If you asked any event planner their primary criteria for destination selection a year ago, it’s likely that cost, accessibility and flight time, quality hotels and venues, wow factor or a combination of the above would have topped the list.
Ask the same question now, in the light of recent terror attacks in Turkey, Paris and Brussels coupled with health fears over Zika virus in Central and South American regions, and safety and security have been firmly propelled to the top of the list.
This has in turn had a huge impact on which destinations are being booked for conferences and incentives in 2016, with some locations like Turkey and North African countries completely off the pitch list.
Some 40% of event agencies surveyed for C&IT’s State of the Industry Report said they had seen a decline in interest for Turkey as a result of security fears, with half of those specifically naming Istanbul (main image).
Meanwhile, almost a fifth (18%) said they had seen a decline in interest in Morocco, while 14% cited Paris, 12% Brussels and a further 11% said North Africa in general. On the client side, 10% said they would no longer travel to Turkey due to security fears and 8% were put off Morocco.
Other destinations mentioned included Jordan, UAE, Lebanon, Tangiers, Tunisia, Greece, South America and even London.
Jason Sullivan, employee engagement and recognition manager at Colt Technology Services said that finding a suitable destination for incentives for a global company is one of his biggest challenges.
"We have lots of people coming from different places and so it can be hard to choose a place," he explains. "We need to ensure our destination fits budget criteria and will fulfil the objectives of the events."
"We also have safety and security issues to consider. Much of the Middle East is ideally located, but many countries are too risky to visit. We wouldn’t travel to Turkey or Egypt, for example. When you start looking at the map, you realise how many places are off limits."
Anthony Coyle-Dowling, senior director, business development & marketing, at BCD Meetings & Events said the agency has had events cancelled in Paris, Brussels and Istanbul this year and is finding Marrakech a hard sell.
AddingValue, meanwhile, had to move an event from Rio de Janeiro to Dubai at the last minute earlier this year. "It’s not just terrorism, but also we’ve had problems this year with the Zika virus. We had a programme in Rio that was moved to Dubai with four weeks to go, which obviously had cost implications because we had to pay cancellation fees," says managing director, events, Tina Morris.
"Trying to make destination recommendations to clients is a challenge at the moment. I feel sorry for places like Marrakech and Istanbul as they are great places that meet lots of objectives for our clients but they are a complete no no at the moment," she adds.
Agencies agree that once a client has concerns about a specific destination, it’s difficult to persuade them otherwise. So while Paris is not necessarily any higher a threat than other major cities such as London, the recent attacks are fresh in people’s minds and it does impact on decision making. And sadly, this can mean that many destinations nearby are also tarred with the same brush simply due to proximity – so for example the other destinations in France or Belgium may be off the pitch list for some clients because of the problems in Paris and Brussels.
Touch director Nick Bender admits that some organisations are just not comfortable with using Muslim countries at the moment. "Political uncertainty and terrorism unfortunately breeds fear," he comments.
Shaun Casey, head of events at BI Worldwide, agrees and adds that anywhere perceived to be a little too exotic could be off the radar at the moment as in-house planners are reluctant to take any risks. "When you are booking and financially committing to something three or four months out, there is the chance you could lose out financially. The corporate planner is always thinking ‘it’s my job on the line if I get it wrong’. It’s not necessarily fear, it’s protecting yourself," he explains.
On a more positive note, Bender believes that Istanbul and Morocco will bounce back. "There was a big switch off from Athens several years ago, but now Athens is coming back. So some destinations just have to sit it out and with for things to calm down," he says.
In the meantime, clients will stick with those destinations that are perceived to be safe such as Spain and Portugal, which could have implications on cost and availability. "All this business shifting out of North Africa and Turkey has to go somewhere, so we could see prices rise in favourites such as southern Spain and Portugal – this is already happening in the consumer market and that could spill into the shoulder seasons, which are often peak incentive times," says Casey.
But the world is a big place and there are plenty of lesser-known destinations to choose from. To find out which destinations clients are travelling to this year, check out C&IT’s State of the Industry: Destinations on the pitch list, analysis to be published tomorrow.
More from C&IT's State of the Industry Report 2016:
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