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Annamaria Ruffini Discusses What to Expect at the 2018 SITE + MPI Global Forum

Site + MPI Global Forum 2018

The meeting and incentive industries sometimes operate in parallel universes, even though there are many areas of overlap. But cross-pollination is taking place more frequently—and on a global level.

One example is the SITE + MPI Global Forum, which will take place at the Rome Cavalieri Waldorf Astoria Jan. 12-14, 2018. The forum is the result of a recent collaboration between MPI and the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE), which has members in more than 84 countries.

The SITE + MPI Global Forum will bring meeting and incentive travel professionals from around the globe together for professional networking, education and destination exploration. “There will be a big presence of buyers,” notes 2018 SITE President-elect Annamaria Ruffini, CIS, CMP, president and CEO of Events In & Out S.R.L., an incentive house and DMC in Rome.

The collaboration evolved organically as organizers of both SITE’s annual global conference and MPI’s European conference realized that attendees would have to choose between competing events.

“Because we had a very strong relationship here with the MPI chapter and because I am also an MPI member I thought it would be very nice to do some sessions together—to transform education and networking,” Ruffini says. “It started with, ‘Let’s do one session together.’ Then we realized we could do the whole event together.” MPI and SITE were already collaborating on a grassroots basis, in which they created events together. “I always say we are cousins,” she says. “We are doing the same thing but differently.”

One highlight of the SITE + MPI Global Forum will be a presentation on the economic impact of the European incentive and event industry by Padraic Gilligan, managing partner of SoolNua and vice president of content and research for the SITE Foundation. The SITE Foundation commissioned the study by academic researchers in Europe.
“Normally, as an association, we had our annual SITE Index that covers all of the regions of the world,” Ruffini says. “It was unique research. This year, we are going to present the European research, which is based on four specific countries, and then it will develop to the whole region.”

It has been an auspicious time for the incentive travel industry. Nearly half of incentive travel buyers in the SITE Index 2018—an annual global survey by SITE—said their spending on incentive travel is rising. The median spend per person rose from US$3,000 to $4,000 over the prior year. Corporate buyers, who report a median spend of $5,000 versus $3,100 in 2016, are driving the trend, the index found. More than 50 percent of buyers reported plans to increase the number of people eligible for incentive travel programs, a percolating trend that showed up in the previous two years of the survey.

While research continues to be an important component to build the business case for incentive travel, research is now just one of many types of content the SITE Foundation produces, aligned with its updated mission to create compelling content to inform business professionals of the bold results incentive travel produces, and to provide industry insights to further careers of current incentive professionals. In 2017, the Foundation invested over $400,000, including the index, curriculum development and an integrated content strategy.

In-depth Education

Education has been a high priority for both SITE and MPI, and that emphasis has influenced programming at the SITE + MPI Global Forum. On the education front, there will be both an incentive travel education track and a meeting management education track with content for each industry.
“Members can choose which of the seminars they are interested in,” Ruffini says. “It could be that a SITE member would be interested in an MPI-specific seminar and vice versa. We will also have some sessions that will work for both categories.”
Among the speakers will be Alberto Angela, the Italian paleontologist, journalist and writer who was part of the team that discovered the famous hominid “Lucy” and is author of the bestselling book A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome: Daily Life, Mysteries, and Curiosities. Angela will speak at the opening plenary session on Jan. 12 on “A Day in the Life of Rome.”

On Jan. 13, the plenary session will open with keynote speaker Frans Johansson, founder and CEO of The Medici Group, which advises executives at many Fortune 100 companies on innovation and strategy, and author of The Medici Effect and The Click Moment, as well as the host of a podcast centered on diversity driving innovation. Johansson will speak on the topic “The Medici Effect: Unleash Creativity and Innovation at the Intersection,” and Kristian Ribberstrom will be presenting “The Medici Effect in Action.”

