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Britain open for incentive business

The incentive travel industry is built around a simple premise – motivate individuals to improved performance with the lure of…

The incentive travel industry is built around a simple premise – motivate individuals to improved performance with the lure of travel rewards awaiting them. The destination is the impetus that spurs action and fuels success … any negative impression can be a program killer. With this critical understanding in mind, the British Tourist Authority turned to the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives (SITE<.>) for assistance when the recent "foot and mouth" (F&M) outbreak threatened the country's lucrative tourism industry. SITE executive vice president/CEO Jill Harrington was one of an elite group of association and travel leaders selected to participate in the World Travel Leaders Summit (April 17-20) aimed at clarifying the impact and reach of F&M on tourism activities.

"I was impressed by the swift and immediate stance the BTA took to counter this PR crisis and was encouraged that they took the opportunity to educate key market segments on this serious issue," stated Harrington. The UK is a popular destination for incentive groups – consistently ranking in the top five overseas destinations for US groups. The United States leads the world as the largest user of incentive travel programs -with US corporations spending nearly $10 billion annually on these programs.

US and European incentive marketing companies were polled prior to Harrington's departure to gauge the impact of the "foot and mouth" situation on their programs. Incentive marketing companies are responsible for, among other things, destination selection and reward delivery of corporate incentive programs. Among the key concerns/questions reported to SITE were:

Perception that F&M is not under control; therefore diminishing the "motivational" appeal of the destination. As one planner noted, "No one wants to be rewarded with a trip where one must keep disinfecting the bottoms of their shoes."

Food insecurity issues – "The most asked question we get is, what does foot and mouth do to the food supply? Can it hurt our groups?" noted another planner.

Availability of venues most often used on incentive/motivational programs, such as country house hotels, golf courses, and historic landmarks.

While outright cancellation of programs to the UK has been minimal, several clients have adopted a "wait and see" approach on upcoming programs or pushed program delivery back by six months.

Harrington carried these concerns with her as she traveled to the UK and used a highly-trained eye to evaluate the situation. Prior to assuming the top role in SITE, she accumulated 13 years experience as an incentive house buyer. Harrington's first-hand experience validates the theme that the BTA has adopted, "Britain is open for business."

She reports that the venues, locales, and facilities most likely to be used by incentive groups are open, available, and "looking better than ever." "Signs so visible on television and in newspaper photos- 'infected area' or 'closed for business' – are not a reality at incentive venues," states Harrington. "It is clear, however, that cancellation factors from the mass travel market are greater than in our market niche." She added that vacancy signs were evident in the Lake District where some hoteliers report that occupancy is down by as much as 80 percent.

On April 20th, Harrington attended separated meetings with Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Duke of Edinburgh where concerns and perceptions were shared. "Perception becomes reality very quickly in the absence of hard facts," she stated, "and dramatic visuals of burning pyres are a difficult image to overcome when you are trying to 'sell' a destination as appropriate for an incentive program." Harrington urged the government to invest in a strong and immediate marketing campaign to counter these images to convey the real impact of the situation.

Theodore Koumelis
Co-Founder & Managing Director - Travel Media Applications | Website

Theodore is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of TravelDailyNews Media Network; his responsibilities include business development and planning for TravelDailyNews long-term opportunities.