As we enter our 50th year, my priority as CEO is to ensure SITE’s strategic and financial health for the next 50 years.
ES. Please introduce yourself to the readers & take us through your professional journey since inception and some major milestones achieved over the years.
Annette Gregg. I’ve been in the business events industry for nearly 30 years, working for associations, corporations and nonprofits. Working as both a supplier and buyer, it’s been an exciting career journey that has taken me around the world and brought me my closest friendships. I’ve always had a heart for teaching and I’ve been training and speaking throughout my career, delivering keynotes as well as teaching at universities. Through my teaching, I launched a series of women’s conferences aimed at equipping women to be more successful personally and professionally. The SITE CEO role is an honor, a culmination of my varied past career roles. I’m an incurable optimist and my foundation lies in my family — I’ve been married 25 years, and have a 22-year old son — and my faith. We live an active life in Southern California.
ES. Could you give us an introduction to the role that SITE plays in the industry, the various functions of the association?
Annette Gregg. Incentive travel is the fastest growing sector of the business events industry, with the highest per capita spend and the widest supply chain. Accounting for about 7% of all business events activities, the Events Industry Council’s Global Economic Impact Study (2018) estimates the incentive travel industry to be worth around $75 billion globally. The Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) is the only business events association dedicated exclusively to the global incentive travel industry. Founded in 1973, we are a professional association of 2,000 members located in 90 countries, working in corporations, agencies, airlines, cruise companies and across the entire destination supply chain. We bring value to our members at both the global and local chapter level through networking, online resources, education, certification and advocacy. SITE is deeply committed to the new generation and operates a best in-class Young Leaders program and dedicated annual conference.
ES. How do you plan to support members on their road to recovery?
Annette Gregg. In our recent member survey, our community is focused on getting together in-person to do business and network. SITE has annual meetings and conferences around the world to bring buyers and suppliers together. In 2023 we will be in New York City, Banff, Slovenia, Punta Mita, and Zimbabwe. The business events industry is also staffing up quickly during recovery, and we want to equip our members with the tools and education to thrive professionally. We are expanding our educational resources via our credentialling program (Certified Incentive Specialist [CIS] and Certified Incentive Travel Professional [CITP]), which will help people differentiate themselves in the market.
ES. What do you think SITE’s mission and vision are? What are your immediate plans & the changes you would implement during your first year in the association?
Annette Gregg. Our mission is to advance the business case for incentive travel & motivational experiences through global connections, education and advocacy. Our vision is to build and bridge cultures through the transformative power of incentive travel & motivational experiences. As we enter our 50th year, my priority as CEO is to ensure SITE’s strategic and financial health for the next 50 years. Through strategic planning, industry partnerships and targeted investments, our leadership team will be focused on widely communicating SITE’s unique place in the business events industry and creating a roadmap for growth. Our leadership team will focus on a strategic plan to ensure the financial health and positive revenue growth. Like most professional associations, SITE experienced a membership downturn during the pandemic. We’re seeing that membership grow again now though, and one of my primary goals is to continue that growth of our overall community.
Also, one of our main touchpoints is at the chapter level, so we’ll explore the tools and support chapter needs to continue to thrive. Regardless of membership, SITE is also the premier voice for the incentive industry, and we provide education and resources for this global community. Through strategic regional partnerships, we can grow this global reach. We will continue to be a voice for the incentive industry, aligning with other global associations to promote open travel and governmental support. We’ll also explore ways to connect our industry more powerfully to goals in sustainability and DEI, to be true agents of change.
ES. How do you see MICE industry will change during the years to come and how would you like to see the industry within the next 4 years?
Annette Gregg. By 2025, nearly 75% of the workforce will be millennials. This will be a staggering shift from a workforce made up of primarily baby boomers. We need to look at our current members and our members of tomorrow and make sure we are offering value that resonate with these different generations. Younger professionals want professional development for career advancement and tools that help them plan programs with purpose. We also need to reach the students considering careers in the business events industry, educating them on the benefits of this amazing industry. I’d like to see the industry associations come together in outreach to colleges and universities in a united communication effort.
Beyond generational-specific needs, today’s incentive professional needs a community that will help them succeed in an ever-changing environment. SITE is planning to revise its successful CIS (Certified Incentive Specialist) certification to reflect today’s needs.
ES. What is the best and the worst part of being a CEO?
Annette Gregg. The best part of being CEO is getting to know SITE’s members and extended community. There are so many talented, passionate and interesting people in a global association like SITE. I love hearing their career paths and experiences, and I’ve made some of my closest friendships as a result of my career. The hardest part of being a CEO is wanting to work on so many things at once, knowing there are constraints of time, budget and resources. Having strategic plans are critical to helping prioritize.
ES. What are some trends shaping up in the incentive travel? How have pandemic impacted the current incentive travel trends?
Annette Gregg. With destinations opening up after the pandemic, we’ve seen a huge increase in “revenge travel” with people making up for the experiences they lost during 2020-2021. Even with increased costs and travel delays, people are still taking trips and often combining a work trip and leisure travel. This trend aligns with incentive travel, where many top performers will bring families on their trips. The need for community is underscored even more by more employees working remotely, away from an office environment. Incentive travel can be an even more powerful vehicle to bring teams together. Finally, the younger workforce craves experiences rather than “stuff” like cash or products, so incentive travel will be more appealing to younger top performer participants.
ES. Describe your dream incentive. On another note, what do you enjoy the most about your work? Please share your hobbies, what keeps you busy when you are away from work?
Annette Gregg. What a fun question! My husband and I love to scuba dive, so we’ve been interested in exploring the Maldives or Seychelles. A day of diving, exploring the history of the area, finished with a sustainable, local meal would be amazing!
What has kept me in this industry for so long has been the opportunity to meet people from around the world and explore different cultures. I lived on the island of Bali for a year after graduating from U.C. Berkeley, and I’ve kept that wanderlust ever since. When I’m not working, I’m enjoying our San Diego beaches with a game of beach volleyball, or traveling with family and friends.
ES. What message would you like to put out to SITE members and the wider incentive industry right now?
Annette Gregg. I think the reason incentive travel has always survived economic downturns and remained a priority for achievement programs is our inherent need to experience new destinations. Humans want to be together, and are drawn to explore. The incentive market will continue to lead the way in presenting new locations, unique experiences and immersive programming. This is also such an important time for SITE, turning 50 next year. For nearly half a century, it’s helped elevate the transformative power of incentive travel and motivational experiences to move businesses forward and celebrate human achievement. I’m motivated by Mark Twain’s quote, that reminds me of the greater good behind our work: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of people and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”