As part of our meet the SITE GB board series, we catch up with Director of Events Leigh Butterfield on the UK incentive market. One of the founding partners of 2B UK, Leigh took the leap from agency side (including roles as Managing Partner, Operations at Euro RSCG Skybridge and Director of Corporate Events at The Finishing Touch) to the DMC world because she’s passionate about what the UK has to offer the incentive market…
How long have you been involved with SITE GB and what’s your role on the board?
I have been involved for four years and I’m now the director of events. This means I help putting our annual events like the Incentive Summit together and provide support on site.
What are the top three things you get out of being involved with SITE?
The main thing for me is being part of something in an industry I am really passionate about. I get to meet with like-minded people that also have a similar passion for incentives and travel.
Secondly, it’s the connections and networking opportunities. Being part of SITE also means you are constantly meeting new people and expanding your network.
The third one is sharing and gaining knowledge. The sharing of different practices among members and gaining knowledge through our educational events.
It’s been a tough year for events and incentives, and the challenges are far from over. How do you think the pandemic will impact the incentive travel sector?
I think short-term, it is going to be more domestic, and about giving people choices. If someone doesn’t want to get on a plane, you can’t put pressure on them because they have won an incentive. But say for example say it’s an English group going to Scotland, you could give them the choice of driving or getting a train. I think giving people choices that they are comfortable with is going to be really important.
I also think it’s going to be focused on smaller groups and more experience led. So it’s not so much about the destination, but more about what you are going to experience and how you are going to feel. In my opinion, it was already going that way. The industry was already pushing for more smaller, experience led trips.
I do genuinely believe that when there is an opportunity to travel overseas again, people will jump at the chance. You’ve got to look at the personality type and understand your audience. People who attend incentives are often the type of people who will push the boundaries if the reward is right. It’s about giving them the opportunity to connect but still have the kudos of winning. quicker anyway.
Have you had to switch your focus in the current climate?
Yes we have to a degree. We are definitely doing a lot more virtual experiences at the moment, which I see as very short term. We are also focusing a bit more on the Scotland countryside and less on city destinations. Again that comes down to offering comfort and the feeling of space, being able to control situations, and offer different travel options.
On the virtual side, we have been delivering experiences such as virtual escape rooms, wine and cheese tasting, London tours, for example street art tours, make your own afternoon tea and baking workshops. It works well but it won’t ever replace the face-to-face because that whole fun element of looking across the room and seeing how everyone else is doing, and laughing when things go wrong, doesn’t quite come across as well on a Zoom call. But it’s definitely right for now to keep people connected.
Are you getting many enquiries for live events?
We are getting a few enquiries coming in and it has definitely increased in the last month because I think budgets are now being set for 2022 to 2023. We have had enquiries for four-day programmes for 100 people. But it’s difficult, because we are taking the time to work on them, but we’ve no idea whether they are actually going to come to fruition.
Surprisingly, a lot of the enquiries are not including much in the way of COVID requirements in the RFP. We are putting the information in our proposals anyway.
What measures has your business had to take to make sure you are COVID-secure?
For walking tours, we are creating an app that you can download to your phone so you can hear the guide from a distance, which means you can stand further back.
We’re good to go with the VisitBritain schemes for both England and Scotland, so we’re making sure we’re up to date and following all the guidelines. Scotland and Wales have different restrictions to England, and companies are also putting different restrictions on their staff as well so there is a lot to take into account.
And they are changing constantly so it is quite difficult to put too much in place, because you are going to have to keep changing it. We’ve paused a little bit on our actual operational manual purely until we know when we might operate again, that’s when we need to put the operational manual in place to meet the guidelines that are current at that time.
But we are obviously thinking about and planning for it – so things like apps for the walking tours, coach capacities, amenity packs including masks and sanitiser, mobile sanitiser stations, smaller groups – those are all considerations we have been working on.
Can UK incentive trips for UK clients be as rewarding as overseas ones?
The UK has some amazing destinations that people who may have lived here all their life won’t have experienced. As well as going to some of these places and looking at attractions, you can do things like setting up company festivals and having a campfire singalong with a famous singer or something like star-gazing with Brian Cox. So you are taking the money you would have potentially spent on flying people overseas and spending it on creating an experience they will never forget on their doorstep.
There are lots of things we can do to make UK incentives really special. People might have visited attractions before, but they won’t have gone behind the scenes, or chat to the people that bring it all to life. There’s access to a lot of places people don’t realise there is access to.
What does incentive travel offer that other forms of incentive can’t?
It always comes down to the connections, the lifetime memories and the sense of emotion. Coming back to the type of people who strive to win incentives, it’s about having the kudos, the bragging rights, and that time with chief executive to further your career. All of these things are really key to incentives. It’s more about the career enhancing elements of winning and being on an incentive than purely an amazing travel experience. It’s the kudos that drives people, and that’s what drives business results.
Tell us about one the best incentives that you have delivered?
We did the first concert at Westminster Abbey for a corporate group. It was an opera concert, which was spine-tinglingly amazing. We also held a festival at Four Seasons Hampshire, which I loved, and turned The Guildhall into a theatre for the night.
What are you most looking forward to once the threat of COVID has finally passed?
Seeing people together again and smiling and laughing and connecting. And, of course winning and delivering events, and getting back to pitching, being creative and coming up with ideas. That’s why I love doing what I do.