Incentive Travel Guidelines Welcome

Incentive Travel Industry Guidelines Welcome

by Anne Thornley-Brown, President

Executive Oasis International

The global recession and the use of funds for expensive trips and luxury events by some of the recipients of TARP funding  has unleashed a series of events that has created a crisis in the incentive travel industry.  As discussed in our most recent blog entry, many organizations that are doing well are now hesitant to schedule incentives or retreats due to concerns about the optics during a recession and the potential for negative publicity. This is unfortunate. The state of the industry was the impetus for a press release by the U.S. Travel Association earlier this week

“As the nation continues to suffer from one of the worst economic upheavals in our lifetime, the travel industry is facing its own challenges.

We saw in the aftermath of 9/11 that times like these can result in fundamental, long-term shifts in regulation, consumer behavior and overall perceptions. As the industry’s trade association, we are prepared to optimize the operating environment as best we can and guard against trends that could affect your ability to do business.

Post-9/11, the travel industry was caught in the middle of a paradigm shift. At that time, accessible travel was viewed to be in conflict with our national security needs. Public attitudes turned against international travel to the U.S. and new regulations quickly followed. As a result, the U.S. share of global inbound travel dropped dramatically, with an accumulative loss of more than $113 billion in travel spending in the U.S. and an average loss of 194,000 jobs each year.

Almost eight years later, our industry still has not fully recovered.

Today, we are at the leading edge of another potential sea change, this time focused on meetings, events, incentives and other forms of business travel. We are at risk of seeing this sector of the travel economy, which also is responsible for millions of jobs and billions in economic revenue, suffer lasting harm.”

Roger Dow, CEO , U.S. Travel Association  Source

The impact of the current recession and the negative publicity is not limited to the US or even North America. It’s global:

“Incentive tourism, which accounts for more than 12 per cent of the whole tourism activity in Dubai, is expected to lose up to 20 per cent of its inbound traffic in the period beginning February 2009 as a result of the global financial crisis.”

Source: Incentive tourism sector tightening its belt

“Travel agents in the UAE are reporting a severe dip in 2009 bookings for incentive packages both to and from the emirates as banks and property companies put a spending freeze on non-essential trips.

“Most of our incentive packages have either been put on hold or cancelled because of the economic situation,” said MMI Sales Executive Rakhi Purohit. “It’s gone down a lot recently – what is usually our peak season has basically been quiet.”

Purohit said banks and real estate companies in the UAE had put a freeze on incentive travel for staff. “That is what’s killing our business,” she added.

MMI’s Dubai-bound deals for European and US clients are also suffering, she said.”

Source: Incentives Slide in a Global Freeze

Leaders in the incentive travel industry have taken some steps in recent days to:

  •  provide guidelines about responsible spending for meetings, retreats and incentives
  • highlight the benefits of incentive travel with  US Government officials in Washington

The coalition has:

  • issued a press release:

Travel community issues guidelines for Use of Meetings and Events by Recipients of Emergency Government Assistance

  • issued spending and policy guidelines for TARP recipients re: incentives, meetings and events
  • started an e-petition to underscore the vital role that the incentive travel, meeting and event industries plays in the global economy

Coalition of Meeting Industry Associations Issues Guidelines for Responsible Spending by TARP Fund Recipients

The U.S. Travel Association and key associations representing professionals in the meetings, events and incentive travel industry have released suggested guidelines for recipients of TARP funding.

Suggested Guidelines for TARP Recipients (PDF)

 “The business practices of our customers impact the welfare of our industry, our employee base and the economic health of the communities where we do business.  Working collaboratively, associations representing the meetings, events and incentive travel industries are addressing an urgent public need by developing clear, prudent guidelines for companies that have received taxpayer dollars.

The standards support President Obama’s recent call for the boards of directors of companies that have received emergency government lending to develop guidelines on conferences, events and employee recognition programs.”

Roger Dow, CEO ,  U.S. Travel Association

I applaud the measures and hope that they will encourage more responsible thinking, planning , accountability, and spending by ALL executives and decision makers. For some time now I have been expressing concerns about some of the spending that has been going on in the corporate sector and I have again discussed my concerns in recent blogs. This new emphasis on accountability is the only way that we can ensure the long term viability of our industry.

Keep America Meeting Campaign

In my  most recent blog, I also discussed the important role that incentive travel plays in creating jobs and keeping the economy rolling.  The  U.S. Travel Association has released figures indicated that meetings and events are account for 15 % of all travel spending. This generates nearly $40 billion in tax revenue at the federal, state and local level and creates more than  1 million jobs.

The same coalition that released the guidelines has  banded together in a grassroots highlight the critical role that incentives, meetings and events play in the US and global economies with  a campaign called:

Keep America Meeting 

Members of the public and professionals in the industry are encouraged to visit the website to download statistics and a whitepaper about the key role of the industry. The site has already collected over 1000 signatures for an e-petition that will be delivered to the White House, the House of Congress and CEOs at Fortune 200 companies to undescore the vital role of incentives and meetings in America. I hope that everyone who reads this blog will consider signing it.

If we all work together, we can turn things around and avoid the lengthy downturn that occured in the industry after 9/11, the 2002 – 2003 recession and SARS  (in Toronto and Asia).

Anne Thornley-Brown is the President of Executive Oasis International, a Toronto based firm that regularly organizes incentive travel and executive retreats in Dubai, Oman, Jamaica, Malaysia, Singapore, and Canada. They provide one stop shopping service with a personalized approach to incentive travel for corporate groups of up to 40. Customized itineraries include travel, transfers, hotel, tours, team activities, and special events.


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