Another highlight of the day will be a talk by Federico Mattei, a technical writer and project manager for Slow Food, who will speak about the topic of slow travel, Ruffini says. Slow Food, a global, grassroots organization, was founded in 1989 to prevent local food cultures and traditions from disappearing, counteract the rise of “fast life” and cultivate people’s interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how their food choices affect the world around them. Slow travel is an outgrowth of the slow food movement, in which visitors are encouraged to take the time to enjoy local destinations, cuisine and entertainment, instead of cramming in as many traditional tourist activities as possible.

Ruffini sees strong synergies between Mattei’s talk and a mood of sustainability that runs through the conference.

“It’s related to what we want to do and be in the future,” she says. “It means we can have a combination of new technology, new tools and the past—a balance of what we are doing in a different way.”

In keeping with this theme, extra food from the event will be distributed to the organization Food for Good, which provides access to healthy foods in underserved communities. It will be picked up from the event by the organization and distributed to projects that aid people in need, Ruffini says.

The presenter at the closing plenary session on Jan. 15 will be Julie Cottineau, author of the bestselling book TWIST: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands and former vice president of brand for Richard Branson’s Virgin company. She is also founder and CEO of BrandTwist, a brand consultancy that helps entrepreneurs and corporations build stronger, more profitable brands. Cottineau will speak on the topic “TWIST Your Experience: Take the Magic Home.” As meeting and incentive travel professionals well know, conferences are only valuable if the attendees put the ideas they learn into action when they return to the office.

SIDEBAR: Master Connector: Annamaria Ruffini

Annamaria Ruffini, CIS, CMP, has a long and accomplished history in the meeting and incentive industries that started in 1986. She is currently president and CEO of Events In & Out S.R.L., an incentive house and DMC she owns in Rome. Ruffini joined the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) in 1996 and chaired the Italy Chapter from 2009-2010. Since 2013 she has served on the SITE International Board of Directors and she has been elected board president for 2018. She is also a member of MPI.

A key influencer in the meetings and incentives field, Ruffini won the Global Award of the World Travel Market for her outstanding contribution to Italian tourism in 2011. That same year, Ruffini received the SITE Master Motivator Award, which recognizes honorees for holding the highest standard of excellence in creating or executing motivational events. At the time, the jury for the award said, “Dr. Ruffini has an unmatched commitment to the industry and recognizes the value of education and discussion in order to facilitate progress. As a leader with the SITE Italy Chapter, Dr. Ruffini brought industry leaders together for an in-depth look at green meetings as a strategic tool as well as serves as a board member and change agent with the Federcongressi&eventi, the Italian organization of the meeting and incentive industry."
Ruffini’s ongoing interest in sustainability and green meetings is one reason she is so excited about the speech by Federico Mattei, a technical writer and project manager for Slow Food, at the SITE + MPI Global Forum, Jan. 12-14 in Rome. “This is something that is part of my DNA,” she says.

SIDEBAR: High-level Education at the SITE + MPI Global Forum

As part of the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence’s (SITE) continued commitment to advancing both the incentive travel industry and incentive travel professionals, during the SITE + MPI Global Forum (Jan. 12-14 in Rome), SITE will launch a new mid-level certification program: the Certified Incentive Travel Professional (CITP).
Building upon the Certified Incentive Specialist (CIS) program, the CITP is targeted at professionals with 10+ years of experience in the incentive travel industry. This new program provides the chance for incentive professionals to further enhance their incentive travel knowledge and skills to grow their careers.

The program, available to both SITE and non-SITE members, will include an examination as well as an online certification preparation course. The online certification preparation course will be available in March and the certification examination will be available in June.

“Incentive travel programs represent significant investment for businesses around the world,” says Jennifer Glynn, managing partner, Meeting Encore Ltd., and vice president of education and certification for the SITE Board of Directors. “The CITP credential is designed to provide continued assurance and comfort for our client organizations that their programs are being run with the specialized knowledge needed to guarantee success.”

Learn more about the SITE + MPI Global Forum.

About the Author

Elaine Pofeldt
Elaine Pofeldt

Elaine Pofeldt is a freelance journalist in the New York City area who contributes to publications from CNBC to Forbes and is the author of the upcoming book The Million-Dollar, One-Person Business.