In Conversation With… SITE CEO Didier Scaillet on incentive travel post pandemic

With many countries across the globe still in lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, event planners are increasingly turning to virtual solutions for meetings and conferences. Incentive trips, however, are predominantly being postponed until the end of 2020 or into 2021. So, what impact will the coronavirus crisis have on the sector, and what will incentive travel programmes look like post pandemic? We caught up with Didier Scaillet, CEO for the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE), to find out how the association is adapting to the current climate and what the future holds?

A big part of the SITE offering is live events. With live events off the table for the time being, how can SITE and its chapters around the world still support and add value for members during these challenging times?

Six weeks ago, we surveyed our 2,500 members and asked how we could best support them during these challenging times. Their feedback formed the basis of a new communications strategy pivoting on four themes – Information, Insights, Ideas and Inspiration – and the launch of a brand-new fund – The Moira Fund.

SITESource, our member-only ezine, became a weekly digest of content and fortnightly webinars were introduced.

We’re heavily involved with PlanetIMEX too with two major launches of SITE Foundation sponsored research and SITE NITE Europe, our annual gathering for the world of incentive travel.

With the Moira Fund – called after the late, great Moira Hearn, a legend of generosity and empathy in SITE’s world – we will provide financial assistance to over 50 members that’ll allow them stay in the SITE family.

Incentive Travel changed after the financial crisis of 2008, arguably for the better with a focus on more motivating and engaging experiences and providing ROI. Do you think incentive travel will change after this pandemic, and if so, how?

The corporate world has been discovering that shared travel experiences can be transformational for qualifiers, but also for companies with company culture benefiting massively as a result of incentive trips. Our joint research with IRF and FICP over the past couple of years has highlighted how soft power trumps hard dollars when it comes to the objectives that corporations have for their incentive programme.

This evolution will continue in the Post Covid-19 era. Incentive travel will be regarded as a catalyst for relationship building, for deepening connections within organisations, for bridge building between executives and C-suite.

In the future Incentive Travel will also be more inclusive, not just offered to sales executives who reach financial targets, but to all executives who are part of team efforts.

How will the pandemic impact current incentive travel trends, for example, the increased focus on CSR/sustainability, and will we see new trends as a result?

Group incentives will certainly be more local, national and regional in the short to mid term and there will also be a resurgence in individual incentives, ie, travel rewards offered to individuals rather than groups.

Covid-19 is causing the biggest global re-set since World War Two. Priorities are changing in individuals’ lives and this, undoubtedly, will lead to a greater focus and interest in CSR and sustainability as we all see, on a daily basis, the difference to air quality with fewer cars on the road, planes in the sky etc.

Many conferences and meetings are pivoting to virtual solutions during the crisis, but it’s not really possible to do a virtual incentive trip. What can the industry be doing to communicate the value of incentive travel whilst we can’t travel?

Well, it’s not 100% true to say you can’t do an incentive trip online!

Some incentive house have already pivoted their reward and recognition programmes to online, arranging high production broadcasts during which qualifiers are called out by the CEO and recognised before a virtual audience for their performance.

I’ve also heard of Incentive Houses who have arranged delivery to their qualifiers of gourmet meals and quality wines so that they can enjoy a lavish dinner while participating – virtually – at the Gala Awards banquet.

But it’s also true that as humans we always want what we can’t have! Incentive trips will increase in value and prestige at this time of restricted travel. We need to constantly remind the corporate world of the transformational power of travel experiences.

What does incentive travel offer that other forms of incentive can’t?

Give me cash and, inevitably, it’ll be quickly co-mingled with the household budget and I’ll end up with no tangible reminder of how hard I worked to qualify.

Give merchandise and, in a relatively short time, it’ll be outdated and obsolete like yesterday’s massive plasma screen.

Give me a trophy with my name on it and it’ll gather dust on the shelf with all the other trophies.

Give me a travel experience and you give me the opportunity to transform my life by connecting me to another culture, way of life, people, customs. You’ll make me more understanding, tolerant, compassionate. You’ll gladden my heart and enrich my soul.

You’ll also give me precious memories that’ll age like a fine wine to be savoured in my later years and shared with colleagues and loved ones.

What message would you like to put out to SITE global members right now?

This too shall pass.
Stand tall.
Be connected
Be #SITEstrong

Are you confident incentive travel will bounce back?

This time I am 100% confident.

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