Scrutiny of financial companies receiving bailout money has been intense, and many — such as Wells Fargo and AIG — have been shamed into canceling meetings and events. But companies that have nothing to do with Troubled Assets Relief Program funds are canceling meetings, too. More than half of the meeting planners surveyed by Meetings & Convention magazine last month (52 percent) said that news coverage has been extremely or moderately influential on their companies’ decisions on whether or not to hold events.
“The pendulum has swung too far,” stated Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “The climate of fear is causing a historic pullback of business meetings and events, with a devastating impact on small businesses, American workers and communities.”
In response, a coalition of industry groups, led by U.S. Travel, have launched the Meetings Mean Business campaign, which consists of a Web site (meetingsmeanbusiness.com), grassroots mobilization efforts, paid advertising and new media strategies. “Our campaign will challenge policymakers to tone down the dangerous rhetoric, embrace sensible guidelines for companies receiving assistance and promote travel as an economic solution,” Dow stated.
The main purpose of the initiative is to help people understand that when meetings are canceled, it hurts the economy. Meetings and events are responsible for nearly 15 percent of all travel in the United States. The industry also generates an estimated one million jobs, $101 billion in spending, and $16 billion in tax revenue at the federal, state and local levels. When a large gathering is canceled, the host city loses money that would have benefited local businesses as well as teachers, policemen and other public servants, whose salaries are supported by hospitality taxes. For example, the cancellation of Primerica’s June convention is estimated to have cost the city of Atlanta $55 million dollars.
Christine Duffy, CEO of Maritz Travel, says the government has to acknowledge meetings are a legitimate and necessary business expense. “If you think about it, what was the inauguration,” she asked at the opening general session of MPI’s MeetDifferent conference last month. “That was a $150-million meeting where the president stood up before his people around the world, communicated a vision and talked about his strategy for how he’s going to turn the country around. And he asked for people’s help to align with that vision. How is that any different than a business company’s CEO or head of sales needing to do the same thing for their employees and their customers right now?”