The Renaissance of Incentive Travel

By Sandra Eagle

In a recent Zoom webinar, SITE Global engaged incentive travel professionals from Canada to discuss the renaissance of incentive travel, and how quickly it has rebounded to a healthy state. Pádraic Gilligan, chief marketing officer at SITE, was the moderator of the panel that included Michael Welsh, CHBA, executive director, global sales, meetings & incentives, North & Central America, at Accor Hotels, Cate Banfield, CIS, CITP, CEO of Wynford, based in Toronto, and Mark Zanetti, incentive specialist, business events, Destination Canada, based in Vancouver, BC.  Read on for excerpts from the webinar.

Pádraic Gilligan: Can you share a little of the resumption and recovery of incentive travel as experienced at Wynford?

Cate Banfield: I think we were all kind of on pins and needles wondering what 2022 was going to be like, right? And the floodgates opened, it came back with a vengeance. Some of our clients have done multiple programs this year to make up for lost time, which is great. But of course, when you couple that with the space compression that's out there and resources, it’s a challenge.

Gilligan: Michael, you're with the team at Accor, with properties all over the world, including Asia. So what is the recovery resumption story?

Michael Welsh: Accor is seeing strong demand in parts of Asia, it's a great time to visit our hotels and the cities are humming. We see people wanting to feel part of human life and surrounded by architecture and experiences and great diverse crowds. In terms of forward bookings, there is a lot of interest in key destinations such as Bangkok, Hanoi, Bali, Jakarta, Singapore, Seoul, Tokyo and Osaka. Our company has always anticipated that there would be strong pent-up demand for the Asian region.

Pádraic Gilligan: Mark, is recovery equally buoyant across the diverse incentive experiences that you have in Canada?

Mark Zanetti: 2022 was a great year for us. Not only did we see the easing of the pandemic and its restrictions, we also learned quite a bit about today's market, which is a lot different than yesterday’s. We now have a new take on wellness. And it's a completely evolved definition. And, we are dealing with a workforce environment like we've never seen. And to be honest, all of this disruption has led us to a very exciting time in our industry, and specifically for Canada. I look at some of the experiences that we have in the proper North, knowing they're rooted in the authenticity that the market is demanding. All of these things have really strengthened the appeal of northern experiences in the market. It's a very exciting time for the incentive industry, and seeing how we can adapt to 2023 through our learnings.

Pádraic Gilligan: Has program design changed at all, after the pandemic?

Cate BanfieId: I think travel is just this kind of universal connector for people. And when you can create an industry around transformational travel, you have an enormous opportunity to create a renaissance around that. And, as people are thinking about what travel means for them, it's going to take a village to create experiences. We have opportunities, as shepherds of this industry, to make sure that we're thinking through what those experiences look and feel like. Deprogramming is becoming a big trend right now. We've all been to those events where we've been scheduled within a minute of our life, right? From 6 am, through till midnight, and you're gonna go, “I don't have a moment to think.” So everybody's thinking about what program design looks and feels like for the future. And that's part of this renaissance, which is a huge opportunity. And part of that program design obviously includes diversity, inclusion and sustainability and making sure that the programs that we're creating represent the diverse planet that we live on.

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