Tag Archives: meeting planners

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

Civic Space Park - AZ Business Magazine Sept/Oct 2010

Local CVBs Sound Off On Boycotts And Why Arizona Is Still A Top Meeting And Travel Destination

It’s no secret that the meetings industry, and travel in general, has taken quite a few hits in Arizona over the past few years. As a result, local convention and visitors bureaus — the ones who promote travel to and meetings in the state — have had to overcome new obstacles in their quest to make the Valley a top destination spot.

Steve Moore, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau (GPCVB), notes that while room night consumption was up nearly 11 percent from January through May (versus those same months last year), future business-lead production since this past May has dropped to 40 percent below the year-over-year pace.

“And remember,” he adds, “we were in a severe recession and also a key target of the (corporate meetings backlash) last year.”

While the corporate meetings backlash has abated, the state’s tourism industry was hit again this spring when the state Legislature passed, and Gov. Jan Brewer signed, the nation’s toughest immigration law, SB 1070. The media firestorm that ensued caused cities, companies and individuals to boycott doing business in and traveling to Arizona.

Stephanie Nowack, president and CEO of the Tempe Tourism Office, is aware of just two groups that decided not to meet in Tempe due to the immigration law. However, the combined economic impact of those cancellations was a loss of $385,000 to the city.

Pam Williams, CTA, convention sales manager for the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau, notes that the immigration law may be having a greater negative impact than can be seen on the surface.

“We have had a few groups express their concerns about this bill, and some organizations have specified that their group will not be considering Arizona as a destination in the near future for their conferences and meetings due to SB 1070,” Williams says. “However, industrywide, it’s the meetings we don’t know about that have silently chosen to exclude Arizona on their RFPs and short lists that will have the greatest impact. This will make calculating the monetary effects to our industry next to impossible.”

But, believe it or not, there is some good news to report on the tourism front. According to Rachel Sacco, president and CEO of the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, “Scottsdale’s January through April 2010 occupancy and revenue per available room (is) ahead of last year … This past year, 50 percent of our meetings leads were for new business.”

In addition, a Metropoll XIII study, conducted by the market research firm Gerald Murphy and Associates, recently found that “meeting planners rank Scottsdale first for its romantic atmosphere, friendly residents, green policies, outdoor recreation, and great shopping and restaurants.”

The positive outlook is not contained in Scottsdale, but is being felt all over the metro area.

Moore notes that “the GPCVB typically books between 600,000 to 700,000 hotel room nights per year, and last fall we doubled our meeting planner fly-ins, targeting those groups with a peak block of 200 rooms. Most were over 1,500 rooms on peak, and we were very successful in showcasing the ‘New Phoenix,’ as too many planners had not been to our destination in many years.”

Over in Tempe, voters recently approved Prop. 400, which increased the bed tax by 2 percent.

“It is our job to promote the area and drive traffic to Arizona,” Nowack says. “With this additional funding, we’ll be able to put into place a strategic initiative to market the area in a consistent and positive way.”

Nowack also is proud to announce a new event in the Tempe/Scottsdale area, the Women’s Half Marathon. It will begin in Scottsdale and end at Tempe Beach Park, and is expected to draw 5,000 participants on Nov. 7. Nowack says the event is “a perfect example of new business still looking to Arizona.”

“They chose us because of our knowledge, experience, and success hosting events,” she adds. “We are known for hospitality.”

It is this local hospitality that Nowack would like to remind meeting planners of when it comes time to schedule their travel and events.

“(The immigration law) has given us a challenge to rebuild Arizona’s brand,” she says.

But Moore says this may be easier said than done.

“Because our hard-earned brand has somewhat been hijacked, this effort will take longer than many suspect,” he says. “Substantial marketing resources from both the public and private sectors must be enhanced and maintained. Tourism/meetings (have) been impacted far more than any other sector in the state, and our industry needs to create a compelling reason for the state’s business leadership to better appreciate how visitors and conventions impact them.”

Arizona Business Magazine Sept/Oct 2010

Jill Longfellow - AZ Business Magazine Sept/Oct 2010

Jill Longfellow, Convention Group Sales Manager At EnterpriseHoldings Inc.

Jill Longfellow
Convention Group Sales Manager
Enterprise
Holdings Inc.
www.enterprise.com

Jill Longfellow is grateful for her membership in the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter of Meeting Professionals International, and now she is helping others see the benefits as well.

