Tag Archives: business travel

woman sitting on a red chair on stage - AZ Business Magazine Sep/Oct 2010

Q&A With Laura Scheller, President Of Arizona Sunbelt Chapter MPI

Laura Scheller, CMP
President of the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter of MPI
President and CEO, Solomonte Hospitality

How has MPI responded to the economic downturn?
It has been a difficult year for the hospitality industry. Not only have we had to overcome the poor economy and negative media, but here in Arizona we also added controversial politics. The MPI Foundation is focusing on research that provides hard facts about the return on meetings. For instance, for every dollar spent in business travel, companies realize $12.50 in incremental revenue.

MPI as an organization is working to educate local and national business, politicians and media about the positive impact strategic meeting management makes on the economy, not just statewide, but nationally. Obviously the whole issue of SB 1070 is extremely frustrating. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, boycotting meetings is not the answer. This is affecting 300,000 employees whose families’ lives are dependent on our industry jobs — many of whom are immigrants whose only goal is to work hard and provide excellent service. … Certainly, we as a chapter are encouraged to hear that the governor is looking into creating an ad campaign in support of travel to the state.

What are your members experiencing?

Our membership is down. The hotels and resorts are cutting staff in response to lower operating budgets. Meeting planners are being laid off as companies minimize the number, size and scope of their meetings and events. On the positive side, the relationships created by our fellow MPI members are more critical than ever in securing business and jobs. The chapter’s Career Connections is an active job bank completely free to our members.

Is MPI working with other organizations?
One of our goals as a chapter this year is to bring an elevated level to our membership. We hope to work more closely with the Fiesta Bowl Committee and the Arizona Tourism Alliance to create more opportunities for our local members. We have some outstanding talent and expertise, yet often, when large events such as the Super Bowl come to town, outside companies are brought in rather than utilizing local products and services.

How is MPI helping its members?

One of the programs we are very proud of is the Global Community Challenge. … The challenge, developed from the expressed needs of chapter members, encourages members to use their MPI connections to supplement their current business. Through the program, over 286 business-to-business meetings took place, 87 lead referrals were produced and more than $1.3 million in sales was credited to the business relationships developed.

What trends are you seeing?
While some properties are starting to increase rates, others are still focusing on occupancy. Programs are being streamlined. Meeting planners are more accountable to the C-suite for budgets and measured results. Also, while room rates remain somewhat level, food and beverage pricing continues to rise. Of particular note are the gratuity fees that are as high as 25 percent at some resorts. That can make a significant impact on a budget.

Any predictions?
What I see is that there has been a pent-up demand for meetings, and thus things are starting to happen again in the industry. However, I also believe the economy will remain stagnant for the next couple of years. I recommend keeping an organization’s booking window as short as possible.

Arizona Business Magazine Sept/Oct 2010

Meeting Planners Are Learning To Be Advocates - AZ Business Magazine Sep/Oct 2010

In Troubled Times, Meeting Planners Are Learning To Be Advocates For Their Industry

Politics, economic setbacks and disasters of all kinds pose constant threats to the meetings industry. But increasingly, MPI, its members and others associated with meeting planning, are taking steps to be advocates for their industry before problems arise. Christine Duffy, president and CEO of Maritz Travel Company in St. Louis, wants her peers to “pay attention to what’s happening politically in Washington, as well as the effects of current events.”

Disasters such as an erupting volcano in Iceland or the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico affect travel and have a trickle-down effect on every area of the industry.

“Now more than ever, there is a heightened sense of awareness of how connected we are in the world,” Duffy says.

An example of that are the boycotts against Arizona resulting from the state’s tough new immigration law, SB 1070.

Roger Rickard has been an MPI member for almost 20 years and is a partner in the California-based consulting firm REvent. He has dedicated his career to advocacy since Arizona’s Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday controversy in the early 1990s led to boycotts similar to today’s SB 1070 backlash.

While Rickard is clear that he does not represent MPI, he does believe that “we need to do more as an industry … if we don’t, we’ll become extinct.”

To that end, he has created Voices in Advocacy, which defines a strategy of how meeting and travel planners can advocate for themselves, including promoting and raising awareness for the industry using various tactics. In particular, the strategy details the significance of educating elected officials on the importance of the tourism industry, as well as the value of meetings.

“I aim to bring together members of all segments of this industry and help them set up meetings with officials to educate them,” Rickard says. “We want them to understand who we are and our value, and answer any questions they may have about what we do.”

