SITE hosts an instant Classic

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SITE hosts an instant Classic

By Blair Potter | Oct 25, 2021

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Last month, approximately 240 incentive travel professionals converged near San Diego for SITE Classic 2021, the largest in-person event hosted by the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared.

Padraic Gilligan, chief marketing officer for SITE, says everyone in attendance was “thrilled to be back in real time, in a real place with real people.” And despite the fact that no one from Europe or Asia was able to attend due to U.S. travel restrictions, attendance was only down approximately 20 percent from pre-pandemic numbers.

SITE Classic attracts the full spectrum of incentive travel professionals (ranging from corporate/agency buyers to suppliers such as destination marketing organizations and hotels), Gilligan says, to connect, learn and discover.

“SITE Classic is purposefully intimate and doesn’t particularly brand attendees as ‘buyers’ or ‘suppliers.’”

“We foster connections and relationships, learn new things and discover an amazing incentive travel destination. Attendees tell us they primarily attend for the quality of the connections they forge,” he says. “SITE Classic is purposefully intimate and doesn’t particularly brand attendees as ‘buyers’ or ‘suppliers.’ We are all incentive travel professionals, coming together to advance the business case for incentive travel.”

Gilligan says that in addition to fostering deep and meaningful connections among incentive travel professionals, SITE Classic is highlighted by cutting-edge education with real take-home value and exposure to an incentive travel destination that “inspires them to demand high standards from the destinations in which they work.”

SITE Classic education highlights included Barefoot Business sessions with peer-to-peer dialog and an early release of Corporate inSITEs (the SITE Foundation’s ongoing research on the future face of incentive travel), as well keynote presentations featuring groundbreaking research into the luxury consumer with Valuegraphics’ David Allison and “finding grit” with Michele Rigby Assad, a former undercover agent for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Activities included a wide variety of wellness opportunities, including a U.S. Navy Seal Boot Camp (pushing participants physically and hitting deep emotional notes), along with bike and history tours, an onsite craft beer tasting and a salsa-making contest.

“SITE Classic, ultimately, is a fundraiser for SITE Foundation’s commitments to research, education and advocacy, thus a highlight was the auction that raised well in excess of US$230,000,” Gilligan says.

SITE Classic was planned in an atmosphere of uncertainty and hope, Gilligan says—“hope that the event would take place and uncertainty as to what circumstances might prevail at the time.”

“It’s in the DNA of professional event and incentive travel planners to seek certainty at all times, so this new context of ‘planning for uncertainty’ or, at least, planning with several contrasting scenarios in mind, put us all out of our comfort zone and forced us to dig deep and learn to face new challenges,” he says.

Gilligan says the beachfront location of the host property, the Hotel del Coronado (“The Del”), and the perfect weather allowed the group to be outdoors most of the time, “avoiding the complications associated with being indoors for long periods.”

The success of the SITE Classic is measured primarily on achieving financial targets and how many sponsors/partners re-book immediately for the following year, Gilligan says.

“According to both measures, SITE Classic 2021 at The Del in San Diego was an unqualified success,” he says.



Blair Potter
Blair Potter

Blair Potter is managing editor for The Meeting Professional. He likes toys and collects cats (or is it the other way around?).