As the chapter’s director of Membership Retention and Global Community Challenge, Longfellow spends time speaking to members who want to cancel their memberships because of downturns in the economy and the tourism industry. The decline in membership is why the chapter created a global community challenge that encourages members to learn about each other’s businesses in order to create referrals, she says.

“(The global community challenge) has been a terrific way for our members to truly see the ROI from their MPI membership above and beyond the education we receive at our monthly meeting,” says Longfellow, the convention group sales manager for Enterprise Holdings Inc.

A referral is also what piqued her interest in MPI. She joined in 2000, after a former Enterprise employee explained to her that MPI is a “terrific association.”

In her time with the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter, the group has created a return on investment receipt program. This program allows members to see what their MPI membership has done for them in the past.

“It is a goal of our chapter this year to make sure that every member sees the ROIs from their local involvement with our local chapter,” Longfellow says.

“My MPI membership has allowed me the opportunity to meet with hoteliers and meeting planners that I would not have been able to meet with in the past without the exposure I receive from my involvement with my local chapter.”

The exposure Longfellow has created for Enterprise through MPI is “critical” to her job, she adds.

“My involvement and membership with MPI helps to ensure that the meeting planner committee understands Enterprise’s commitment to community service and customer service,” Longfellow says.

MPI also has allowed the business and meeting planning community to better understand all that the rental car industry can do for companies holding gatherings in Arizona, she says.

Just as MPI has had a big impact on her career, Longfellow says the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter of MPI has a major role to play in the business community in the years to come, especially in this current economic climate.

“I believe it’s very important that our board and our members get the word out to the public and to our elected officials about the large effect that group conventions, meetings have on Arizona as a whole,” she says. “As a destination state, we need to keep our local hotels and resorts and convention centers full with meetings, so we can keep our Arizona residents employed through these businesses — and to keep meetings happening in our beautiful state, from the northern pinecap areas of Northern Arizona to the Valley here in Phoenix, and south all the way through to Tucson.”

http://azbigmedia.com/tag/september-october-2010-2

AZ Sunbelt MPI Chapter

MPI Is A Handy Resource For Professionals Throughout The Meetings Industry

Meeting Professionals International has 70 chapters worldwide with 24,000 members who service and support the meetings industry. The Arizona Sunbelt Chapter’s membership currently stands at 532, and is comprised of meeting planners and suppliers who partner to organize and serve the meetings industry across the globe.

With statistics like that, who could doubt the importance and value of MPI as a resource for those in the industry? Not its members, that’s for sure.

Mark McMinn, CMP, director of sales for the Tempe Convention and Visitors Bureau and vice president of finance for the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter, has been associated with the organization for 20 years and a member of the local group since 2001.

In that time, he has experienced first-hand the resources the group offers. He says “education, relevant content to the industry and career advancement and knowledge, marketplace connections to further my business contacts and sales, and being in a community of like-minded professionals and people who understand what you do, and who want to make sure you are successful in the marketplace” are some of the most important aspects of his MPI membership.

Regarding resources, McMinn points to MPI’s directory, available online and in print, as a great place to find a member.

“After you have found us, give any one of the members a call and doors are opened for you,” he says. “A wealth of information can be gained through one phone call or e-mail. It’s the power of connection. There are many resources that can be found at MPI: best practices, forms, directories, books and publications, speakers, subject matter experts, legal advice, discounts, and so much more.”

Beyond that, McMinn says education is MPI’s best resource.

“You can learn so much from our education resources online and at a monthly chapter meeting or at one of our fantastic conferences,” he says.

McMinn adds that with MPI “you are connected to so many professionals like yourself that you are instantly able to get what you need, when you need it from some of the finest professionals in the meetings business.”

Beth Longnaker, site selection specialist with Scottsdale-based Hospitality Performance Network and vice president of membership for MPI’s Arizona Sunbelt Chapter, is all about helping MPI members maximize their memberships and make the most of their involvement with the organization. She even developed the global development committee and has been active on various other committees during the course of her membership.

She agrees that the education aspect is a great tool MPI members can take advantage of, including earning accreditations and certifications within specific specializations.

Longnaker says networking, industry discounts and the MPI global directory are some of the most beneficial resources MPI has to offer, even though, in her opinion, the latter does not get utilized as often as it should.