Duffy adds that after 2008’s corporate meetings backlash, the US Travel Association became instrumental in advocating for the industry. The group released an ad pointing out the number of jobs lost in the industry (an estimated 1 million) due to the backlash. The association now serves as a powerful lobbyist on Capitol Hill.

Rickard notes that it’s important to get out the hard facts about the positive benefits of the meetings industry. He points to an Oxford Economics study that found that for every dollar spent on business travel, the return to a company’s bottom line is $12.50.

Theresa Davis, director of strategic communications with MPI national, adds that the organization’s research-based initiative, Meetings Deliver, “provides a comprehensive analysis of independent research conducted during the past two years on the value of meetings.”

She says it is critical for MPI members to “commit to speaking the ‘language of business’ by providing solid business arguments that speak to strategic meetings management from procurement and programming to measuring ROI, and being compliant with corporate CSR policies.”

Debbie Johnson, CEO of the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association, says many controversies surrounding the meetings industry have been blown out of proportion. It’s her challenge, she says, to “change people’s minds by providing facts and getting correct information out there.”

Johnson notes that additional marketing, public relations and direct communication efforts can provide event and meeting planners with talking points they can use to inform their clients about everything Arizona has to offer.

“We need to remind people about the benefits of the state and the reasons to visit,” she adds.

Thanks to MPI, Arizona’s meeting planners don’t have to fight this fight alone.

“When you bring the collective know-how and buying power of 23,000 members from more than 80 countries around the world, affiliation with a leading organization of MPI’s breadth and depth often helps drive our collective point home,” Davis says.

Arizona Business Magazine Sep/Oct 2010

ATA Is Promoting The Message That Tourism Will Bolster The State’s Economic Recovery

Tourism is not an expense — it’s an investment.

That’s not an official slogan for advocates of Arizona’s tourism and hospitality industry, but it is a message they are working hard to imprint in the public consciousness as legislators eye further cuts to the state’s budget. As in past budget crises, funding for marketing the state’s tourism and hospitality industry is vulnerable once again.

“Too often, public officials wrap up tourism with the other cost sectors rather than looking at it as an economic engine that can help bring new spending, support new jobs, support incremental tax revenues,” says Mitch Nichols, president of the Nichols Tourism Group and treasurer of the Arizona Tourism Alliance.

Nichols says the ATA is developing an advocacy program to better explain the role tourism can play in the state’s economic recovery.

“Tourism helps Arizona’s economy on two levels. One is its role as a base industry where it can bring new spending which will support new jobs and new taxes. So it’s role as a base industry is really critical,” he says. “The other element with tourism is its role across the state. A couple of years ago when the state did an economic development plan and looked at the various clusters, they looked at tourism as the common denominator. It was the only base industry that has applications in all 15 Arizona counties.”

According to a report prepared last year by the Portland, Ore.-based economic and marketing research firm Dean Runyan Associates for the Arizona Office of Tourism, the total direct and secondary impact of the Arizona travel industry in 2008 was 310,000 jobs and $10.2 billion in earnings.

The report also found that in 2008, direct travel spending was associated with $1.4 billion in state and local tax revenues and $1.2 billion in federal tax revenues. That was the equivalent of $1,080 per household in Arizona.

In other findings:
Total direct travel spending in Arizona in 2008 was $18.5 billion, a 3.2 percent decrease over 2007.
Travel-related employment, earnings and tax receipts declined in 2008.
The collapse of the housing market and recessions in Southern California and Arizona contributed to the travel decline.

Nichols warns that while it may seem easy to cut state funding for tourism marketing, the result could be long-term damage to the industry and the derailing of a fragile economic recovery. The effects could be even more troubling as competitor states such as California hold firm despite their own economic difficulties.

“There are other states that do see the full potential of tourism,” Nichols says. “California doubled its tourism budget up to $50 million a few years ago. The state is maintaining that budget despite cuts.”

Quite a lot is at stake, according to Nichols. Citing the Dean Runyan study, Nichols says U.S. leisure and business travel spending is expected to increase 4.5 percent and 5 percent in 2010 respectively. That has the potential to create 90,000 new jobs nationwide.

Nichols says Arizona needs to step up — not back — if it wants to bring a portion of those jobs and tax revenues to the state. In order for Arizona to compete against California and Nevada, the state needs to aggressively market at both a state and regional level.

