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by Leo Jakobson | November 28, 2016
The inaugural Global Incentive Summit kicked off this weekend in one of the top incentive destinations in the world: Monaco.

The hosted buyer conference put on by Incentive's parent company, Northstar Travel Group, brought three dozen top U.S. incentive buyers together with a select group of hoteliers, destination marketing organizations (DMOs), destination management companies (DMCs), incentive firms, and other industry suppliers for two days of one-on-one meetings, education, and networking, as well as a taste of the old-world European grandeur that Monte Carlo has to offer.

Hosted by the waterfront Fairmont Monte Carlo -- the largest group hotel on the French Riviera -- attendees spent time together visiting the principality's old town, which dates to the middle ages, the picturesque mountaintop village of Eze, and dined in the Salon Belle Époque of the Hotel Hermitage Monte-Carlo before walking over the famous Casino du Monte-Carlo.

Monaco's mild, sunny weather and lack of crowds makes this a very nice time to visit the Principality, which is undergoing some renovations, most notably substantial work on the Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer flagship property, the Hôtel de Paris. Its façade and famed interior spaces will emerge intact when work is completed in 2018.

Millennials on the March

The Global Incentive Summit's educational program included presentations and roundtable discussions on topics including engaging Millennials and the growing importance of incorporating experiences into incentive trips. Speaker Krzysztof Michniewicz, president and CEO of incentive marketing firm ICP Group SA -- Poland's leading incentive company -- as well as of the new SITE Poland chapter, gave the example of bringing a group of top Polish sales people from a global insurance firm to New York City. A tour of Times Square incorporated a surprise that thrilled the group: They arrived in time to see each participant's photo go up on one of the huge electronic billboards that illuminates the heart of the Great White Way.

A lunchtime roundtable discussion also included a focus on Millennials, and among the takeaways was that while Millennials highly value travel experiences, they are also easily jaded, and are not as status-driven as other generations. Another point that arose repeatedly during these discussions was the growing recognition that for all the hype, Millennials' interests are in many ways quite similar to the Generation X and even Boomer incentive participants in terms of what they want out of incentive travel.

Sarah Lechevalier, regional director of group sales for Kempinski Hotels summed it up by saying, "All generations always see the following generations as very different, but Millennials, Generation X, and Boomers are really more alike than different in many ways." 

Ellie MacPherson, senior vice president of Strategic Meetings + Incentives, added that Millennials' "expectations for incentive trip components have more similarities than not with previous generations." She added that the difference is in the way things are expressed: Both generations want more activities, but Boomers want "bucket-list, luxury destinations while Millennials want to see the newest, latest, greatest places."

An earlier panel discussion hosted by the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) also touched on the similarities between Millennials and previous generations. One of those is that "corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been so important in connecting all three generations," according to Carol Becker, director of operations at PRIME Strategies. A difference, she added, is that "Millennials are the ones who will notice waste and speak up about how disappointed they are by it."

While CSR has grown beyond giving back to the community to incorporate issues like environmental citizenship, the latest SITE Index survey found that 70 percent of incentive travel programs now incorporate a CSR event, added panelist Kevin Hinton, chief excellence officer of SITE. "But you need to go beyond painting the same school one more time," Hinton noted. "You need to be creative."

Uncertainty on the Rise

The SITE panel, which focused on industry trends, also looked at the growing list of concerns for which planners must prepare, ranging from terrorism to natural disasters to diseases like Zika that can arise even in top incentive destinations historically seen as safe and reliable.

One of the trends Hinton is seeing is a new specialty in crisis management. While this was always something planners had to consider, he said, it is now big enough to require full-time expertise. Becker agreed, adding that Incentive planners will need to rely more on DMCs and DMOs for their local expertise in security matters, but added that if those concerns are addressed effectively, companies still want to take groups around the globe.

This issue was also brought up during the roundtable sessions. One conclusion was that planners now have to be "extraordinarily mobile and flexible, and ready to adjust on a moment's notice," said Jerry Vaughn, president of CEALS - Meetings and Incentive Programs. While his group gave the example of a large program losing hundreds of participants at the last minute to the Zika outbreak, Chris Ricciardi, executive vice president of Associated Luxury Hotels International (ALHI), said his table focused on terrorism and the growing need to ensure strong communication between various parties that planners must rely on, from internal client corporate security directors to the DMCs that will play an active, on-the-ground role in the event of a problem.

Hinton added that despite these concerns, "companies are more convinced than ever that incentive travel is vital."