Since 1980, the annual Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) Crystal Awards Recognition Program — sponsored by IMEX Group — has brought industry acclaim to incentive travel companies. These are the world-class organizations that excel in the design of unique, memorable group travel experiences, which deliver measurable benefits for their clients.
The 2016 awards were presented at the SITE Global Conference, which took place early November in Panama City, Panama. This year seven companies from around the globe were honored for creativity in program design, marketing, corporate social responsibility and, most importantly, business results. The events showcase the best — not just the best-known — destinations that have advanced client values and brands, and whose programs have given generously to local communities, while achieving important business goals such as increased sales, higher employee engagement, and greater loyalty.
As the client’s needs grew, so did their incentive travel program. It may have started as a trip with 300 travelers with a budget of $2500 per couple, but 25 years later, the client’s 30th Anniversary event included over 1000 travelers and booming budget to match. Argentina Travel Partners took the challenge and became just that—partners—as the client assimilated into their team for welcomed participation and transparency. Throughout the event, creative programming and creative cost management elevated this incentive event to an adventure of a lifetime.
Effectiveness and Results
The client’s incentive program is designed for a “Return On Involvement,” which in turn, increases their bottom line and Return on Investment. It is not only a financial return but an emotional return that are important to them. Their culture is based on an entrepreneurial philosophy of equality, fairness, sharing for the good of all and success. Success in all they do – whether it is redesigning their retail stores, buying products, creating advertising and marketing or rewarding their “members” with once in a lifetime travel (which of course is expected to be repeated to a higher standard with each destination).
The Creative Approach
This North America client had done it all, so ATP DMC had to pull out their creativity hats. The requirements were to create – from inception to fruition – all events and activities exclusively for the client. From venues to menus, themes to entertainment, set-up to gifts and invitations – everything had to be unique. ATP DMC was asked to create four signature events, and also offer exclusive daily tours and activities to augment the Argentine experience. “What was that perceived Argentine experience?” was asked of the client and list ensued: Wine, beef, tango, soccer, polo, art, ranches, leather, gauchos, Evita, cityscapes, Patagonia glaciers, Iguazu Falls, wine country.
An incentive experience was build around these items including a surprise flashmob with Evita herself on the balcony above singing, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”; an exclusive buy-out of Tango Porteño on the widest avenue in the world; a polo clinic at the famous La Aguada polo ranch; A Journey Through Time where guests received Argentine passports and were greeted as European immigrants arriving circal 1880 and journeyed through a street of period music, dress, empanada making, gaucho dancers and more. The evening celebration was topped off with a confetti shower and “Happy 30th Anniversary” speech and toast by the company’s CEO. The after party included a private “dance club” in a rear glass walled foyer of the hotel that opened nightly after guests returned from dinner.
The management of the Argentine budget element was a paramount responsibility for the DMC. The program budgets were updated, at times weekly, to apprise the client of any fluctuations affecting overall costs and at times what could or could not be included in the pending program. Argentine and Buenos Aires labor union contracts also had to be safeguarded against and anticipated. Each event had a separate spreadsheet to monitor specific items that might potentially change. Any political election (of which there were several) also had to be watched closely for possible financial effects. The TEAM that was created between this DMC and the client was very cognizant of the potential shift in available funding, so small items were initially identified that could be added or omitted from the program as needed, to facilitate budget management.
Time, patience, outstanding resources, kindness and yes – creativity, result in successful implementation of the project and plan. Paramount was understanding the logistics required for a city, site or venue and then seeking the client’s assumptions regarding implementation with the DMC’s input of logistics stirred into the mix. This program utilized both local staff and the client’s experienced travel staff to begin the visit successfully. At the airport a familiar face in a foreign baggage claim room with the inhabitants of four jumbo planes all searching for their “black” suitcases was immensely helpful to the local staff and for the comfort of the guests. Logoed signage directed participants and the additional well spent costs of guides on each of the airport transfers offered an initial introduction to the new city of Buenos Aires they were visiting.
After that initial transfer, the effort was put forth to maintain the same faces as guides or transportation coordinators to ease the anxiety of “Where are we going?” or “how can I find you?” The hotel allowed this group to occupy exclusively the convention lobby to ease any confusion and to make loading vehicles very organized. They located the DMC desk, their Hospitality Desk and a Reservation Desk in this lobby – all connected with internet and phones for any required communication with vendors, guides, guests, travel staff, venues, and medical facilities. Daily the client printed a newsletter to remind guests of any logistics, times, advice, etc., and had it delivered to their rooms with gifts and any other personal communications. Breakfasts were private and hosted daily, which offered another opportunity to coordinate any logistics by both local and client staff assigned to that function, either from personal questions, signage or announcements.
Prior to each program’s operation meetings were held to review all agreed implementation for each function by the DMC and each resource. Not only were there supervised oral reviews, but also understandings, that were printed and shared by email or handout of all pertinent information. Thanks to scheduled reviews with the DMC’s general manager and his department heads the flow of logistics and implementation was not lost in the length of time between a decision and the actual event. Each element was mentioned with all in attendance being welcome to update or adjust as situations or timing or players changed.
The client invested in several pre-event planning trips to personally understand and meet with key individuals associated with each event or cost center (for instance printing or gifts). The personal relationship that resulted from these trips created a bond of trust and understanding between the client and many of our local resources. Three days prior to the first program, everyone was summoned to full meetings for final recaps of each daily element and used the opportunity to also have specific “pre-cons” with providers like the hotel. As a group – DMC and client supervisors, we traveled to each site to sit down and discuss their specific contribution to the guest’s programmed week and then reviewed each of their own suppliers, staff and individual concerns or last minute needs. No stone was left unturned. The DMC even took the client to purchase and deliver five dozen eggs to a convent just outside the city, to ask for good weather for the main outdoor events (this is a local tradition). p.s. It worked!!