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.
A leading financial services company uses its annual summit to educate, reward, surprise and delight its top-tier producers, while providing opportunities to network with peers and high-level executives. This set of guests has a tremendous impact on the company’s success, so keeping them happy and rewarding their efforts is mission critical.
Given the importance of this program, planning typically happens well in advance. Last year, the Summit Program was scheduled to take place at Baja Mar in the Bahamas. The company had already notified guests of the location choice, and were working to generate excitement around the program, when suddenly the Baja Mar filed for bankruptcy.
The planning team was faced with two enormous challenges – find a new location that would excite guests even more than the Bahamas and plan an unforgettable experience on a compressed timeline. It was absolutely essential that guests didn’t feel the program had been thrown together as a result of the location change.
Given the initial setback of having to change destinations, it was crucial that every aspect of the event delight the guests. The team knew they’d be watching satisfaction rates closely – working to prevent a situation where guests thought “that was great, but I still wish we could have gone to the Bahamas.”
The planning team selected London – a world-class city that could accommodate an extremely tight planning timeline while still delivering an outstanding experience for their guests. The team worked ceaselessly to create an event that could still deliver on the program’s objectives, and were able to deliver.
This program took advantage of London’s history and culture at every step. Guests felt they had taken a step back in time as they experienced royal treatment and explored London’s most renowned landmarks.
Effectiveness and Results
The goal for this program is to create an experience that educates, rewards, surprises and delights our company’s top-tier producers, while providing opportunities to network with peers and high-level executives. This set of guests has a tremendous impact on the company, and they are considered one of the company’s most important audiences. Keeping them happy and rewarding their efforts is mission critical.
Given the importance of this program, planning typically happens well in advance. Last year, The Summit Program was scheduled to take place at Baja Mar in the Bahamas. The company had already notified guests of the location choice, and were working to generate excitement around the program, when suddenly the Baja Mar filed for bankruptcy. The planning team was faced with an enormous challenge – find a new location that would excite guests even more than the Bahamas and plan an unforgettable experience on a compressed timeline. It was absolutely essential that guests didn’t feel the program had been thrown together as a result of the location change.
Given the initial setback of having to change destinations, it was crucial that every aspect of the event delight the participants. The team knew they’d be watching satisfaction rates closely – working to prevent a situation where guests thought “that was great, but I still wish we could have gone to the Bahamas.”
The planning team selected London – a world-class city that could accommodate an extremely tight planning timeline while still delivering an outstanding experience for the participants. The team worked ceaselessly to create an event that could still deliver on the program’s objectives, and the results were astonishing.
Overall, the program achieved each of its goals. Surveys showed that the guests were very pleased with the Summit with 93.5% responding “very satisfied” or “extremely satisfied.” One participant commented, “The attention to detail throughout the events was dazzling – from being picked up at the airport in a private black car, Julie Andrews, great hosting, tea at Kensington Palace, the red roses that covered the final night banquet table – what great fun! I say, better than Monte Carlo!”
Most importantly, the experience has caused a lasting effect – 80.6% of attendees rated themselves as promoters of the event. And, after reviewing survey results, not a single guest mentioned the location switch or expressed disappointment about not being in the Bahamas – a real victory for the planning team and a testament to the quality of the London event.
The Creative Approach
Given the changes and quick planning timeline, the stakes were extremely high. Because of the support from leadership, the team was able to secure additional budget to meet expectations effectively.
The budget also allowed the planners to take advantage of one of the most historic and renowned cities, London. They maximized budget by selecting the historic Grosvenor House, located in London’s Mayfair district overlooking Hyde Park and in walking distance to multiple historical and notable attractions.
One of the best examples of the benefits of an increased budget was the first evening’s event – The Great Exhibition: London’s 1851 World’s Fair. The additional investment in this event allowed the team to create a completely customized and cohesive experience. Not a single aspect of the evening strayed from the main theme – steampunk. From magicians and jugglers adorned in industrial era top hats and waist coats to the eccentric succulents, eccentric chandeliers and large plush leather couches – this event was truly first rate.
The opening event wasn’t the only nod to London’s history. It took advantage of London’s history and culture at every step. Guests felt they had taken a step back in time as they experienced royal treatment and explored London’s most renowned landmarks. The additional funds allowed for better execution and the personalization required for a high caliber experience such as private transport from the airport upon arrival instead of group transport. The additional budget was also allocated to the evening events to ensure an unforgettable experience.
Hosting an event creative en
ough to wow this particular guest list was challenging. The vast majority of the group was well traveled and already had experienced typical London tourism. Additionally, many participants brought their families which required elements of the event to appeal to many age groups.
This made the goal very clear: produce a cultural experience not only unique to London, but make sure it was above-and-beyond any trip the guests had previously experienced, all while appealing to a broad set of generations.
The planners accomplished this in several ways:
- Offering a variety of daytime excursions. They created adventures that would appeal to different interests and feel customized. Whether you selected the pub crawl, castle tour or an afternoon tea, anyone could find the right fit. (Excursion options are listed above).
