Tag Archives: meetings industry

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

meetings industry

MPI Is Touting The ROI Of In-Person Meetings

The best advocates for the positive return on investment of in-person meetings may very well be members of the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter of Meeting Professionals International. The meetings industry has been hit hard by the media and public scrutiny of the actions of major companies that received bailouts from the federal government. But members of the industry remain adamant that face-to-face meetings are a crucial part of every business.

Mindy Gunn, CMP, AVP, senior meeting and event planner with Wells Fargo’s bank technology and operations group, and an MPI member for four years, is the first to admit that times have become increasingly challenging for professionals in the meetings industry.

“We are in a very transparent environment, and the meetings industry is being scrutinized from many angles,” she says. “This, combined with technological advances, has created a movement toward more virtual meetings, whether they be via Web, video or teleconference.”

However, she does not believe these technological advances can entirely supersede face-to-face meetings.

“I don’t think that in-person meetings will ever be completely replaced by Webinars or video conferences, especially those that are designed to build relationships and network with teams,” she says. “I do think, however, that the smaller meetings with existing teams can and will be replaced with the virtual approach.”

She adds that face-to-face meetings facilitate a form of relationship building that simply cannot be done via the telephone or Internet.

“The meetings where interaction plays a key role, such as large project planning, team networking and sales coaching, requires at least periodic face-to-face contact in order to create solid teams,” Gunn says.

Bernadette Daily, meetings manager, corporate meeting solutions with American Express and an MPI member for four years, agrees that in-person meetings offer something that other meeting formats cannot: the human touch.

“Yes, technology has changed meetings, and attendance for in-person meetings has lowered,” she says. “But we are humans. We like to see, feel and touch. People like to put a face with a name, and they like the camaraderie and personal touch that you get with an in-person meeting. Face-to-face interaction and body language mean a lot.”

Technology and recent media scrutiny may have changed the way meetings are being held, but MPI members are united in their belief in the benefits of face-to-face meetings.

There are obvious benefits of in-person meetings, according to Kathi Overkamp, CMP. Overkamp has been an MPI member since 1995, is past president of the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter, past board director for the international board of directors for MPI, and manager, special events and client hospitality for US Airways.

“In-person meetings are important for a number of reasons: better learning environment, networking, peer-to-peer interaction and accountability,” she says. “Our meetings are all business.”

Overkamp also thinks that conference calls and the like can be less effective as a result of daily diversions and interruptions.

“Have you ever been on a conference call at your desk? Do you check e-mails? Handle paperwork? Put the call on mute and talk to someone? How can you be engaged when there are so many distractions?” she asks. “Being able to see your counterparts face to face and meet folks you may have only communicated with via e-mail or on the phone is important.”

In Overkamp’s opinion, the biggest return on investment of meetings is face-to-face communication, whether it is a company or business update or training.

“You can communicate via the computer, conference calls and Webinars, but to have the leaders of your company in the same room as you, giving you important information about the direction of your business and then being able to network with these same leaders and talk to them up close and personal — that is priceless,” she says.

Gunn adds: “Meetings create a venue where strategy can be discussed efficiently and key decisions are made. In my industry, especially in the current economic climate, this is critical in doing business.”

She thinks that without effective meetings, the strategic and decision-making processes slow down and critical business suffers.

“Meetings, when planned and executed efficiently, bring together the key players and allow them to communicate in a way that other venues cannot duplicate, thus saving time and resources,” Gunn says.

www.wellsfargo.com
www.americanexpress.com
www.usairways.com

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


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