Nichols points to Flagstaff as an example of how substantial the ROI on marketing tourism can be for a community. Last spring, as the economy continued in freefall, the Flagstaff City Council acted on a recommendation by the city manager to provide a $250,000 tourism “stimulus.” The money went toward marketing Flagstaff during its traditionally slow months of May and June.

The effect on Flagstaff’s tourism industry was positive and immediate, says Heather Ainardi, director of the Flagstaff Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Ainardi says Flagstaff’s hospitality tax collections dropped almost 10 percent in March, compared to 15 percent for the state. In April, when the city began its tourism marketing push primarily in the Valley and Southern California, hospitality tax revenues fell just 1.5 percent for Flagstaff, compared 11 percent for the state. In May, Flagstaff’s hospitality tax revenues were flat and dropped 7 percent in June.

“So, although we were still down, we were doing well compared to the state. Where everybody else was seeing double-digit declines (in tax revenue), we were either flat or saw small declines. Our occupancy actually went up in May and June,” Ainardi says. “I think people look at marketing and don’t understand the return. It’s not something where you can put in a quarter and a dollar comes out. It truly is something where you put in a quarter and you see an across-the-board impact.”

According to a study the city conducted with the Arizona Office of Tourism, the tourism and hospitality industry has a $501 million annual impact on Flagstaff and creates 5,400 jobs every year.

And Ainardi and other tourism supporters in Flagstaff are on a mission to educate residents about how those tourism dollars affect their lives.

“We really promote that revenues from that tax don’t just go toward marketing,” she says. “They actually go toward parks and recreation, they go toward public beautification, economic development and the arts and sciences. In Flagstaff, we have a system developed where we can help people understand that the 47 miles of urban trails that they utilize on a daily basis are built and maintained through tourism dollars.”

As a member of ATA, the Flagstaff CVB has worked closely with the group in its efforts to save funding for the Arizona Office of Tourism. Ainardi says her organization plans to continue its partnership with ATA to further the alliance’s advocacy mission.

“Tourism is amazingly important and it’s been one of the traditional backbones of some of our economies,” she says. “It’s not everyone’s favorite industry, but it is one that continues to grow and benefit our communities.”

www.nicholstourismgrp.com | www.flagstaffarizona.org


Arizona Business Magazine

February 2010

Who To Watch: John Chan

John Chan
Interim Director
Phoenix Convention Center

Despite a slumping economy, the newly expanded Phoenix Convention Center experienced a phenomenon expressed some years ago in a movie — “If you build it they will come.”

Indeed, convention delegates came in record numbers in 2009, attracted by the usual Phoenix amenities, including weather and reasonable prices. A new attraction was the convention center itself, which underwent a $600 million expansion project that was completed in December 2008, and tripled the size of meeting and exhibition space.

But John Chan, interim director of the Phoenix Convention Center, sees the recession taking a bite out of convention business in 2010. Looking ahead, Chan says the industry is moving into a tentative mode. Some groups are delaying making decisions on conventions because they don’t have a firm count on delegates. Businesses are deciding to send fewer people, and convention planners are opting against adding an extra day for a possible trip to the Grand Canyon, Chan says.

Still, Chan thinks the scheduled opening in mid-2010 of nearby CityScape, a multiuse project of restaurants and retail amenities that convention delegates always look for, and the existence of light rail service, will make Phoenix that much more desirable — even as the recession puts a crimp in business travel.

“We opened the new convention center during this down economy, and yet, during the last fiscal year we welcomed record numbers of convention delegates into the building,” Chan says. “The reason — most of the business was booked two to three years ago, while it was still under construction.”

In addition, the 1,000-room Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel opened one block from the center.

“Those two events merged to set the stage for the current fiscal year,” Chan says.

Last fiscal year, which ended June 30, saw 276,000 convention delegates enter the center, compared to only 104,000 the previous year, a rousing 160 percent increase.

In a sign that the struggling economy won’t negatively impact the convention industry as much as some fear, in the first three months of the current fiscal year the center already had received 220,000 visitors. Healthy numbers were spurred by major conventions held by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Best Western International, and a volleyball festival. Best Western held a dinner for 2,400, and earlier, the National Rifle Association staged a banquet for 6,000, the largest sit-down dinner ever in Arizona, according to Chan.

