Site Southern California Chapter President, Darrell Benning, is originally from West London where he worked in the European tour industry. He has been a resident of San Diego for 25 + years and during that time has covered many aspects of the travel industry including travel agency management and ownership, cruise marketing and sales, group sales and operations and corporate travel management. For the last ten years plus Darrell has been enjoying all aspects of the incentive travel arena, with experience at the local, regional, national & international level on both inbound and outbound programs. In addition to Site, he also serves on several industry board & committees including the San Diego State University School of Hospitality and Tourism Management as well as the advisory committee of the SDSU Institute for Meetings and Events.
Site: Site appreciates that being a Chapter Leader is a volunteer position and requires a significant time commitment. What/who motivated you to assume a Site Chapter Leader position?
Darrell: Quite a few years ago I switched from a role managing group leisure & cruise sales for a travel management company to their incentive travel division. After researching the industry associations I decided to attend our local Site SoCal Chapter luncheon and was immediately impressed by the caliber of people in attendance. Having served on other committees and boards I knew first hand the benefits of involvement. So I jumped in and volunteered at our Holiday Event and lunches selling raffle tickets – a great way to meet people and to give you something to do if you’re a newcomer! From there it was a matter of learning more about the chapter and its members and wanting to help out wherever I could. At Site SoCal we have always had a strong board with both vision and leadership so I feel fortunate to follow in the footsteps and to have learned from those that came before me.
Site: When recruiting new members, what do you tell them are the greatest personal and professional benefits of being a member of Site?
Darrell: Professionally, it takes time to build lasting relationships, and it could be that you may never work directly with many of the members within your chapter. However, I find there is a very strong spirit of wanting to help both within our chapter and at the Global level through referrals and the exchange of information. This has has certainly helped me weather the recession of a few years back and continues to this day. Personally, I feel that our Site events are my own “support group” where I can let off steam, talk candidly with peers about the industry and the profession, receive valuable feedback and of course, have a lot of fun. The Site International Foundation works on our behalf to produce valuable and timely feedback and trends within our industry that is a true asset to all members and is very much appreciated.
Site: What are some of the other educational activities and events Site SoCal has planned for 2014 to engage current and prospective members?
Darrell: Since most of our members have a few years under their belt, our educational events lean more towards self-growth and motivation as opposed to “hands on training”. We are fortunate to have contracted some wonderful speakers for this year, including Ryan Estis in March, Dr. Robert Gonzalez from the Chopra Center for Workplace Wellbeing in May and Amanda Gore (in from Australia) in September. We’ve also enlisted the help of Ashley James, executive chef at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills to enlighten us as to current trends and updates in the Food & Beverage sector at our July luncheon at the Montage Beverly Hills. We’re also very proud of our Young Leaders who dovetail their meetings before our luncheons. In May, they will meet and talk about Championing the Value of Tourism through Meetings and Incentives and hear from Misti Kerns, President and CEO of Santa Monica ConVis. In November they have planned a Job Fair in conjunction with our scheduled luncheon and are overseeing the CSR program at our annual Holiday Event & Charity Auction, along with volunteering throughout the year at our selected charities. We should all regard the Young Leaders as the key to membership growth and retention for the future – they are invaluable!
Site: What are some of the key opportunities/issues/challenges that are positively or negatively impacting the incentive travel and motivational events industry in your region?
Darrell: I think for each of us it’s a different challenge/concern. For hoteliers, maybe it’s the trend to change to 4 star or even 3 star hotels from 5 star, reduced F&B budgets, or shorter booking windows that can play havoc with long term planning. For third- party planners, it can be the move towards end users bringing more elements in house or handling the entire program directly. For DMC’s, at times, there is some cross over within the industry and some planners/properties are going directly to local suppliers. For end users it could be that their decision makers are asking them to do more with less and not see the value of the investment. Overall, here in the US, we are seeing food costs increasing for various reasons that will for sure prove to be a continued challenge. We are all closely watching the situation in Ukraine as we know how susceptible international US travel is to conflict abroad. However, to end on a positive note, budgets seem to be up and companies are travelling, so most members within in our region are on an upward trend that we hope will continue for many years to come!