Smart Women in Meetings: Industry Leader winner and CEO of SITE Annette Gregg sat down with Smart Meetings on the brink of SITE’s 50th anniversary. Gregg gained experience during her more than 3 years at Meeting Professionals International (MPI), moving from senior vice president of the experience team to chief revenue officer.
Gregg discusses trends in incentive travel, the importance of mentorship, being a woman in the industry and what the future holds as we enter the new era of the post-pandemic meetings industry.
“Whether it’s millennials or Gen Z, they’re looking for authentic and purpose-driven experiences.”
Q: What made you commit to the meetings and events industry?
A: I went to a fairly large association, my first job in our industry, and I was on the conferences and exhibits team for Food Marketing Institute. It was just amazing—the booths were so creative and clever, from live entertainment to unveiling a new type of product and the booth activation side.
I loved every bit of it, I loved the complexity and the creativity of it. And of course, the travel. And I thought boy, that’s another thing I want in my career, the global lens of being able to be exposed to all these different cultures. It was just addictive to me.
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Q: What is trending in incentives right now?
A: Right now, especially where we are coming out of the pandemic and so many people are still working remotely or working in a hybrid fashion, it is rewards that get people together in community. And it’s usually in a very unique and exciting destination. The way good incentive programming is working is that you’re getting these people immersed in the destination.
These programs now are really as much outside the property as inside. These participants want to experience the local flavor. They’re really looking for authentic and participatory parts they get to do with their team. And I think that’s what the world needs right now—more community. When you have shared experiences, it creates those powerful bonds.
Q: What is the future for incentive travel?
A: I think it’s underscored by the age that’s coming into the workplace now. By 2025, 75% of our workforce will be under the age of 35. Those are the people that are going on these incentive programs. Those are the top achievers.
And those generations, whether it’s millennials or Gen Z, are looking for authentic and purpose-driven experiences. They want a hands-on activity where they can leave the community better than they found it. They want ethical practices and sustainability. Our members that are planning these programs create immersive, participatory and purpose-driven programming.
You’re looking at a lot of emerging destinations. You have a lot of buyers and planners that are kind of falling back on the safe destinations right now, because it’s just still that post pandemic haze. But you are starting to see a little bit more venturing further out. You’re going to see these destinations that you wouldn’t have considered before. But now, they’re here, like Slovenia. They’re also seeing that Saudi Arabia is pouring a lot of their investment into incentive travel.
Q: You mentioned you were mentored by female supervisors in the first 10 years of your career. How did that shape you as an industry leader?
A: I didn’t really have anything to compare it to until I started getting a little bit more aware of unconscious bias in the workplace, how women are still 25% behind in salary and how we still have to fight for our seat.
I look back at those women bosses, and I was so appreciative because I felt that I could see the differences in how they approached mentorship – how they were including me in conversations, bringing me in to develop me, supportive of hiring a more diverse workplace, more collaborative and diplomatic in finding solutions. They weren’t jealous of my ambition or threatened by that.
Q: What advice would you give for professionals mentoring the new generation of women in the meetings industry?
A: Women need to find their voice. Women need to have an opinion about things. Don’t feel that hard work alone is enough. There’s a lot of hard-working people out there. It’s okay if not everyone agrees with you. I think women still struggle with wanting to be liked. Secondly, embrace office politics. If you’re not networking, intentionally creating strategic relationships with people of influence, you’re really missing out and you’re going to get passed up.
Q: SITE is celebrating its 50th anniversary. What can you share about what is to come?
A: It’s really critical, because there’s an homage and a deference to what got you where you are. There’s also a real realistic knowledge that what got you here is not going to get you there. So, what does the next generation of SITE members want and need from their association? It’s a real opportunity for us to look forward. We are spending some time looking at that value proposition for the new event professional.
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Q: In a post-pandemic world, are meeting professionals still joining associations? Are membership levels returning to that of pre-pandemic numbers? If not, are they expected to?
A: I think associations have an opportunity in the post-pandemic world to be the community that people are lacking when working in a remote environment. We can fill that gap. Most of the association’s memberships in our space did drop during Covid but we’re seeing numbers coming back to pre-pandemic levels.