Meeting Spotlight has caught up with Mike Farmer, vice president sales of Strategic Incentive Solutions Inc., a full-service incentive reward company, to discuss how COVID-19 changed the industry, as well as what we might expect from the MICE segment going forward.
How has your segment of the industry changed over the last year?
The amount of group travel proposals in the pipeline dwindled as clients switched to other reward platforms, such as merchandise, certificates and individual travel.
Of the strategies you developed last year to adjust to the crisis brought on by COVID-19, which ones were the most successful?
One of our most important strategies was to emphasize staying in touch with our clients and partner communities. We became much more social media-focused. This included creating destination/hotel videos to share, video discussions on non-travel awards, and regular updates on what is happening in the incentive industry. As a result, we have maintained relationships with our current client base and received enquiries from some new clients.
What are some new trends in the industry that you think will have staying power in 2021 and beyond?
I think hybrid meetings are here to stay as it is a less-expensive way to reach more people than just the top winners. I also believe corporate travel will lag a while as more people have become adept at video calls. Individual travel rewards will probably maintain a steady growth.
What are some ways technology has been helping you through this crisis?
The improvement and accessibility of tech platforms, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, has changed the way I communicate. In the past, it was mostly via email or a simple phone call. I think we have confirmed that the ability to see body language is important. Additionally, the ability to have multiple people work on a shared document in real time encourages teamwork and fosters community.
Given the impact of COVID-19 on the MICE industry, which regions of the world do you think will be ready to host meetings in the last quarter of 2021 and first quarter of 2022?
My crystal ball says that North American destinations will see the quickest rebound followed by Europe and then Asia. This is based on the client’s perception that they can better control the environment closer to home. Another challenge I foresee is that clients will want “fire sale” pricing from hoteliers as they are hurting for occupancy; however, those same hotels are going to need to all the revenue they can get and may not discount rates as much as clients would like. Let’s get ready to rumble!
What is the most valuable thing you learned in 2020 and how will you apply it to your business moving forward?
This pandemic has just reaffirmed that our industry is not about products and services. It is about relationships with both clients and business partners. Random phone calls without a business purpose just to “check in” has helped us learn more about those people we do business with. We will now make these “random” contacts a regular practice even during those busy times.