Two dozen past presidents of the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence have joined together to oppose three proposed motions they find to be immoral and against the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusivity.
The international board of directors of the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE), a global business events association dedicated exclusively to incentive travel, recently voted to put three bylaw changes to the membership vote. The ballot was launched to members on August 18, 2023, and is live for 30 days.
Three proposed bylaw changes have caused an uproar amongst some members. A group of 24 of SITE’s past presidents sent a three-page letter to all SITE members. The letter was shared on social media yesterday.
“Without any personal prejudice, we, the below past presidents, strongly oppose all three motions in the form presented and ask that our members critically assess these proposals themselves and consider the long-term implications for our beloved community. We are voting no to all three proposals as presented,” the letter states.
Proposed Bylaw Changes
The three proposed bylaw changes sent by SITE to its members are as follows:
- Allow a SITE Officer’s IBOD (International Board of Directors) term to extend for a maximum of one year as necessary due to exceptional circumstances. This would be subject to approval of the IBOD by majority vote.
- Shift responsibility of authorizing SITE payments from the volunteer role of VP Finance/President (which is not current practice anyway) to staff in accordance with policies and procedures.
- Transition from IBOD general election (by SITE voting membership) to a slate (by IBOD vote). SITE would continue with a nominations process managed by an impartial and independent Board Development Committee, with a shortlist of candidates provided to the Executive Committee and then voted on by the IBOD instead of the voting membership.
The letter from the 24 SITE past presidents was posted on LinkedIn by past president Rajeev Kohli, joint managing director of Creative Travel India, with a call to “preserve SITE’s integrity and save SITE’s structure.” His post was shared by several other SITE members, many of whom added their thoughts and comments.
“That’s a hard NO for me. Why are we even voting on this?” said Patricia Perez, president of Dominicana & Partners DMC.
“Democracy is a flower to water every day. I never imagined I would have to defend my Business Family #SITE,” said Annamaria Ruffini, president & CEO of Events In & Out and SITE past president.
“I strongly oppose the proposed changes to the Bylaws governing SITE,” said Lisa Kincannon (Cherry), managing director of Opus Event Solutions and SITE member in 2023.
Lorenzo Pignatti, founder and president of TERRAEVENTS, says he is OK with the proposed changes regarding board terms and shifting financial responsibilities to staff. However, he is against the proposed change from a general election to a slate.
Pignatti goes on to highlight what he sees as the positive side of SITE’s current fully-member-driven governance approach. In his repost of the letter, his comment ends, “I agree that this should be firmly rejected, as it simply goes against the very DNA of SITE and what really makes it unique and so strong: the possibility for EVERYONE in our beloved industry to step up and say “Hey, I want to be part of it, I want to help, I want to make an impact.”
Moving some financial responsibilities to staff has not raised too many concerns. However, the letter mentions previous misappropriation of funds, making any change to SITE’s financial processes a delicate issue. This will certainly be a matter of concern, particularly for any past board members.
“As critical as is the matter of electing our leadership, so is the matter of the security and safety of our money. SITE has already, in its history, seen substantial money misappropriated. The change as presented is incomplete and unexplained. Our financial oversight could use better systems and policies, but none of that is presented here,” the letter states. “We see no reason to reduce already weak checks and balances and move power into our association management company.”
Board Power Shift
Reading through the public comments, there is a sense that members of all levels of seniority see this as a power shift. Most of the 24 past presidents who signed the letter own small to medium-sized DMCs spread around the globe. They are on the supplier end of the incentive business, creating high-end programs in specific regions.
The implication is that the proposed changes would make it harder for individuals like this to become board members. It would also make it simpler for the larger companies involved in incentive travel, mainly U.S.-based incentive houses, to have a stronger presence across the SITE board.
A Diversity Issue?
According to the letter, the proposed change of voting to a slate could undermine the diversity of the board of directors. “These changes go against the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusivity,” the letter says. Not all those who publically commented agree with this.
“I do not agree in full with the past presidents’ comments. It sounds like everyone else that uses the slate is wrong and goes against the DE&I predicaments, which is obviously not the case,” said Pignatti.
It is also a matter addressed in a FAQ document shared by SITE, but making the opposite point, that a board slate would “allow for a more diverse, inclusive and equitable board.”
An Overall Question of Transparency
Overall, It’s safe to say that the proposed bylaw changes and the process so far have not been well received, at least by some of SITE’s members.
The letter refers to a lack of transparency and a process that is legal but not morally correct. “We are deeply alarmed at the lack of transparency in discussions and processes on these changes and find that whilst a legally correct process has been followed, a morally correct one has not. Many of us have led bylaw changes over the years, and none have seen a situation like this. What is being presented is rushed, incomplete, and goes against SITE’s core values,”
Kincannon added her comments to the letter, highlighting what she sees as a lack of transparency in the process. “It has not been divulged to members as to who put forth the recommended bylaw changes to the board or what review was given to lead up to their decision to present the changes.”
Pignatti’s repost echoes this feeling. “I am a bit bewildered by this bylaws’ amendments proposal and the sticky situation it has created. It does feel like it’s been rushed and most certainly not shared with all the stakeholders within the association,” said Pignatti.
SITE has since addressed this by announcing it will hold two open information sessions for SITE members as Zoom webinars next week. It will also allow members who have already voted to vote again.
“To date, approximately 5% of our members have cast their vote, but following the workshops, a member will be able to cancel their original vote and vote again. This gives fair opportunity to all members to cast an informed vote while respecting the international board of directors’ decision to continue the ballot and the time frames required to do so,” according to a statement issued by SITE’s CEO Annette Gregg.
The SITE statement continues, “We invited representatives from this group of past presidents to participate in the workshop, and they declined, opting to launch a grassroots campaign, urging our members to vote against the bylaw changes. These issues are relevant only to SITE members, and we feel it’s inappropriate to debate an association’s internal matters publicly.”