Paris; and 50 of those were to go on to Amsterdam.
Qualifiers began calling on September 12 wondering about the status of the trips. Some agents definitely wanted to travel, others said they would opt out. The decision to cancel was made September 17, the week the airline tickets would have been mailed. Three of the trips have been rescheduled to Florida, and the top 20 Amsterdam trip will be held at an undetermined time in the future. Long term, however, Stern isn't canceling international travel. Two spring 2002 incentive trips to Mexico and Barcelona are still scheduled, she says.
Similarly, Rich Granger, assistant vice president, conference and travel services, Allmerica Financial, Worcester, Mass., says that after much deliberation, Allmerica will be going forward with its 2002 London incentive program. “We want to be cautious, but to not go forward would be giving in and letting the terrorists win.”
Granger expects that some meetings may move to domestic locations. “I can't predict what will happen three or six months from now,” he says. “As planners, we have to be concerned about where we go and when we go, especially in war time.” But, he points out, “Once you've gone international, there is always that sizzle that calls you back.”