He credits the surge in attendance to the expanded convention center’s ability to provide space for groups of 10,000 to 15,000. What’s more, the design of the building enables the city to host several conventions and groups simultaneously. The Phoenix Convention Center has nearly 900,000 square feet of rentable space and a total of more than 2 million square feet. The increased size has moved Phoenix from the 69th-largest convention center in the U.S. to the top 20.

“It is definitely meeting our expectations,” says Chan, who previously served as Downtown Development Director for the city of Phoenix. “We’re able to host groups we were not able to handle before expansion, and they’re talking about coming back — getting them as part of the rotation. That speaks to good customer service and the quality of food and beverage. It has really put Phoenix on the map of the meeting/planning industry.”

www.phoenix.gov/conventioncenter

Arizona Business Magazine

January 2010

Panel of MPI Students

The Meetings Industry Is On The Offensive To Counter Negative Perceptions

When individuals and organizations meet, solutions are created, ideas are shared, business initiatives are crafted and skills are learned. Such meetings are crucial to North American business success, even more so in a dynamic, faltering, global economy. In an increasingly faceless world, effective human connections are a powerful business weapon.

The EventView 2009 study reveals that for the fourth year in a row senior sales and marketing executives in North America believe meetings and events have the highest ROI of any marketing channel. EventView is produced through a collaboration of the Meeting Professionals International Foundation, the Event Marketing Institute (EMI) and the marketing agency George P. Johnson (GPJ). EventView is the meetings industry’s longest-running global report on event marketing trends.

“This first report of the 2009 series shows that CMOs (chief marketing officers) and senior marketers believe events are the most effective medium to engage customers and move them to purchasing behavior,” says Bruce MacMillan, president and CEO of MPI. “While we’ve seen event marketing mature as an effective marketing channel for several years, the benefits become heightened in an uncertain economy. Marketing decision makers have clearly taken notice.”

Of the company executives questioned in the 2009 Business Leader Survey commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), 82 percent say they believe business travel is important to achieving their businessresults.

“It’s a classic trade-off between short-term cost reductions and long-term value,” says Daniel Diermeier, a professor at the Kellogg Business School at Northwestern University. “During times like these, many companies will go too far, and actually cut back on the activities that would best position them to compete in the future.”

Another study from USTA shows that 87 percent of Americans who have attended an out-of-town meeting or convention for work say it is important to running a strong business. Meetings are far more than a collection of speeches or talking points. They are an opportunity for people of similar interests to come together and share their stories about how they are coping, as well as what they are doing to increase business, says leadership coach John Baldoni, who writes the Leadership at Work blog for Harvard Business Publishing.

Meetings and events are also strategic tools that deepen employee relationships and contribute to the overall health of companies. According to a Harvard Business Review survey, a 5 percent increase in employee retention can generate a 25 percent to 85 percent increase in profitability. Travel events show employees they are valued. If employees are only committed to the paycheck, their allegiance can be compromised when they are offered a higher salary elsewhere.

Additionally, meetings and events are essential to motivating sales forces, rewarding high performers, communicating new company initiatives and attracting top talent. According to a 2008 study by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, responsible, well-designed and well-executed meetings and training sessions have yielded significant benefits. Such benefits include improved company culture, increased employee retention and more highly engaged and satisfied employees. These companies generate better overall returns in the stock market, with firms on the list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For earning up to five times as much return as their competitors.

According to USTA, business travel in general has become a $240 billion industry due to the real value and measurable benefits derived from the collaboration and cooperation that can only occur when people meet face-to-face.

Phoenix, which covers 517 square miles, is the fifth-largest city in the country with a population of more than 1.57 million people. The Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau (GPCVB) has accreditation from the Destination Marketing Accreditation Program, an international accreditation program developed by the Washington, D.C.-based Destination Marketing Association International.

“We are pleased to be recognized in the destination-marketing community for providing outstanding services in accordance with international standards and benchmarks in this field,” says Steve Moore, president and CEO of the GPCVB.

Unfortunately, adds Brent DeRaad, executive vice president of the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, “the positive Arizona attributes we worked so hard to promote as a business destination are being used to portray Arizona in a less positive light. Our meeting planners are telling us they’re hard pressed to ‘sell’ our destination up the chain of command since there is a perception that the Valley is a hotbed of negative media activity, as well as a desirable leisure destination. Regardless of our state-of-the-art meetings facilities, easy air accessibility and the great values our resorts are extending, we’re losing business to destinations facing less scrutiny.”

