by Lisa Grimaldi | February 01, 2004

Bill Boyd of Sunbelt Motivation

For the first time in two years, planners say they are seeing some signs of a turnaround in their incentive travel business.
   “It looks like business is improving over the mess that was 2003,” said Bill Boyd, CMP, CMM, CITE, president & CEO of Sunbelt Motivation & Travel Inc. in Irving, Texas. “Our 2004 looks good not great, but good and certainly 10 to 20 percent up from 2003.”
   As for program specifics, Boyd expects to see an end to the tactic of firms opting to make their contests more difficult so fewer people qualify. But another recent trend, he said, is still strong: Companies are continuing to use less expensive hotels and resorts for their programs.
   More participants will qualify for programs, agreed  Mimi Almeida, president of San Francisco-based R/A Performance Group, “but budgets still are being tightly scrutinized,” she added.
   Among other observations from industry insiders:
   " More incentive planners are turning to all-inclusive resorts to maximize their budgets this year, said Morag Donald, senior consultant, travel, for Maritz Canada Inc. in Mississauga, Ontario.
   " Both Morag Donald and Adam Lawhorne, president  of Meeting Incentive Experts based in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., have noted program lengths are increasing slightly, from three or four nights to four or five nights in length.
   " North American destinations remain popular with incentive groups. “Most of our groups are sticking close to U.S. shores,” said Bill Boyd. “Some programs are going to the Caribbean, some to Mexico and a few to Canada, but more than half of our business will be domestic in 2004 and 2005.”
   " Clients have grown tougher skins over the past few years. “Participant cancellations due to fear of travel are down as we learn to live within a new world,” said Mark Bondy, president of Traverse City, Mich.-based VIKTOR Incentives & Meetings.