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.
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.