SITE Names Marriott's Peggy Whitman As New Prez
With the entire concept of incentive travel as an effective employee motivator called into question—given the current state of world affairs—the incoming president of the Society for Incentive & Travel Executives will be facing significant challenges in the year ahead.
Though Peggy Whitman, who begins her year-long term at SITE's annual international conference next month in Lisbon, Portugal, acknowledged the difficulties this segment of the industry inevitably will face, she won't concede the industry will be down for long.
"People will soon have the wherewithal to get back on planes," said Whitman, Chandler, Ariz.-based western regional sales director for Marriott International incentive sales. "In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, it's true that travel was not a key motivator. But you can't keep the desire to meet and see different parts of the world down, and corporations will see the need to motivate, to let people hobnob with their CEOs and to understand corporate direction in these turbulent times."
That said, the industry SITE serves will suffer if corporate senior management decides that travel awards—especially international travel, as overseas suppliers comprise a significant portion of SITE's membership—won't spur sales increases, particularly if they decide cash awards, SITE's bane, will. And certainly there are corporations, despite the need to increase sales, that don't employ incentives to do so.
As such, Whitman said, the association has the obligation to step up its education efforts to stress the benefits of incentive travel to drive sales in a down economy.
"There are needs that were not there prior to Sept. 11," Whitman said. "But education now can help. In Lisbon, we're going to talk about what we're experiencing globally. There will be talk about alliances and mergers, and it's from these talks that we can get together to figure out an approach to deal with this."
Whitman pointed to the industry response to Great Britain's foot-and-mouth epidemic, which hurt European tourism, as an example of effective association action to reassure travelers. Though she stressed that there's no comparison between the two situations, "one thing we gleaned from that is the need to educate on timely topics."
In the short term, though, not every aspect of the industry has slipped.
At Marriott, Whitman—who also is a veteran of several resort and hotel sales and incentive positions and served at the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau—focuses on incentive sales for the chain's properties and reported an uptick in such business, though at least some of it is at the expense of international properties.
In the short term, at least, companies may favor the individual travel incentive over the group to offer the recipient more flexibility in choice of destination.
"The individual award category is very strong," Whitman said. "It's above pace because companies still want to reward employees, but they're allowing them to choose when they want to go. There is a challenge in getting people to cross the ocean. We've seen an emphasis on regional and local events. I think the uptick will continue, but with the war, you never know what will happen."