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by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Ovation Global DMC

Dreamy blue

The sky is a hazy shade of light blue with a vague line of pale orange stretching across its horizon. Still and fresh, the air is pregnant with promise. I’m sitting in a big ass Escalade en route to the airport, watching in wonder as the day materialises from the early morning mists. We turn east and now I’m blinded by an enormous orange sun. It makes me think of the beautiful line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

… the morn in russet mantle clad
walks o’er the dew of yon high eastward hill

I lose myself in the moment but suddenly there’s something wrong. The driver has turned on the radio and my savasana is cruelly intruded upon by the jingly jangly tones of  “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”

Welcome to December in Orlando, Florida!

Site reaches 40

David SandFor the 40th anniversary of its foundation, Site chose Orlando as the destination for its annual conference. It was an inspired choice offering warm winter sunshine to 400+ delegates when many southern and eastern states were covered in snow. The sun filled, upbeat days were the perfect symbolic context for the Society’s anniversary celebrations imbued, as they were, with new optimism thanks to the green shoots finally appearing on the economic landscape. This palpable sense of optimism pervaded the entire event thanks too to outgoing president, David Sand’s launch of an audacious 3 year vision for Site, aimed a doubling the size of the society by the end of 2016.

Bucking the trends

In an era of rapidly falling membership in industry associations, Site’s plan to grow from 2000 to 4000 members may be either too fanciful or downright hubristic. However, Site’s global focus, its highly successful young leaders programme, its great alignment with a vibrant Foundation and the quality of its leadership under newly appointed executive director, Kevin Hinton, makes this ambitious number achievable. This year alone Site attracted 500 new members and is beginning to see a gradual return to its industry beating annual retention figures of 85% and higher.

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel

Portofino BayThe event took place at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, one of 3 properties managed by Loews at Universal Studios, Florida. Styled on the Ligurian town where the rich and famous berth their yachts, the resort looked particularly resplendent in the early December sunshine. Its extensive meeting space with seamless access to sun filled outdoor courtyards made for a high quality meeting experience and great networking. We enjoyed our post event nightcaps al fresco at the Thirsty Fish down on the Harbour Piazza. You might struggle to stage a major international conference in Portofino, Italy but, thanks to Loews at Portofino Bay, you can still experience something of the feel and flavour of this unique, magical place  – right down to the randomly parked lambrettas and vespas in the piazza.

Double Double

While the weather elsewhere in the US did impact on the education programme grounding a number of key speakers, the sessions, overall, were high quality. Double DoubleThe opening keynote by Cameron Herold on doubling the size of your business was apt considering Site’s own membership ambitions. In fact Sand deployed the speaker’s “painted picture” methodology to create the vision document for Site 2016. A straight talking, no-nonsense presenter, Herold eschews the bland vacuity and superficial niceties of conventional motivational talks. Instead he gives real take-away value that you can use in your business today, based on his own personal experience running successful companies. His story of the loyal associate whom he realised he needed to fire, touched a nerve in all of us for its poignancy and reality.

More on Ethics

The Great Ethics Debate, mentioned in previous posts on padraicino drew a sizable crowd including some significant industry players like David Peckinpaugh of Maritz, Fay Beauchine, formerly of AIMIA and Maarten Tromp of Silversea Cruises. Martin Lewis of CAT Publications, a trustee at the Site International Foundation, chaired a lively exchange that pivoted around the practicality of applying ethics in business situations that are so often grey. I had the easier job of proposing the motion – “That this house believes the incentive industry should embrace the philosophy of ethical trading because not to do so would be socially irresponsible” – while Paul Miller, Site President-Elect 2014, played devil’s advocate by opposing it on the grounds of impracticality.

Site After Dark

EpcotOrlando offers an embarrassment of riches when it comes to venues for evening events. A pre-event group of Site Past Presidents and Chapter Leaders was treated to a VIP dinner experience at the Walt Disney Swan and Dolphin followed by “Holidays around the World”, a Candlelight Processional at Epcot with full orchestra, choir and Whoopi Goldberg as narrator of the Christmas story. The opening reception and dinner (fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, roast beef) took place at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios where the whole conference had privileged, privatized access to the entire theme park, experiencing the vibrant magic of Hogsmeade and Hogsworth, after dark. For the IMEX-sponsored Crystal Awards luncheon the ballroom at Portofino Bay was transformed into a spectacularly elegant space as befits a high end award ceremony. The Hyatt Regency, formerly the Peabody Orlando, staged a high octane Cuban night under the stars complete with cigar bar and great live music. Finally we were treated to a breath-taking pre-dinner fireworks display at the Rosen Shingle Creek resort.

Final Memories

So as I struggle to reconcile snow filled songs and sun filled days what are the abiding memories of #SiteGlobal? Far too many to enumerate but amongst them are:

Olga@OlgafromSpain aka Olga Navarro, Site Board Member and Sales Director, ITB Spain who wore Cavalli at the Gala with the casual disinvoltura of Castiglione’s courtier;

Aesthete Sean Mahoney’s sartorial statements throughout the event – upscale resort alternating with full 3 piece business suit – only outdone in the aesthetics rankings by the natural latino beauty of his Silversea colleague, Cecilia Blevins;

Moon Civetz (Maverick Helicopters Las Vegas), great friend and overall paragon of decency, who took Ray Bloom, Paul Flackett, John Udell, Louise Hall Reider and me high into the sky on the wings of Moet & Chandon;

Sam Stanton and Kimball Anderson of redbutton TV who, with the generous sponsorship of Colorado resort, Gateway Canyons, “socialised” our conference elevating our collective experience by creating a parallel digital platform to facilitate on-line dialogue and commentary about the event;

22 past presidents of SiteGlobal, all fully developed, passionate Type As –  plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose;

Site Past Presidents (2)
Banana-Gate: was a banana really thrown at Cameron Herold when he insulted the Irish and why wasn’t security called immediately?

@erikpeekel aka Prof Gerard Schaafsma and @MeetMrHolland and launch of Site Annual Conference in Rotterdam, 2014 – tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecating humour, and photos with the man in the orange suit … maybe the best launch of an annual conference at Site?

So these are my abiding memories of Site Global in Orlando – why not use the comments below to share yours?

Padraic Gilligan is Vice President of Industry Relations at MCI and Vice President of Ovation Global DMC, MCI’s destination services division

Thanks to Sam and the Redbuttontv team for retrieving some nice pictures from the social feed at Site Global


One thought on “Site at 40 – Annual Conference, Orlando 2013

  1. Olga Navarro says:

    Hola Padraic! Thanks for your kind note, it’s been a great conference indeed.
    Some of my memories also feature the Candlelight show at Epcot, the freezing cold in the meeting rooms, the vibrant presentation of the Painted Picture Site 2016, Cameron’s energizing speech with some crap content, motion sickness after 3 rides in 20′ at Harry Potter’s, salsa dancing with Kevin, last minute participation in a panel, drums and flags, posing for the Crystal Award, meeting Site’s first president ever (had to be a woman), sitting with my YL gang at the gala night and the epileptic dancing movements of some dutch guy at the party afterwards.
    Special mention goes to the Rotterdam presentation and to the fireworks for Site’s 40th celebration, that was truly amazing (not very sustainable, yes, but wth!)
    I missed being more outdoors, which makes me wonder how come the geniuses of the motivational experiences don’t do team building in their own conferences… it would be a better way to network and be inspired by new ideas… anyway, I really can’t wait to Rotterdam in 2014, for what I’ve heard a bunch of things will be done in a different way which is always rewarding and engaging. See you around the planet soon!

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