Meetings + Events
The power of gathering people
The power of gathering people
by Laura Bickle
Anthony Byron launched his first company—Hemisphere Tours, a charter ski tour operator in the Canadian Rockies—in 1977. He started focusing his businesses on the meetings and incentive industry in 1979 and acquired Meridican Incentive Consultants in 1986. Last year, he and his partner sold Meridican to Creative Group, where he then became senior advisor until retiring this past March.
As this incentive travel stalwart embarks on retirement, he shared with Ignite some reflections on his career—and gave sage advice for the industry as we continue to navigate this difficult time.
To what do you attribute the success of Meridican?
We’ve been very blessed to be associated with really wonderful people.
I know it sounds cliché, but we very much viewed it as a family: respect for your fellow worker and appreciation for clients—without them we are nothing. We were always trying to solve something for clients, and we happily assumed their identity in the process.
How did you get into the industry?
I was on my way to law school and decided to take a year off. During the summer months, I had escorted tourists through the Canadian Rockies for UTL Holiday Tours. After that season, I went to my boss and suggested we start a company offering ski tours and package holidays to the Canadian Rockies…so we did. In 1979, we operated our first incentive travel programs. We had developed a solid understanding of the “business of motivation” and how to use travel as a motivational vehicle. Law school seemed to fade in the distance for me as I became hooked on our industry. When I later acquired Meridican, I saw it as a real opportunity to provide a genuine value proposition to corporations.
What challenges are facing the incentive industry?
The Coronavirus pandemic has impacted us all as it has quickly grown into a global health crisis since it first surfaced in November. Our realities began to change as we closed borders, cancelled events, closed businesses and self-quarantined. The travel industry worldwide, and group travel in particular, was devastated.
Recovery will require destinations, hotels, airlines, attractions, etc. to effectively prove to potential visitors that they are doing everything they can to minimize the risk to travelers both en route and in the destinations. Our industry is extremely resilient and human nature is such that people are always going to want to travel and experience different countries and cultures.
Continuing to motivate individuals while providing safe event forums that are responding to the serious health concerns will be a challenge that we will face and overcome as an industry.
An ongoing challenge is the need for procurement departments to try to commoditize something that doesn’t fit on a shelf. This causes a lot of frustration for all of us and even our clients. Procurement makes decisions without necessarily understanding the full scope of what we do. Our work is relational, not transactional. In time, I believe you will find that procurement will become more sophisticated and accept that. How people are motivated to perform isn’t just a dollar-and-cents proposition.
Another issue is legal liability and the growing fear that you can’t do certain things because of legal exposure. Aside from the liability concerns, we need to always adapt to an ever-changing landscape.
We will always run into issues and challenges, but great organizations such as SITE, MPI and the Incentive Research Foundation have tremendous leaders and executive teams. I have seen growth in the industry that I never envisioned when I started out. The growing sophistication of the leaders within these organizations gives me tremendous confidence in the future of our industry.
What’s your advice for those entering the industry?
You must be prepared to work hard and adapt. You will find success if you approach your role with a servant’s heart. Always treat clients and participants as if they were a family member. Our business is all about making people happy and we use the world and travel to do it. The most exciting part of our business is that nothing is the same. It is always challenging, exciting, frightening and rewarding. Each event, each program, is a new canvas for us to create a masterpiece.
What will you miss?
I feel fortunate that we were able to sell Meridican to a fabulous company, Creative Group. Under the exceptional leadership of President, Janet Traphagen, Creative Group shares that sense of family and caring, and she is laser focused on seeing both clients and employees thrive. And I know that the Canadian arm is in very capable hands with the leadership team of Ellie MacPherson and Terry Manion.
But I will miss the people…my co-workers, our clients and all the wonderful people I have had the pleasure to work with. I will miss that energy that is associated with what we do. There’s something so remarkably fulfilling to work with an organization and understand their goals—and about putting together a program with multiple suppliers that effectively meets their goals. Seeing the results: the smiles, the laughter and the appreciation. That is such a marvellous reward!
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