We caught up with SITE (Society for Incentive Travel Excellence) GB president Elliott Grant on how the association has adapted during lockdown, and how incentive travel might change in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis…
You started your tenure as SITE president under very different circumstances back in January before everything changed. How have your plans and objectives for the chapter had to adapt as a result of the Covid-19 crisis?
Being totally honest, our goals have remained the same – as a board we’re still committed to building our SITE GB chapter through engagement with the UK incentive community. What’s changed is the way we do it. We’ve gone from a calendar of events such as panel evenings, experiences, meet ups to now virtual events such our happy hours with Song Division and Wild Goose.
We’re constantly looking at how to keep the community together and supporting each other whilst still trying wherever we can to add value to both our suppliers, buyers and client who are part of our chapter. We are also increasingly aware of virtual meeting fatigue
A big part of the SITE offering is live events. With live events off the table for the foreseeable, how can SITE GB still support and add value for members during these challenging times?
Whilst Covid-19 has affected the first 6 months of our calendar, we’re hoping that we’ll still be able to go ahead with the second half of the year with our incentive summit and Christmas charity lunch. In the meantime however, we’re just trying to support the chapter and wider community wherever we can with virtual events and sharing of knowledge from other chapters around the world and site global.
Incentive travel changed after the financial crisis of 2008, arguably for the better as we moved away from the champagne-swigging excesses of old to more motivating and engaging experiences. Do you think incentive travel will change after this pandemic, and if so, how?
Whilst there will always be people who want to celebrate in that way, I’d like to think that this crisis will have reset some people’s values and what is actually important to them both personally but also how they are rewarded. In light of this, I think we’ll see a lot more people wanting to have their incentives much more focused on what they do in the destination rather than the destination itself. There will be more emphasis on the shared experiences of an incentive rather than simply how luxurious the hotel is or how many Michelin stars a restaurant has.
How will the pandemic impact current incentive travel trends, for example, the focus on CSR/sustainability?
I think it will be much more important to people that they leave a positive legacy in the destinations they visit. Whilst this is pandemic is awful, I do see a positive in the way people have pulled together, they’ve helped one another and have made sacrifices for each other. I think those values will transcend the epidemic and hopefully flow through into everyday life thereafter.
What can we as an industry be doing to communicate the value of incentive travel when we can’t currently travel?
In the midst of all the gloom, this is actually a great time for agencies, DMCs and destinations to spend some time looking at how they communicate and look at new and creative ways to promote their services and locations. Life will be a little different when we come out the other side of this pandemic but there will still be a desire to travel and incentives will still be a valuable tool for motivating and engaging a workforce.
Lots of destinations and DMCs are doing a great job of maintaining contact with agencies and keeping them up to date with their destinations through the use of zoom and other webinar services – a lot of agencies may find they have more time on their hands currently to engage in these educational sessions.
What does incentive travel offer that other forms of incentive can’t?
Incentive travel is a really special thing – it rewards people with experiences as opposed to simply a financial benefit. It promotes engagement with other people in their company, it offers the opportunity to do and experience things they may never normally do themselves and importantly more and more, it’s offering people the opportunity to leave a positive legacy in the destinations that they visit.
Tell us about one of your favourite/most rewarding incentives that you have delivered in the past?
I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved in some incredible incentive programmes, highlights for me include riding down Las Vegas boulevard in a fleet of 9 soft-top mustangs, 6 Harley Davidsons a hells angels escort and police outriders. The entire strip stopped as the convoy passed through.
I was involved with an incredible trip to Nepal where we spent the night in a tailor-made base camp in the foothills of the Himalayas which was pretty special, we also had a convoy of 50+ royal Enfield motorbikes riding through Kathmandu which was an unbelievable experience. On a trip to Kenya, we had a private visit to an elephant orphanage in Nairobi which was very special, especially as all the winners had been gifted sponsorship of one of the orphans as part of the comms campaign for the trip so each got to meet their baby elephants on the day.
What are the top three things you like about being part of SITE personally?
My involvement with SITE is quite simple really, I passionately and wholeheartedly believe in the power of incentives. They help businesses perform, they motivate, enlighten and educate the people who go on them and if done right, they can genuinely leave a positive legacy in the destinations that they visit. Working with SITE allows me to be part of the industry at its core and use my passion to increase the positive impact that incentives can have.
What message would you like to share with SITE GB members and the wider incentive travel community?
Stay strong and stay connected. We have an incredible community in the UK and as a collective, we all want to support each other. Connections and support given during this period will not be quickly forgotten and will promote some incredible partnerships after the crisis is over. Keep in touch with each other and stay involved with the industry whenever you can.
You took over a session as part of our recent micebook talks, which focused on the opportunity for UK-based incentives. What more could UK destinations and venues be doing to attract the local incentive market?
I think we have got an incredibly good range of destinations, activities and themes and cultures in the UK. And it’s not just London and Edinburgh – there are lots of great things that are characteristically British, from music and comedy, to pubs, country pursuits and the South Coast.
From an incentive perspective, the UK has often been seen as a poor alternative to going overseas so it’s never really been explored very much. I think it’s been seen by some of the regions as something not really worth investing in. Now they have the opportunity to put their hand up as a genuine incentive option, and not just now. This could be a defining moment for the UK as an incentive destination for UK groups, will realise what there is on offer.
From a social distancing perspective, staying local is hugely beneficial as people can drive themselves or get the train, and if you do exclusive hire, everything can very much more controlled from a hygiene perspective.
But there is more education needed as I don’t know what many UK cities or venues have to offer, so tourist boards and suppliers need to step and share what they can do for incentive groups.
Realistically, when do you think corporate groups will be ready to travel on incentive trips again?
I would get on a plane tomorrow. I think a lot of clients, as in the event managers, are the same. And I genuinely think a lot of guests would go too. The issue is going to be businesses restricting travel – it’s going to take a lot of guts for a company to say we’re sending all our top dealers away on a trip.
I would hope face-to-face meetings return in the next 3 months. I’m not sure we’ll see an incentive trip this year, but hope that incentives begin to come back next year. However, if someone comes up with a vaccine tomorrow, we’ll be straight back in the game.
We saw on LinkedIn that you’ve just set up a new joint-venture with Joe O’Connell – can you tell us more about it?
Yes as you’ve seen on LinkedIn, Joe and I have partnered on an exciting new venture. It’s a boutique agency called BLACK BOOK, and all will be revealed soon.