“People don’t use the directory enough and they don’t use their references enough,” she says. “They need to utilize those connections.”

In addition to the online directory, Longnaker cites as wonderful resources some of the online programs available via the international Web site.

“There are subject boards, special interest groups and programs,” she says. “You can go on and gain knowledge of current trends, and you can ask questions and get honest answers because there are more than 20,000 professionals around the world from which to get feedback.”

Longnaker believes there is always an opportunity to learn something new within the forum of MPI, because it constantly presents new products and tools to help its members keep on top of current trends.

As a site selection specialist, Longnaker acts as a liaison between her client and the hotel they are negotiating a contract with, and she finds the knowledge she gains via MPI invaluable.

“My goal is to present the most beneficial contract for all involved,” she says.

MPI has given Longnaker the tools to offer her clients better opportunities.

“I have the personal knowledge to make qualified referrals and it offers a validity in my profession,” she says.

McMinn encourages MPI members to take full advantage of all the resources available to them.

“Use your membership to the fullest and you have the meetings industry at your fingertips,” he says. “It’s like having a secret handshake … but there is no secret.”

www.exploretempe.com
www.hperformance.com

Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North

One Valley Resort Shares Its Side Of The Meetings Controversy Issue

The Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North is synonymous with luxury, indulgence and the utmost in customer service. The property, nestled in the natural desert setting of the Pinnacle Peak foothills, boasts grand casitas, fine dining, breathtaking views of the city below and some of the finest meeting-and-function facilities available.

Just a year or two ago, one may not have said the words “Four Seasons” and “budget friendly” in the same sentence. But things are different today. The current economic climate has dictated changes in nearly every industry, but the meetings industry has been particularly hard hit by the public frenzy over the abuse — both real and perceived — of Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) funds. Companies receiving government bailouts were blasted by the public and the press for continuing to hold meetings and events, even when taxpayer money was not used to foot costs.

The Four Seasons has not been immune to the situation. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, according to the property’s director of marketing, Dave Akin.

“The crystal ball is still cloudy, but we would like to believe that the worst is over,” he says. “We are cautiously optimistic.”

Akin says that due to the TARP backlash, public scrutiny and the political climate, the Four Seasons saw quite a few cancellations and a dramatic decline in its booking pace starting in the fall of 2008 through the beginning of this year. But he adds that the situation has “stabilized a bit.”

For Akin, the bottom line is that “meetings matter” and they need to continue to take place for many important reasons.

“People need to get together to share ideas and for continued education,” he says.

Although the media spotlighted the amount of funds being spent on meetings, Akin says the public was not apprised of the trickle-down effect of those meetings dollars. A meeting can directly impact literally thousands of jobs.

“So many people are dependent on those dollars,” he says. “It is very important that people in and outside of our industry can put a face and a personality with the statistics they are hearing. We want to make sure people aren’t getting confused between luxury and waste.”

The Four Seasons is taking a very proactive approach in an effort to rekindle the meetings momentum, and in doing so is receiving support from the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter of Meeting Professionals International.

The resort’s partnership with MPI has resulted in some very successful endeavors. Akin says the membership database is a very useful tool for reaching out to individuals and sharing thoughts.

“MPI is very good to work with,” he adds.

The Four Seasons and MPI have co-hosted several events, including meeting planners’ World Educational Conference (WEC), where the property was given the opportunity to showcase itself.

“We are taking a collaborative approach to educate people and help them understand the purpose and benefits of meetings,” Akin says. “We need to clear up the misunderstandings so everyone will be better off in the long run.”

To this end, the Four Seasons has received advice from the U.S. Travel Association (USTA) on how to show potential clients and guests the true value, worth and return on investment of conferences. AZ Business Magazine cover October 2009Akin hopes these efforts will help shift the focus back to why meetings are so beneficial, as well as some of the important issues that MPI promotes, including green meetings and social awareness.

“We want to move those topics back to the forefront,” he says.

Meanwhile, Akin insists that while there are certainly specials and values for both business and pleasure travelers to take advantage of at the Four Seasons right now, one thing has not changed.

“We are a company that prides itself on our customer service,” he says. “We are not changing our standards or cutting corners during these challenging times. Our focus is always on taking care of our clients.”

www.fourseasons.com