The Possibilities Are ‘Limitless’
The SITE Global Conference in Vancouver inspired attendees while cultivating an ongoing focus on sustainability, corporate culture and economic growth through the Vancouver Manifesto.
AUTHOR: By Judy Williams
Whether it was the promise of a new decade or a new year, incentive travel professionals from 42 countries enthusiastically descended on industry travel favorite Vancouver in January to celebrate a “Limitless” theme for the Society for Incentive Travel Executives (SITE) Global Conference 2020.
According to SITE 2020 President Jennifer Glynn, CIS, CITP, managing partner for Meeting Encore in Port Hope, Ontario, Vancouver allowed the SITE event team to test boundaries and design a program that helped attendees push their limits. Educational content and structure allowed individuals to participate and push their comfort zones.
“For me, the biggest takeaway was the enthusiasm, energy and engagement from our SITE community and the desire to bottle that and use it throughout the year for inspiration and motivation,” Glynn said.
An action-packed agenda sought to educate as much as inspire, but it also motivated SITE to evaluate the state of incentive travel and its place within that space as an association.
“Incentive travel has been evolving over the decades, and the SITE Board of Directors felt it was time to interrogate its nature, purpose and direction as we head towards the third decade of the 21st century,” said Pádraic Gilligan, chief marketing officer for SITE.
Indeed. Gilligan, in fact, shepherded the Vancouver Manifesto, the evolution of the Bangkok Manifesto, a document created at the SITE Global Conference 2019 that he describes as aspirational and visionary in its scope and reach. Rather than dictate, the association chose to crowdsource over several days to determine where to focus its research and efforts, with plans to iterate with each subsequent gathering to refine the statement.
“When we come together in real time we unleash a power that’s awesome,” Gilligan said. “SITE is a face-to-face organization and incentive travel is a face-to-face encounter with a destination. In Vancouver, we had a record-breaking 642 delegates connecting, learning, discovering and shaping the industry together. It was astonishing.”
Getting to Know SITE and Vancouver
Despite insistent rainfall, SITE attendees cheerfully donned rain ponchos to participate in myriad outdoor activities, such as early morning 5K runs and a wide selection of tours to favorite Vancouver attractions. A critical part of the curriculumurged attendees to focus less on their own attendees’ self-care and more on their own. Yoga and SoulCycle classes awaited those desiring a healthy workout with a side of warm and dry, in addition to the Restoration Lounge, sponsored by InHouse Physicians, offering a 10-minute retreat much appreciated by uber-stressed conference goers.
The conference, headquartered at the JW Marriott Parq in downtown’s entertainment district, featured speakers from around the globe who inspired awe—and, in many cases, tears and laughter—and an educational curriculum that included practical, hands-on practical sessions such as “Designing and Innovating Incentive Travel Programs” and “7 Deadly Sins of a Proposal.”
A fan of SITE chapter events, Sandra Daniel’s first Global Conference was Vancouver.
“First of all, the mild weather makes Vancouver a good choice year-round. Canadians are truly some of the most hospitable people—they like Americans and that bodes well for us!” said Daniel, president and CEO of FIRE Light Group in Madison, Wis. “The U.S. dollar is strong and that makes Canada a great value, and Vancouver is a vibrant and interesting city, making it a great spot for any conference.”
Jeff Duncan, president and CEO of Meetingmax in Vancouver, said SITE as an organization “punches above its weight.”
“It’s a small but extremely important organization in the travel ecosystem,” he said. “The value derived from the attendees is impressive.”
While this was Duncan’s first exposure to SITE, he was thoroughly impressed at the education, logistics and opportunities for growth to the attendee.
Duncan’s own session for CEOs, “Purpose Built Culture: How to Create a Powerful Company Culture that Attracts and Retains the Best People,” was maxed out with more than 50 attendees who spent an intense day learning to look beyond the immediate and go deeper—tapping into people’s purpose, for both attendees and employees.
“Sometimes it’s hard to work on the business and not in the business,” he said. “Taking a few hours to remove yourself from the battlefield and surround yourself with like-minded people who all face similar struggles often provides significant value.”
Duncan says the group took an oath of confidentiality at the start of the session so that each person could be free to get their issues on the table without feeling like it might come back to haunt them.
“The group was open, honest, challenging and really gave each other a lot of the answers they were seeking,” he added.
Ben Nemtin dared the Sunday morning crowd with his own limitless-themed keynote, “What Do You Want to Do Before You Die?” As creator, executive producer and cast member of the MTV series The Buried Life and co-author of the same-named book, his inspired and high energy-talk evoked laughter and tears and brought attendees to their feet with an uplifting message. Thus inspired, attendees posted their own goal-oriented Post-it notes on an ad-hoc Dream Wall located in the central break area. (Learn more about Nemtin, who will be speaking at MPI’s WEC Grapevine this June, at mpi.org/blog.)
Saturday’s much-anticipated mystery keynote speaker revealed himself to be Joost Rigter, who, as a result of a rare ophthalmologic disorder, went gradually blind in his twenties—today he can only see 0.8 percent. His central message? Rather than fear change, embrace it and seek the light in the dark. He urged attendees to dare to experience life outside their comfort zones. To that end, he had the entire audience blindfold themselves and speak to four people without the benefit of sight.
