‘An Incentive Travel Experience Is a Diplomatic Action’


SITE, the Society of Incentive Travel Excellence, has undergone a major restructuring in the last few months, with the appointment of Didier Scaillet as the new CEO, and the outsourcing of the marketing, communications, and events functions. Leading the new SITE marketing team in a newly created CMO position is Padraic Gilligan, managing partner at Ireland-based agency SoolNua, who has served for the past three years as a SITE Foundation Trustee, and last year, in the role of vice president of research and content.

Convene Editor in Chief Michelle Russell asked Gilligan to share his next steps as CMO.

The chief marketing role is a new role — we didn’t have that in our previous model at all. We had marketing services provided to us and we had a senior marketing person at [association management company] SmithBucklin, who acted in a marketing manager capacity, but we didn’t have anybody, besides the CEO in the past, whose sole responsibility was marketing and communications — where there perhaps was a core strategy that was being pursued and developed. And rather than a kind of a tactical campaign-to-campaign scenario, we wanted to be operating under an overriding vision of where we want to be.

So that’s the role that I have. It’s to articulate what that is, based on an existing 2020 vision document that was created by the SITE board over the last number of years. So, at the moment, I’m devising that strategy, which has four pillars: it focuses on membership, the industry, business, and on society at large. What I’m trying to do, eventually, is to describe the value that incentive travel brings in all of those different buckets.

Obviously to members, the value that it brings is the membership of a community of dedicated incentive travel professionals.

Within our industry, it brings a really important — the “i” in MICE — additional vertical into an industry that starts on the one side with say, corporate meetings and then goes all the way over to large [association] events. The “I” in that acronym brings a hugely important connection to the very heart of business because incentives are all about business-improvement programs and enhancing the quality and [performance] at organizations and then linking that with a reward experience. That reward experience being the uniqueness of a travel experience.

The next audience really, is the business world and one of the things that we’re trying very hard to do is to make the business case for incentives and to create very clear, compelling messaging around why incentive travel makes sense in organizations. So, we’re building a very good portfolio of case studies, we’re talking with CEOs and CMOs, all of whom have a vested interest in creating workforces that are motivated. We’re working with them on the whole idea of incentive travel being the most motivating way to actually bring a workforce to the next stage.

And then the final piece of the jigsaw really I think, is society at large. I think I’m very inspired by a very old adage, which is, I think, usually attributed to Mark Twain, where he says that travel is the enemy of bigotry. I think as incentive-travel professionals, we have an additional duty to underline the transformational potential of a travel experience. So, if I bring an American qualifier to Malaysia on an incentive-travel experience, I’m not just giving him something that has value in terms of enhancing his enjoyment factor or whatever, I’m bringing him into contact with a different culture and I think it’s my remit as well, to make sure that in my planning of that trip, that I open it out to the potential for transformation as well.

We can’t deny that a travel experience, when it’s well organized, it’s going to be personally enriching and people are going to enjoy it but with that comes what has the potential to have far-reaching consequences. We don’t talk about that enough. I want SITE in our marketing and communications to be also touching on that kind of societal level.

This is diplomacy, this is what nations spend a lot of time and energy trying to actually achieve and an incentive travel experience is … it’s a diplomatic action. It’s people from one country and people from many countries indeed, convening in one place and opening themselves perhaps to the culture, the society, the legacy, the heritage of that particular place — and that has a huge value.

Read more about Padraic Gilligan’s new role at SITE.

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