After a successful event in Las Vegas last year, the 2012 Site International Conference moves to Beijing from September 14-17, presenting new opportunities in a burgeoning incentive market. Site President Alejandro Verzoub sat down with Incentive to discuss what attendees can expect from this year's conference, what he looks forward to, and the challenges that can be expected.
Q: What are some of the things you are excited about for this year's conference?
"For us, it's how do we create the environment just to grab the attention of all the attendees, providing different avenues and educational that will hopefully exceed education. Sometimes, it's very difficult if you provide entry-level education to people who are used to looking for [leisure] travel. In the original experience in China and the surrounding countries, it was just sufficient to provide a bid with a quote of '$3,500 per person' and that's it.
"We still believe that no matter what we try to prepare for this conference there are certain surprises, in a good sense, that we will realize when we are there. You can't be sure of what you will do for every different public that you face. Not all humans are predictable, so whatever you believe from your western perspective will work, that won't work for all those participants. We know that, so we've prepared an assortment of different types of events and products.
"There will be an opening ceremony at the Temple of Ancient Monarchs. Keynote speaker Peter Greenberg works in television; he has an interesting program, is a journalist, and it looks like the event is going to have a certain TV program-look. We like that, being able to change from a traditional ballroom; it's going to be a good opportunity to play a little with it."
Q: How are you making sure to appeal to the multiple markets of east and west?
"In addition to Peter Greenberg, there will be a panel hosted by Greenberg and other interesting people like [US Travel Association President and CEO] Roger Dow and [Greenearth.travel Director] Geoffrey Lippman. We have another session on the first day on 'China: More than an Economic and Manufacturing Hub, an Incentive Travel Mecca.'
"But at the same time, since we need to play with multiple types of participants, we will have “Fundamentals of Incentive Travel.” We have an interesting session on the second day called “DMCs to the Rescue.” That day we have a planner session performed by Faye Beauchine [president, business loyalty for Carlson Marketing] who will be in conversation with a corporate buyer from Microsoft, talking about what are their expectations, what are the trends.
"We need to provide at the same time entry-level education and something deeper."
Q: How are you incorporating the city of Beijing itself into the conference?
"On the first day, we close at midday and have four different routes for half-day tours to the different key places like the Temple of Heaven or Tiananmen Square. Of course there will be a shopping experience where we take people to the Silk Street and the pearl markets. You will get the bargaining experience there, which is a motivational experience in itself. When I was in China last year, after one day of not doing very good bargaining, I got the skills for the second day. You notice that the day before you paid too much money, so you come back the second day for your revenge!
"In connection with the half-day tours, there will also be dinners arranged in different interesting restaurants. That means we are providing networking opportunities for the hundred people in your group that will spending the entire afternoon with you.
"After September 17, we have several post-tours. The express post-tour will just be one day in Beijing; you can go to the Great Wall and a few other attractions and then you are done. But then there is a three-day post-tour to Shanghai and Hangzhou.
"The idea is that our space is motivational experiences. The reason to be in our space is also to learn from the motivational experience itself. You can provide interesting education in a formal way, but you can also learn from hands-on activities."