Travel Industry Leaders Meet for In-Person Incentive Live: 2021 GMID Edition

Participants at Northstar Meetings Group’s event gathered safely to recognize Global Meetings Industry Day and the resurgence of incentive travel.

Incentive Live:2021 celebrated Global Meetings Industry Day as part of the in-person agenda at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson, Ariz.
Incentive Live:2021 celebrated Global Meetings Industry Day as part of the in-person agenda at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson, Ariz.

An energized group of 120 tourism officials, planners, suppliers and event staff gathered to celebrate the meetings and incentive industry and experience best practices for safe, live events last week at Incentive Live: 2021 GMID Edition. The Northstar Meetings Group event took place April 7-9 at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson, Ariz.

See highlights from the event here:

This special edition of Incentive Live, produced in conjunction with Global Meetings Industry Day and with the theme of "Meet Safe," emphasized the importance of holding meetings, events and incentive programs with health and safety top of mind. The meeting underscored the importance of industry recovery to national, state and local economies, and addressed the challenges that remain ahead.

Incentive Live also celebrated the simple joy participants felt at being able to meet in person. "As we’ve gone through this crisis, the one thing that’s become more important than ever is the need for human connection," noted David Peckinpaugh, president of Maritz Global Events.

"For many of the planners and suppliers who joined us at Incentive Live, it was their first time attending a business event since the pandemic began," said David Blansfield, executive vice president of Northstar Meetings Group. "To be able to do so on Global Meetings Industry Day made it all the more special." 

Safety First

Ensuring the safety and well-being of all Incentive Live participants was a top concern of the Northstar team. "We couldn’t be more obliged to our partners at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort and Visit Tucson for not only helping us to make it happen, but to pull it off while demonstrating the many protocols the industry has worked so hard to put in place," said Blansfield.

All participants were required to sign up in advance with SafeAccess, a firm that ensures attendees follow health-safety policies while keeping personal health data secure and private. Mask-wearing and social distancing were enforced at all educational and social events, and all participants had to test negative for Covid-19 or provide proof of vaccination prior to arrival. Participants also had their temperature checked daily and had to confirm, via the event app, that they would comply with the event's code of conduct and met all health conditions before participating in any group activities.
Volan Technology, a sponsor of Incentive Live, was another key partner in the event’s safety plan. The company's location-based wearable devices allowed the event team to trace participant interaction should any attendees later test positive for Covid-19.

Celebration of Global Meetings Industry Day

Industry advocacy and the challenges of ramping up in-person events were the main topics discussed during the kickoff Global Meetings Industry Day panel. 

Meetings are on the rebound, participants agreed, though not without some hiccups. "I believe incentives are going to be one of the first meeting types to come back in a robust way, but they will look very different,” stated Stephanie Harris, president of the Incentive Research Foundation. 

The lively session included prerecorded messages from industry notables. Featured were Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association; Fred Dixon, president and CEO of NYC & Company and co-chair of Meetings Mean Business; and Jonathan Tisch, chair and CEO of Loews Hotels.

"Groups are going to lead us back and ensure that our future is very, very bright," said Tisch. "And those conversations that you'll have over the next couple of days are going to be vital to how we understand groups can meet again safely, efficiently, and help us rebuild the lodging industry and the travel and tourism industry."

David Kliman, founder and president of The Kliman Group, was optimistic but at the same time believes recovery won’t happen in 2021. "I firmly believe from what I'm hearing from DMOs, hotel companies and my work on the Events Industry Council's APEX Covid-19 Business Recovery Task Force, is that we will see a ramp up [in meetings and events]; but true recovery is at least a year away and probably longer, until we see a large meeting filling Moscone Center or the San Diego Convention Center, or a big Gaylord hotel, or when all of us meet in Vegas or some other large place."

Listen to the entire panel discussion below.


Incentive-Company Insights

Four incentive-company executives shared their takes on trends and challenges during the Incentive Roundtable, which took place on the second day of the event. The panel included Julie Branstrom, owner and founder of Visita Meetings & Incentives; Brad Hecht, vice president of travel for Motivation Excellence; Chris Herzberg, senior business development director with ITA Group; and David Peckinpaugh of Maritz. Topics covered during the wide-ranging session included difficulties in attracting staff, destinations that are currently in demand, hotel-space compression due to rescheduled programs, working with hotels, and alternatives to travel rewards.

And there was talk of silver linings to emerge from the struggles of the pandemic. Brad Hecht of Motivation Excellence explained how his 50-employee firm survived the pandemic and how they cross-trained employees to fill more than one role. "It helped many people in our organization to understand what some of the other groups are doing, and how each position works and where we make money in those areas. It really made us a lot stronger," he said.

Branstrom actually started her own firm several months before the pandemic hit. "I was able to really stop, regroup and do a lot more research and development on my company and my clients," she told the audience.

Listen to the entire Incentive Industry Roundtable below.

Case Studies and Reward Trends

The Incentive Live education was rounded out by three breakout sessions, which focused on gifting trends, case studies of incentive travel programs that took place during the pandemic, and hybrid programs that brought the rewards directly to the winners. 

Chris Herzberg detailed how his team pulled off an in-person incentive program in Wisconsin last summer, while Stephanie Sorrells, senior experience designer with Creative Group, shared how her team borrowed experiential marketing practices for a hybrid incentive program for car dealers. New gifting trends, including virtual fittings, gift bars and rewards for home-based workers, were shared by Jeffrey Brenner, director or special markets for Seiko Watch of America.