Continuing our Global Meeting & Incentive Travel Exchange Buyer Q&A series, Meeting Spotlight spoke with Danene Dustin, senior global sales executive for Morris Meetings & Incentives, a full-service meeting and incentive program provider. Topics covered include working remotely, how incentives could change and the value of virtual "FAM" trips.
Here's what Dustin had to say:
How has your segment of the industry changed over the last year?
Business from about March 2020 through mid-March 2021 was exceptionally slow for most of us, as we focus almost entirely on incentive travel. Sadly, most of our work during that timeframe was either cancelling or rescheduling our programs.
The majority of our sales team chose to accept reduced hours and receive unemployment benefits. Almost all of our sales team is paid 100 percent on commission, so when trips aren’t selling or happening, there is no income for the business or sales executive. In fact, Morris Meetings & Incentives lost 85 percent of its revenue during 2020.
All that negative said, our sales team proactively started offering monthly virtual FAM trips to our clients and prospective clients last summer, where each sales executive has the opportunity to host one month’s FAM. We have about 45 people attend each month and have “visited” destinations both domestic and international. Each FAM also has a fabulous giveaway attached, which is typically a mini-trip to the destination being highlighted that particular month.
We feel this has been highly successful and plan to continue hosting these FAMs for the foreseeable future.
Of the strategies you developed last year to adjust to the crisis brought on by COVID, which ones were the most successful?
I chose to work very closely with clients and prospective clients with the goal of building strong relationships by sending birthday gifts/cards and even half-birthday cards. I have also sent small gifts and cards to clients and prospective clients for surgeries, illnesses and babies being born. I feel this has been successful in building my relationships with this group of people several of which are now talking to me about proposals for future programs. I have also invited this group to our virtual FAMs and sent pertinent industry updates sporadically, in an effort to also gain trust. I feel my efforts have been greatly appreciated and that client relationships have grown stronger this past year.
What are some new trends in the industry that you think will have staying power in 2021 and beyond?
I think working remotely will be more acceptable or as an option, at least in some companies, going forward. I also believe there will be more hybrid/virtual meetings in the future as a greater audience can be reached for typically a lesser cost when going virtual.
Unfortunately, for those of us specifically in the incentive travel industry, I worry some clients may opt out of travel as a reward and start using gifts and cash in the future.
What are some ways technology has been helping you through this crisis?
Morris Meetings & Incentives has hosted monthly virtual FAM trips via Zoom and they sometimes have been live from the destination hosting that particular month. This has been extremely well-received by our guests who attend these “trips.” Our sales team meets regularly via Teams and chats via Teams almost daily. These types of activities weren’t happening prior to COVID but have proven to be and effective and efficient mode of communication.
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?
U.S.A, Mexico, Europe, Canada. I think pretty much everywhere on the globe will be ready at least by Q1 of 2022.
What is the most valuable thing you learned in 2020 and how will you apply it to your business moving forward?
I will be much choosier on which industry meeting and FAM invitations I accept as I have learned how much I love being home and not missing family events. I am much more of a homebody than I ever knew, so would ideally love working from home 100 percent going forward. But overall, I have learned it’s 'Family First' and that my heart truly belongs here more than anywhere else on the planet.