• February 16, 2021

The big interview: SITE president Aoife Delaney

The big interview: SITE president Aoife Delaney

The big interview: SITE president Aoife Delaney 1024 683 micebook.

Fresh from overseeing the 2021 SITE Global Conference, the incentive association’s new president Aoife Delaney, director of marketing & sales at the DMC Network, talked to micebook about her plans for the year ahead…

The last ten months has seen incentive travel devastated by the global pandemic. How will you approach the role given the current climate?
I have always believed that crisis brings opportunity and, faced by this crisis, my natural instinct was to look for the opportunity. The opportunity for us now is to build back better. Our industry is being given a once-in-a-lifetime chance to re-set, to start again, to free ourselves from the fall-out from past mistakes. We really need to grasp this opportunity.

What will be your key focus for the next year?
Although it’s widely used and adopted as a slogan, I’ve adopted the Build Back Better slogan for my year at the SITE helm. With Building Back Better as my overall strategic imperative, the key themes for my presidential year will be fiscal stability and a strong, vibrant, engaged community.

I really like it as a phrase as it sets out a thoughtful, dynamic approach to recovery beyond “business as usual” and provides us with a compelling vision to direct our gaze at, as we move, tentatively, towards a post-Covid world. In addition, the launch of our new online assets, particularly our website, will provide a highly tangible, visual expression of the life of our community and will be a key focus, particularly in the early months of 2020.

A big part of the SITE offering is live events. Given that there are still restrictions in place in many destinations around the world – what’s the plan for events this year?
Our Global Conference this year was a Hybrid Conference with small informal clusters of attendees gathered in-person where restrictions permitted and the vast majority joining on-line. It was our biggest global conference ever, with almost 1,200 registrants.

Incentive Summit Americas is going ahead in early April as an in-person event with all the necessary health security protocols. Canadian and Mexican incentive travel professionals who generally attend ISA may be precluded from doing so this year, but the event is sold out and our US attendees are really looking forward to connecting in person again.

Later in the year, SITE Classic will be in-person on the West Coast in early September. We hopeful that, by then, cross border travel will be permitted, and we’ll have the first, highly symbolic and powerful example of our global community connecting in person again.

How do you plan to support members on their road to recovery?
First of all we want to keep our community together. Closures, lay-offs, furloughs make it challenging to keep up with membership dues. We introduced the Moira Fund, called after Moira Hearn, RIP, a legend in SITE’s history, to help our people stay in SITE with grants of up to 75% of the cost of membership. To date well over 220 members remain in our community as a result of the Moira Fund.

Secondly, and this speaks to Build Back Better, we’re opening up and building out our educational repository and members can now access that on a complimentary basis. Activity on our Learning portal is up by several multiples as is interest in our certifications, Certified Incentive Specialist (CIS) and Certified Incentive Travel Professionals (CITP).

In 2020 we introduced a webinar series and delivered over 30 webinars with and for our community. These, along with sessions from last week’s conference, are all available now on demand.

Do you think incentive travel will change after this pandemic, and if so, how?
Along with IRF and FICP, SITE Foundation conducts the annual Incentive Travel Industry Index and the evolution from excess to engagement is well documented in the data. Two years ago, for the first time, soft power objectives like engagement, and relationship building took over from hard dollar outcomes for the first time when survey respondents were asked to rank objectives for Incentive Travel.

This year’s ITII provides us further evidence of this evolution with ROI replaced for the first time by soft power metrics on the objectives’ rankings.

So post-pandemic Incentive Travel will focus on fostering workplace culture, on building relationships between corporate officers and qualifiers, on encouraging engagement and connectivity. And programme design is evolving too in line with this new thinking with more inclusive activities like wellness replacing hardy annuals like golf.

How will the pandemic impact current incentive travel trends, for example CSR, and will we see new trends as a result?
Again this year’s ITII provides some powerful insights in regard to this with CSR now ranking in the Top Four inclusions for successful incentive travel programmes. When travel resumes, we’ll travel with a conscience.

The over-riding consideration for the future of incentive travel is health security – this is constant across all regions from North America to APAC. After that domestic and local travel emerges strongly but so too does travel to destinations that are perceived to be safe – Australia, New Zealand, Canada, for example. Thus domestic will tend to dominate in the near term but once travel starts to open up, destinations that are known to have dealt effectively with the pandemic will prevail.

What can incentive professionals be doing to communicate the value of incentive travel when we can’t currently travel?
We have to keep telling the stories. Stories are powerful ways of preserving, maintaining and retaining core values and purpose. We must keep talking about the transformative power of travel and its astonishing impact on individuals, our industry, the business world and society at large.

What does incentive travel offer that other forms of incentive can’t?
It offers the transformative power of travel that, in Mark Twain’s great phrase, “is the enemy of bigotry”. A travel award is, ultimately, good for the soul of the qualifier, it makes him or her a better person. It’s liberating.

Travel rewards, uniquely, benefit BOTH the giver (corporation) and the receiver (qualifier). Corporations benefit from the ways an incentive fosters workplace culture and builds relationships. Qualifiers (and, often, their significant other) benefit from an eye and heart opening experience that encourages diversity, equity, inclusion.

What do you most love about working in incentives?
The new experiences!  I am sure that’s a common answer, but it’s the truth!  I love the challenge of coming up with new ways to deliver exceptional incentive experiences – I thrive on the challenge! I also love the global network that working in this industry has afforded me – I have friends for life living all over the world and that to me is priceless.

Describe your dream incentive…
If I was the delegate, my dream incentive would involve my family. As a mum of two young children, much of my time involves looking at the world through the eyes of a child – it’s truly fascinating. I’d love to experience an incentive with my husband and children where I could watch them explore a new destination for the first time – children notice so much more than we do as adults!

What message would you like to put out to SITE members and the wider incentive industry right now?
Firstly and most importantly – thank you for continuing to support SITE and the incentive travel industry right now – we are a resilient bunch! I would also share the message that we have a real opportunity to build back better this year and I’m excited to see our industry embrace this in 2021.

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