- Creating unique themes. The steampunk and royalty themes of the two evening events weren’t just represented by a few centerpieces and banners. Every detail was customized to make the guests feel as if they were entering a new world – specific to London and its history.
Steampunk was the absolute unifying aspect of each and every moment the guests experienced at the opening event. From the food and server attire, to the décor, entertainment, costumes and seating – guests truly felt they had gone back in time.
Specifically, this included:
- Lighting: Up lighting the building‘s exterior highlighted its incredible and historic features. Neutrals and ambers were used inside the museum to set the tone and colour palette throughout. Copper lighting was used at the food stations in the natural arches of Hintze Hall with overhanging bespoke ‘Steampunk’-style chandeliers made from bird cages, vintage crystal and exposed filament bulbs.
- Catering: The bespoke Steampunk Bar provided a stunning focal point in the main hall. It was tended by ‘Steampunk’ bar men dressed in waistcoats and aviator googles and quirky top hats. Food stations were decorated with vintage cases, mini glass cloche dishes, clock faces and mini-vintage suitcases.
- Furniture: With a hint of the industrial and a nod to the Great Exhibition, furniture was eclectic and mismatched to suit the Steampunk styling – all purposely placed and with a premium finish.
- Décor/Props: Wait staff dressed in Victorian-style dresses with mini top hats, choker bead necklaces and pencil skirts. Props included an amazing Stephenson’s rocket, an antique globe and a penny-farthing bicycle. Beautiful bespoke arrangements adorned high boys and occasional tables – miniature bell jars embellished with copper. Flowers and foliage were accented by industrial and quirky bits of metal-work, animal figures and natural oddities.
The Summit’s final night, A Royal Affair, made every guest feel like royalty for the evening. The location was also key to the theme. Attending an event at the former location of an ice rink frequented by the royal family where Queen Elizabeth II learned to skate, created a connection to history and a sense of exclusivity. They were able to go above and beyond any expectations held for an event by:
- Featuring over-the-top entertainment.
- The opening evening featured perfectly themed entertainers including a Victorian Lady and Gent Welcomed guests. Street performers and costumed characters performed magic. Juggling Highwaymen drummers performed a dramatic opening piece, uniquely choreographed to Adam Ant’s Prince Charming and London’s Calling by the classic British band, The Clash.
- The closing evening event featured performances by the London Ballet Company and The London Showband. During dinner, guests enjoyed a presentation by renowned actress and humanitarian, Julie Andrews, as the keynote speaker. Julie Andrews’ role as Mary Poppins made her the absolute ideal speaker at a London affair. And because of her many roles in film and theatre that span genres and eras, she appealed to everyone, from a seven-year-old child to a high-level executive. Guests referred to her keynote session and meet-and-greet as “an absolute pleasure” and “truly outstanding.”
- Offering customized transportation: Even the transportation exuded the themes of royalty and London’s history. Individual cars picked up each guest at the airport. In addition, guests were taken from the hotel to the opening event at the Natural History Museum on the famed London double-decker buses. While seemingly small, the attention to detail around travel logistics wowed guests at every turn.
- Making business easy: This group of financial advisors are always thinking about their businesses. An inability to connect with clients or check on the office causes unneeded frustration. The planners ensured high-speed internet in the hotel that extended beyond guest rooms to allow advisors to keep business moving as usual.
The combination of opulence, exclusive venues, famed speakers and themes new to the corporate world made this a truly creative incentive trip.
This trip posed many challenges, each of which introduced extra complexity and required detailed logistical planning and implementation. This includes:
- Condensed set-up time: They only had one hour to bring the entire Steampunk event to life (including seating for 400 people in three rooms of the museum. The museum closed at 5pm and the event had to be ready by 6pm. The company’s strong partnerships with vendors and DMCs were essential in working through this tight timeline. Incredible coordination went into ensuring that no detail was ignored during the rapid takedown and setup (see attached video).
- Without successful coordination with the DMC, the Natural History Museum, decorators and caterers, the event would not have been ready nor met the quality expected by guests.
- One attendee commented, “The location was wonderful. The hotel was elegant. The food was fantastic. And the oversight by the staff was superb. The final night event was one of the best ever and the opening night was unforgettable.”
- Security concerns: Shortly before the trip, a tragedy struck that shocked the world. The Brussels terrorist attack occurred just two weeks before the program, causing immediate concerns about guest security in Europe.
However, thanks to close coordination with the company’s local partners, they were able to provide assurances to their guests. Its DMC partner, on-the-ground vendors and the local U.S. Embassy (located just over a block from the hotel) played critical roles in ensuring security, including:
- Providing daily reports from the US Embassy and FBI Liaison.
- Providing three reports per day from the state department monitoring the raids taking place in Brussels, Paris and at one point the possibility that they would also occur in the UK during the program dates.
- Sharing detailed documents and procedures in the event of an attack, reviewed daily with onsite management team and vendors, including a hands-on tabletop exercise.
In a time of heightened uncertainty and anxiety, the team’s relationships with on-the-ground partners were critical to ensuring the success of the Summit.