“That was an enlightening experience; it really made you realize how much you unconsciously judge someone you first meet merely based on their appearance,” Daniel said. “This gave me the opportunity to truly listen without distraction. And I remember those conversations more vividly then any of the others that I had during the entire event.”
SITE’s Crystal Awards Luncheon honored top-tier organizations that create unique incentive travel experiences that deliver business results.
“Crystal Awards are presented at our global conference to showcase and recognize the great work our members do,” Glynn said. “The awards also show the evolution of incentive travel and how we make an impact to our client’s objectives through incentive program design.”
The Vancouver Manifesto
Speaking of evolution, the Vancouver Manifesto takes off where the Bangkok Manifesto left off.
“It’s a fascinating meeting design challenge to craft an organization’s manifesto in real-time during a conference, but thanks to great input in Vancouver and a great technology platform, Slido, we crowdsourced 16 very powerful ‘Action Statements’ that we’ll deliver on during 2020,” said Martin Sirk, owner of strategic consultancy firm Sirk Serendipity. “In a nutshell, this year we believe the manifesto project has moved up a gear, from aspiration to action.”
As a result of the iterative process in Bangkok in 2019, 10 statements describing the nature, purpose and direction of incentive travel became the backbone of the Bangkok Manifesto. SITE’s Gilligan then invited the industry at large to select three of the 10 statements for more in-depth analysis and consideration in Vancouver. These critical amendments include Sustainability, Corporate Culture and Economic Growth (see sidebar).
The Challenges Ahead
Glynn welcomes challenges and embraces change with wide-open arms.
This year SITE focused on four strategic priorities: Sustainable Growth, Engagement, Advocacy, and Financial Growth (see sidebar). Glynn believes that working together on pan-industry issues such as the fight against human trafficking, sustainability and women in leadership allows the industry to build stronger solutions together as partners.
She reminded us that industry partners need to work together as much for expected change as for the unexpected.
“The coronavirus is affecting our industry globally,” she said, noting the organization will work to support its members and their communities by providing reliable information and seek out ways to mitigate the losses that, inevitably, will come.
Gilligan expects to provide an update on SITE’s 2020 deliverables at next year’s SITE Global Conference in Dublin, scheduled (Feb. 4-7).
“We’ll also continue the discussion, debate and dialogue and produce the Dublin Manifesto,” he said.
According to Jason Thomson of Think Jigsaw: “Everything about this event screamed ‘Limitless’—the food, the Dream Wall outside the plenary, the session with Ben Nimtz. I left Vancouver with a renewed sense of purpose and excitement about creating better incentive travel.”
Crowdsourced Critical Amendments for 2020
Courtesy of Padraic Gilligan, SITE chief marketing officer.
PRIORITY 1: SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY & SUSTAINABILITY
Every stakeholder in the incentive travel community should embrace social responsibility as a core part of their business philosophy and commit to responsible and sustainable development goals such as the payment of a fair wage, workplace equality and inclusivity, anti-trafficking and the protection of our world’s natural environment.
- Contribute towards reduction in food waste
- Encourage adoption of “local where possible” sourcing
- Adopt anti-child-trafficking and abuse position
- Research clients’ sustainability policies; build SITE policies
- Plan to mitigate risks from “flight and cruise shaming”
- Encourage chapter events to use sustainable standards
- Share company sustainability
PRIORITY 2: TEAMWORK & CORPORATE CULTURE
Success in tomorrow’s business environment will depend in large part on fostering brilliant teamwork and respectful relationships as part of a healthy corporate culture. We believe that well designed and executed incentive travel programs are uniquely effective in building these attributes.
- Produce toolbox of strong, emotional key messages
- Create secure anonymous platform for sharing client results
- Create metrics to measure cultural impacts
- Obtain testimonials from client champions
- Identify and assist communication within SITE community
- Use SITE’s own corporate culture to lead by example
- Make SITE material friendly for non-native English speakers
PRIORITY 3: ECONOMIC IMPACT
Incentive travel contributes significantly to economic growth, partnerships within and between organizations and innovative thinking by both participants and the organizations that create the programs.
- Develop two advocacy approaches - business and tourism
- Collate all methodologies for measuring impact
- Create secure, anonymous platform for sharing client results
- Identify and assist communicators within SITE community
- Obtain testimonials from client champions
The top-ranking action point under each priority statement will be tackled at the committee level throughout 2020 by SITE members, and results will be presented at the SITE Global Conference in Dublin in February 2021.
SITE Tomorrow: The Challenges Ahead
According to SITE 2020 President Jennifer Glynn: “This year, we are focused on four strategic priorities: Sustainable Growth, Engagement, Advocacy and Financial Growth. Some of the initiatives that we are focused on include the following.”
- Finalizing our digital transformation that started in 2019. Creating digital platforms that allow our members to engage globally.
- Continued focus on education. Working on the development of our Executive Level Certification, launching our new Incentive Travel Academy to support in regional mid-level training and continuing to elevate educational programming at our events.
- Chapter support through our newly appointed head of chapter engagement.
- Expansion of our Young Leaders Program to other chapters globally.
- Launch of Incentive Summit Asia Pacific this October.
- Advocacy of the incentive travel industry through speaking to broader audiences.
- Delivery on the action points crowdsourced in Vancouver during the manifesto sessions.