The senior-level insurance and financial services executives who met at the awe-inspiring Resort at Squaw Creek, Lake Tahoe, Calif., in late July for the Lynette Owens Insurance Advisory Board enjoyed stimulating guest speakers and frank roundtable discussions during morning business meetings, followed by great golf and other leisure activities. Post-roundtable trips to the Four Seasons San Francisco and the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn included additional meetings, networking, and the chance to experience some of Northern California’s most elegant properties.

LOA board members include both in-house insurance executives and presidents’ of insurance marketing organizations—third-party marketers of insurance products who are increasingly important in the financial services world, says Lynette Owens. In a frank roundtable discussion on site selection trends, all of the board members agreed that their companies’ meeting and incentive programs are moving forward, albeit under challenging circumstances. Other observations:

-Some incentive qualifiers have become skittish about international locations, but trips for top achievers are still going international, particularly to Europe.

-The biggest issue affecting incentive programs is budget. Insurance and financial services execs are addressing cost considerations with two strategies: They’re setting more difficult qualification requirements, and in some cases they are lengthening the qualification period from 12 to 18 months.

-Despite budget concerns, execs say that incentive trips are more important than ever, in part because the insurance business model has changed from captive agents to independent producers who aren’t getting employee benefits.

-Execs are considering additional incentive programs with more modest qualification goals that would reward producers with short, two- to three-night getaways.

-The cost of air travel has become a top consideration for both incentive programs and business meetings. Execs like destinations such as Florida and Las Vegas because they offer both low fares and lots of lift. For business meetings, they prefer hotels that are close to the airport. And they have no problems with upstarts like Southwest and ATA.

-Golf is more important than ever. One exec said that 10 years ago, only 20 percent to 30 percent of his incentive qualifiers were golfers; it’s now more like 50 percent.

-Spas are just as important as golf. Execs would like to see resorts offer more spa packages for corporate groups.

Business session presentations included information on a new program for the 2005 Super Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., that guarantees groups reserved premium seating and an exclusive reception area with panoramic views, among other privileges. Another highlight was guest speaker Peter Konrad, an insurance industry veteran and performance kinesiology trainer, with an interactive presentation called Performance Software for the Mind.

Among the recreational highlights were a rousing river rafting trip on the Truckee River and a sunset sail on Lake Tahoe, organized by Squaw Creek’s Summit Destination Services and catered by the hotel culinary team.

LOA News Hotel site selection and meeting management firm Lynette Owens & Associates, based in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., represents a hand-picked group of about 21 incentive-quality properties, and markets exclusively to the life insurance and financial services market (www.lynetteowens.com).

In late June, LOA announced that its Florida offices had closed. Former meeting planner Angela Hartman (ASHLOwens@aol.com) was named regional director of sales, Midwest region, and LOA veteran Debbie Grassi (DDGLOwens@aol.com) was named regional direction of sales, western region.

The next winter meeting of the LOA advisory board will be held at the beautiful Montage Resort & Spa in Laguna Beach, Calif. E-mail Lynette Owens at LFOwens@aol.com for more information. —Regina Baraban

Sidebar: Northern California Gems
LOA attendees were dazzled by the beauty and recreational opportunities at the Resort at Squaw Creek, a Benchmark Hospitality-managed property. Nestled in the bowl-shaped meadow that was home to the 1960 Winter Olympics, the resort’s 403 guest rooms and suites have panoramic windows overlooking snow-capped mountains. It was a quick walk to one of the 36 conference rooms for morning meetings, then just a few steps to the challenging Robert Trent Jones Jr. golf course, as opposed to the usual shuttle ride. Winter skiing is just as convenient, with an on-property chairlift and ski-in/ski-out access to Squaw Valley’s 4,000 acres of ski terrain. LOA participants also raved about the quality of the resort’s spa services.

Post-trip meetings exposed the group to two additional great properties: the Four Seasons San Francisco, with an incredible modern art collection and the impeccable service Four Seasons is known for; and the lovely Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn.

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