by Padraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
SITE in Ireland
The leadership of the Society of Incentive Travel Excellence – better known as SITE – staged its annual Executive Summit in Ireland recently thanks to the support of Fáilte Ireland and drew 250 meetings and incentive professionals to the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham Dublin for a day of intense education and even more intense networking.
Amongst a raft of top quality sessions was a particularly useful discussion on the importance of site inspections featuring a panel of real super-stars. Here are the essential take-aways from the session with infinite thanks to Lynn Pavony, Four Seasons, Anne di Gregory, RitzCarlton, Aileen Zerbonia, Informatica, Chris Wheeler, Atlantis, Bahamas and Anne Marie Rogers, Direct Travel.
Site Inspections mean serious business
If a client commits time to visit your property or destination then it’s serious business and you need to take it super-seriously. Site inspections are a statement of earnest intent, they mean that your property or destination has made it past several filters and is in real contention to win the business. It’s now up to you to wow the client and convince him or her that your facility offers the best solution for their meeting or incentive. So don’t complain about “yet another site inspection” – see this as a red hot lead walking through your door and concentrate on creating a perfect visit.
Create an internal Standard Operations Procedure (SOP)
As site inspections typically involve a cast of thousands it’s essential that all actors and supports know their lines and roles. The best way to ensure this is to create a SOP document that sets out clearly who does what to whom. Some properties and destinations even have a written script to ensure that all the essential information about the property or destination is properly captured and conveyed to the client. This can be a good thing so long as it doesn’t limit scope for personalization and customization – remember the site inspection is about what the client wants to buy, not what the property or destination wants to sell.
High Touch Service or Extras never go out of style
Site inspections are really a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate how your property of destination understands the real needs of the client. They are also a perfect occasion to showcase what makes you special and this, inevitably, will be related to how special you make the client feel. This is where high touch service comes in. It’s not necessarily about expense gifts or free spa treatments but forensic attention to detail from the minute the client arrives.
Site inspections must always be relevant to the programme that will eventually be delivered. This means you should never showcase experiences, events or activities that cannot be replicated for the meeting or incentive in question. Often we are tempted to “pull out the stops” to wow the meeting or event planner and we consider laying on helicopter transfers or dinners in private venues. However, if these experiences cannot be offered to the entire group they’re totally irrelevant and call into question your own credibility and professionalism. Meeting planners are in your destination or property to work, not to indulge themselves in random activities, however exciting it may sound.
Don’t go overboard
By the same token we sometimes allow ourselves to get over-creative and dream up so called “wow experiences” that then explode in our faces. One of panelists recalled such a mistake when he arranged a “clap-in” for the meeting planner featuring resort staff in uniform. The shy planner emerged from her car to find a gauntlet line of chefs in tall hats, duty managers in tuxedos, maids, waiters, concierges all cheering and clapping loudly. Embarrassed to the quick, the poor planner broke down in tears!
Sometimes, to make the incentive planner feel at home, the property finds pictures on-line, frames them and places them in the planners guest room. Again this should be undertaken advisedly as some planners will feel that this is inappropriate and “creepy”.
Surprise and Delight
Incentive travel is all about extraordinary travel experiences that surprise and delight incentive qualifiers. With due regard to all that’s previously been said, site inspections present almost infinite opportunities to surprise and delight the meeting planner and thereby provide the “hooks” on the which incentive can hang. One of the panelists shared this wonderful story “Recently in Africa, after a Game Drive we unexpectedly arrived at a Boma with painted warriors, drummers and a full catered dinner. We had no idea it was part of the excursion so it turned out to be a wonderful surprise. The best part was, although we had driven hours, we were within 5 minutes of the hotel. We then duplicated the entire event for our attendees who were blown away by the experience.”
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
All panelists agreed wholeheartedly that site inspections require meticulous preparation in relation to the overall schedule / itinerary but also in relation to the participants. For DMOs and DMCs a site inspection often involves spending 5 full days with people whom you’ve never met before so it makes sense to do your homework on them in advance. For hoteliers and venues the time investment may be less but is no less intense. You’ve got the interval of time it takes to have drinks and diner together so you need to maximize your impact.
The panelists highlighted how Linkedin, in particular, but also other social platforms like Facebook, can be useful sources of data and information on the client. This information can be useful in terms of framing and steering conversations and doesn’t have to be “creepy” so long as it’s used judiciously. It can be particularly useful in determining common acquaintances, always a great talking point during a site visit.
Most importantly this preparation should focus on the client’s company – the ultimate “owner” of the incentive programme. Go onto the company’s website and have a look at its annual report. Check out its vision, mission and values statements and its branding. These will help you enormously in terms of cutting the destination or property to the measure of the company in question.
Pádraic Gilligan and his colleagues Patrick Delaney and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, hotels and venues on strategy, marketing and training in the MICE sector. Pádraic is a former global President of SITE and is currently a trustee at the SITE Foundation.