ANZ, one of Australia’s top banks, under scrutiny from the media for the extravagance of an incentive travel program, has announced that future recognition rewards will be “more modest.”
In mid-February, the same week ANZ slashed 1,000 jobs and raised interest rates independently from the country’s Reserve Bank, the media learned of the company’s plans for a high-end recognition program in March and broadcast the details across the country: ANZ has reserved the Silversea Cruises’ Silver Shadow for approximately 100 employees and their guests for a cruise from Singapore to Malaysia’s Langkawi Islands. The cost of the program is approximately $1.2 million, and the media has reported many of the luxurious details, from private butlers to marbled bathrooms.
At first, the bank stood by its program, citing that this is how it rewards its younger employees. But by day eight, a spokesperson announced that it would review future programs “and make them more modest.”
The Australian meetings media and industry associations have not spoken out on the ANZ situation, and officials from Reed Travel Exhibitions’ Asia-Pacific Incentives & Meetings Expo, which took place in Melbourne during the uproar, did not made a statement.
The Australian media’s attack on the ANZ reward program echoes the reaction of the U.S. media in 2008 to a recognition event held by insurance giant American International Group just days after the company accepted an $85 billion loan from the Federal Reserve. The negative publicity surrounding the incentive trip, including a comment from White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, who called AIG “despicable,” led to the cancellation of more than 160 AIG conferences and events. Throughout 2009, meeting cancellations snowballed, especially in the financial services industry, with few companies willing to defend their programs during difficult economic times and with little hard data available to argue the importance of meetings to the U.S. economy.
The crisis led to a landmark study, published in early 2011, called the Economic Significance of Meetings to the U.S. Economy. Among the findings of the report, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the Convention Industry Council and funded by 14 of CIC’s constituent associations, was that U.S. meetings in 2009 generated $263 billion in direct spending and supported 1.7 million jobs.