Since October 2008, four national news stories have featured TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) recipients or federally funded organizations holding meetings at resorts. Three out of the four meetings scrutinized on the national stage were held at Phoenix-Scottsdale properties. As a result, planners charged with staging legitimate, privately funded meetings are fearful to bring them to Arizona and are canceling and downsizing programs. In fact, ArizonaGuide.com reports that some planners are willing to spend more to host their meetings in alternate destinations that are not receiving negative media scrutiny and are not perceived as leisure markets.

In a June letter to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), asked for assistance to reverse an informal federal policy prohibiting and discouraging government meetings and conferences in cities that are too leisure oriented. Emanuel agreed by saying “federal policy should not dictate the location where such government events are held. Our view on the issue of government travel is not focused on specific destinations, but rather on the justification for and the cost-benefit ratio of the individual exercise.”

The USTA declares that companies receiving taxpayer dollars need to be responsible, transparent and accountable. To that end, the travel community has developed a clear meetings-and-events policy these companies should adopt. Although this policy is intended for companies receiving emergency lending from the federal government, other companies interested in adopting these guidelines may choose to alter metrics based upon industry size, company size and market sector. The general USTA policy statement says “the CEO shall be responsible for implementing adequate controls to assure that meetings, events and incentive/recognition travel organized by the company serve legitimate business purposes and are cost justified.”

USTA President and CEO Roger Dow says “… corporate and government meetings have come under attack in the media and among some members of Congress seeking to portray meetings as excessive and unnecessary. The net effect has been cancellation of thousands of meetings, the termination of tens of thousands of jobs and the loss of billions of dollars of spending for the American economy.”

According to MeetingsMeanBusiness.com, each meeting and event traveler spends an average of $1,000 per trip.

“(Travel for business meetings and events) drives the whole hospitality industry in America, and that industry isn’t fat cats; it’s waiters and dishwashers, maids and cooks, event staff and hotel clerks — blue-collar workers who belong to unions,” writes New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman. Investor’s Business Daily columnist Kathy E. Read adds, “Those who get hammered — the reservation clerks, maids, baggage handlers, waiters and tour guides — are the little guys and gals whom (President) Obama’s stimulus package is supposed to put back to work.”

The tourism industry is one of Arizona’s largest revenue generators. The Arizona Office of Tourism (AOT) reports that in 2008, the state hosted 37.4 million visitors, including 32.4 million domestic and 5 million international travelers. AOT Director Sherry Henry explains that although the combined visitation equates to a net decrease of 3.3 percent, or 1.2 million fewer visitors from 38.6 million in 2007, the travel and tourism industry is resilient and continues to generate billions of dollars for the state’s economy.

Based on Arizona Department of Revenue data, gross sales for four key sectors of the meeting and travel industry are down 13 percent year-to-date as of May 2009, with corresponding state tax collections down almost 14 percent.

“Arizona’s visitor spending brought in $18.5 billion in direct travel expenditures in 2008, underscoring the fact that the travel and tourism industry is a major economic driver for our economy,” Henry says. “In the wake of our current economic situation, our industry brings revenue into the state that supports the quality of life of all Arizona residents.”

Last year, visitor spending generated $2.6 billion in local, state and federal tax revenues. Furthermore, the tourism industry is critical to both job creation and revenue generation for the state, supporting nearly 170,000 jobs and generating $5 billion in direct earnings.

According to Henry, unlike other industries, taxes generated by travel industry spending are paid by visitors rather than residents. These visitors bring new money to Arizona’s economy and generate revenue in all 15 counties, validating the economic importance the travel and tourism industry has across the entire state.

The Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association (AzHLA) conducted a poll of select members in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area and determined that canceled or downsized meetings have resulted in lost revenue easily topping $100 million — equating to a minimum of $11 million in tax revenues not funneling to city and state budgets or critical public programs such as education.

“Meetings account for more than 70 percent of most resort revenues,” says Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association President and CEO, Debbie Johnson. “When we lose those revenues, all Arizona taxpayers suffer; our pools are closing early, we’re losing our precious teachers and we’ll likely face a tax increase on the next ballot election. Many of those issues could have been avoided with the tax revenues from those lost visitors.”

www.eventmarketing.com
www.mpiweb.org
www.tia.org
www.visitphoenix.com
www.experiencescottsdale.com
www.azot.gov
www.azhla.com