Tag Archives: Laura Scheller

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

Laura Scheller

Laura Scheller: CMP, President And Founder, Solmonte Hospitality

Laura Scheller, CMP, not only is a member of the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter of Meeting Professionals International, she also is the chapter’s president-elect. In the course of the 18 years Scheller has been involved with MPI, she has held numerous other roles, including chair of various committees and director positions within the organization.

Scheller says the biggest benefit by far of her involvement with MPI is the relationships.

“MPI provides three things: world-class knowledge for our industry, a marketplace to promote our services and products, and, probably the most important to me, a human connection for both personal and professional development,” she says. “In an economy like this, where the entire profession has been knocked to its knees, through no fault of its own, relationships are critical to my success. MPI provides a platform to increase our contacts and tools and provide the maximum ROI for every meeting and event we touch.”

As president and founder of Solmonte Hospitality, which offers full meeting planning services, Scheller says MPI has been critical to the development and expansion of her business.

“Without the support of my fellow MPI members, my company would not be in existence today,” she says. “We are running a business and our members are our clients. We have to provide value to our members through education and opportunity and still be profitable. All of these skills help me to be a better businesswoman in my company.”

Scheller admits that the economy and the “AIG affect” have decimated the meetings and event market. The AIG effect refers to the public backlash to corporate meetings and events following the disclosure last fall that insurance giant AIG was still planning lavish get-togethers for employees even after it received a massive bailout from the federal government. The public and media outrage did not take into account that corporate gatherings make up an important part of the tourism industry — especially in places such as Arizona.

With the help of MPI, Scheller is hopeful the AIG effect will disappear.

“There are significantly fewer meetings occurring, and those that do still exist are often cut back dramatically in scope. MPI, along with other industry organizations, has created a campaign called Meetings Mean Business,” she says.

“Our goal is to dismiss the notion that meetings are fluff and to help educate the business community on the value of meetings and events, and to create guidelines and best practices that support positive impact to our economy. As a chapter leader and local businesswoman, I am proud to be a very small part in this endeavor.”