In July, the Society for Incentive Travel Executives (Site) and the Site International Foundation welcomed Kevin Hinton as the new head of its management team. Formerly the executive vice-president of Associated Luxury Hotels International (ALHI) and CEO of hinton+grusich, Hinton has worked in the meetings and incentive industry for 15 years. During that time, he has served on several international meeting associations and worked closely with Meeting Professionals International (MPI). His volunteer work and career achievements combine to give him a truly holistic view of the industry. M+IT caught up with him just after the wrap of the 2013 Site Global Conference in Orlando, Florida. ~ Lori Smith, Editor
1. What challenges are facing the incentive travel industry today?
I think our opportunity and our challenge is to connect the incentive travel experience back with its business purpose. In 2008 and 2009, a lot of companies cancelled their incentive trips because they were concerned, basically, about the optics of them. But what they learned [since then] is that incentive travel works to motivate top performers and keep them performing at high levels. The business has come back in many ways and incentive travel had a very strong year in 2013 and is predicted to continue to grow through 2016.
Our challenge is not to focus on incentive travel as a week-long, over the top experience for some people without connecting it to its business purpose. Making the business case for incentives—I think that’s our biggest challenge.
2. How do you start making the business case?
Well, I think we have to talk about the psychology behind incentive travel. Why people will work for an experience that they can share with a spouse or friend—somebody close to them. Why travel makes a more lasting, impactful reward or incentive than cash or even merchandise. Those are motivators, no question. But, they’re very different from offering a week-long experience that people can work towards.
Our story-telling needs to be more business focused, and that’s something we’re aware of and working on. The challenge is correctly positioning [incentive travel], and the solution to that is communicating and messaging. But, the communicating and messaging has to be in a business context not just with our incentive travel lens on. We have to get the word out effectively.
3. Do you have a plan to get the word out?
Yes, we do. It’s an evolving plan and it’s multi-faceted. I’d say the whole business events industry globally is faced with this challenge. It’s not a Site issue. It’s not a North America issue. It’s a worldwide issue. I’ve had this conversation in multiple countries and multiple regions. Now there are initiatives underway that are pan-industry. A “Meetings Means Business” campaign was announced during the PCMA Convening Leaders conference in January. It’s a simple message that can be replicated in any country in the world. Again, it’s attaching meetings and incentives with business as opposed to other words that have been attached to our industry by the mainstream media and government leaders over the past few years.
In terms of incentives, our plan is to work with our Foundation to help us make the business case for incentives. It’s one thing to talk about the business case for meetings or that meetings mean business, but how can we tell the story around incentives and how they drive business results? That’s what we’re planning to do through research, case studies, communication and our messaging. The challenge here is extracting those data points, which many companies regard as proprietary information. One of our first initiatives for 2014 is conducting an Executive Viewpoint Study that asks business leaders whether or not they invest in incentives, particularly incentive travel, and why they do or do not. This study will provide us some insights into why executives are believers or non-believers, and will help us build our messaging.
4. What factors are contributing to changes in the industry today?
When you look at the incentive travel industry now, there’s clearly a global focus. Incentive travel is coming from different parts of the world and going to different parts of the world. Traditionally, the biggest markets have been the United States and the United Kingdom—and they’re still big—but there are plenty of other markets: the Canadian market, the Brazilian market, the Chinese market.
I also think workforce diversity is having an impact. Generally, the incentive travel component has been reserved for certain levels within an organization, and our challenge is to help our members design programs for clients that are cognizant of the demographic differences within companies. Don’t say that Millennials don’t want a trip, they just want cash. And don’t assume that a sales executive, who has been rewarded with many incentive travel experiences, wouldn’t want merchandise or cash one year. It’s about personalizing incentive awards and not generalizing.
Another challenge for incentive planners and suppliers is working with budgets that haven’t increased and costs—airfare, hotels—that have gone up. They need to be able to make the business case for increasing budgets.
5. What goals have you set for Site in the near future?
We just completed a Painted Picture exercise, which is a strategic planning process created by a Canadian entrepreneur named Cameron Herold. He was the COO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK and is the author of a book called Double Double, which explains how to double your business in three years. Developing a Painted Picture helped the Site board create a series of statements describing how we want the organization to look, feel and act in 2016. So that’s the three-year plan.
In 2014, the plan is to work on things like: how do we communicate effectively; how do we engage sponsors and have business conversations with them; and how do we align all the different business components of our association—our members, our committees, our chapters, our boards—so that we’re all pointed in the same direction to achieve Site’s Painted Picture.
View Site’s Painted Picture at siteglobal.com.