A record number of meeting planners—265—joined nearly 500 industry suppliers at the annual meeting of Financial & Insurance Conference Professionals in mid-November in Austin, Texas. For this year’s show, “we added some content to help increase our members’ strategic acumen, so they can play a bigger role in the executive-level discussions of events for their companies,” says Victoria Crews-Anderson, FICP’s marketing and communications director.
In addition, a panel discussion on the state of incentive travel focused on how planners could leverage the results of the second Incentive Travel Industry Index created by the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence, the Incentive Research Foundation, and FICP. More than 1,200 incentive buyers were among the 2,600 respondents who provided information on objectives, itineraries, and spending for incentive programs.
Moderated by Jennifer Squeglia, chair of FICP’s Influence Committee, the discussion focused on the fact that “there’s lots of effort now going into ‘soft’ elements, the things that create experiences where attendees are made to feel valued and appreciated,” she says. “Retention is critical in this industry right now, so the C-suite is much more focused on making attendees feel special.”
To make this happen, planners are tweaking program itineraries to allow more flexibility based on how participants feel in the moment. “Coordinated activities are still very much a part of an incentive trip, but companies are also giving participants more options that don’t require advance sign-ups,” Squeglia notes. “There’s less of, ‘You signed up for the waterfall trip two months ago, so you have to do that.’ Not every minute is planned out anymore. And if someone changes their mind on an activity they signed up for—maybe because a colleague persuaded them on site to do something else—we not only allow that but we also work with the supplier to minimize financial penalties in such situations.”
Risk management is another topic that’s central to event planners in finance and insurance. One of the best-attended breakout sessions featured several Puerto Rico-based hospitality professionals who relayed their stories and lessons learned from dealing with Hurricane Maria in 2017. “Risk mitigation and contingency planning simply must be top of mind with incentive programs,” Squeglia says.
Next year’s FICP annual conference will be held at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C.