Following the news that Elliott Grant is leaving the incentive industry and therefore stepping down as SITE GB president, Chris Parnham, owner and director of Absolute Corporate Events and founder and director of Absolute Digital Communications has taken on his presidency six months early.
We caught up with Chris about his objectives for the association moving forward and helping the UK incentive community tool up for the return of incentives…
Congrats on becoming SITE GB president, a little earlier than planned! You have been involved with several other industry associations before. Why did you decide to join the SITE board?
Thank you. Yes, I have been chairman of HBAA for 2 years, been part of the MPI board, and I have also been involved with MIA. SITE is a huge global association with a narrow and specific focus on incentives with a strong education edge to it.
I like the fact that it’s a personal membership rather than a company membership so as a member, you benefit personally from the wealth of education, networking opportunities and knowledge across SITE Global.
I joined the SITE GB board in 2019. I was due to take up presidency in 2022, but with Elliott’s news that he is leaving the industry, it has come a bit sooner than expected.
It’s a great time to take the helm because the world is unlocking now, and travel is becoming a hopeful reality. For the last year and a half, we haven’t dared plan or talk about incentives but now the world looks like it’s on the brink of reopening, it’s a good time to lead the SITE GB chapter and hopefully ride a crest of excitement as the industry recovers.
You took the lead on the recent SITE GB summit – how did it feel to get the community back together in person again for the first time in 18 months?
It was wonderful. This summit should have happened last year, and it was postponed like everything else was. We took the decision not to host it virtually because we felt that the content we wanted to deliver around ‘Tooling up for the return of incentives’ should happen in person and when incentives were likely to return in the near future and not the distant future.
It was fantastic to plan a live event and it felt both exhilarating and nerve-wracking at the same time. It’s been so long since any of us have even been at an event, let alone presented on stage. So, I must admit, I felt a bit nervous beforehand, being so out of practice.
But it was such a nice vibe. Everybody was so happy to be there. We were oversubscribed, everyone showed up, and everyone took part in the Covid precautions we put in place to make sure we had a safe bubble. I think without exception, everybody loved the experience of being there and getting the chance to network properly with each other rather than having to do it virtually.
What are your plans and objectives for the SITE GB chapter over the next year?
I want to pick up where Elliott left off. We started 2019 with a real strong objective of making sure that SITE GB became the voice of the UK incentive market, but obviously hit a massive obstacle last year with the pandemic.
The world really does value the UK outbound incentive market, so it would be great if we could establish ourselves as a more prominent voice for that market, to the outside world but also to those of us in the UK who are operating in that market.
Secondly, I want to pick up one of the subjects that we introduced at the summit, which is a Covid-related dilemma around luxury versus safety and how we continue to deliver that luxury experience that incentive travel demands with all the new safety rules and regulations. That is a real challenge because safety inhibits luxury in many ways. We need to work out how we can deliver luxurious incentives with enhanced safety disciplines in place.
How have members needs changed and how are you adapting to these changing needs?
‘Tooling up’ will be a running theme. I think our members and UK incentive planners generally will be looking for support in how they can get their businesses and their clients ready for the return of incentives. We are planning some more events and workshops around tooling up the team, which we covered in a panel session at the summit.
There are also other ways we can offer help and advice to get our incentive colleagues prepared for the return of incentives, for example talking to partners around world. The round the world incentive destination session I prepared for the summit was a result of talking to other SITE members around the world to find out how their markets are preparing for incentives to return. I would like us to do more of that collaboration moving forward. There is also an awful lot of help available from SITE Global as well. The SITE Global website is a fantastic resource for guidance, data and support. It’s a rich resource full of useful information.
Will you continue to do some virtual content alongside live?
I think virtual has a place. You can consume content much more readily and in a shorter time in the virtual space. It’s an attractive way for us to get short content, for example five-minute video chats with people in the industry that have news to share or interesting incentive stories. That is something I am hoping to introduce over the next few months.
Realistically, when do you think corporate groups will be ready to travel on international incentive trips again?
The incentive planning window is anything from 8-18 months on average, so we can need to be planning incentives for 2022 and 2023 now. It’s unlikely that many incentive groups will travel this year, and because of the nature of the planning period, it’s also unlikely there will be many travelling in the first half of 2022. But certainly, I think there will be a steep climb in the volume of incentives from the second half of next year and we need to start planning them now.
Do you think incentive programmes will change post-pandemic?
We people are very adaptable, and you only have look back to earlier global crises to see how the world reset and went back to normal quicker than we ever thought it would. Even after disasters like 9/11, when travel became terrifying to most of the global population, we soon hopped back on a plan and started flying again.
I don’t think much will change once we get over the memory of Covid. The challenges will continue to be being creative, getting more value for money, making the experiences more special than ever, and creating those memorable moments that make an incentive the motivating reward that it is. I think we will very quickly go back to delivering incentives as we always did, and challenging ourselves, as we always did, to be different, creative, bigger and better than ever.