In 1991, Darryl Hartley-Leonard, then president of Hyatt Hotels, warned hoteliers to "survive til '95" in a keynote speech at the American Hotel and Motel Association annual meeting. He accurately predicted that the overbuilt hotel market, coupled with an oncoming economic recession, would mean hard times for the hotel industry, but better rates for meeting planners. Hartley-Leonard now says his friend and former competitor, Bill Marriott, half-jokingly accused him of bringing on that downturn in the industry.
While Hartley-Leonard, and Hyatt, did survive until 1995, it was also the year he decided to step down, fading from the industry limelight. He joined several boards of directors, among them PGI, Production Group International--a company that saw a future in one-stop management of events and meetings for corporations and associations. Hartley-Leonard resurfaced in late 1997 as chairman and CEO of PGI, which has been reorganized and renamed PGI, The Event and Communications Agency, under his tutelage. We caught up with him in our Manhattan office in November, the day before he was to moderate and chair the Convention Liaison Council's Forum, a high-level conference about the future of the meetings industry.
Q: What kind of year has it been for you?
A: I must say 1998 has been one of the most pleasant in my career. With my partner Cynthia [Engel, newly appointed president and COO of PGI], I am euphoric to see the one-stop concept come to fruition. We decided to cross-train the three disciplines in our company: production, destination management, andmanagement. That was the hardest part, teaching general contractors to care about shuttle buses, for instance. We integrated 13 different organizations, spun off some businesses, opened some new overseas offices, and now have 22 offices worldwide.
Our next step was to get the market to buy into one-stop shopping for events and meetings. In sitting down with CEOs I had done business with over the last 30 years, I validated the synergies of these disciplines. I believe we need to be in control of [an event] from end-to-end--that the buses being on time is as important as the state-of-the-art film we create. We have discovered a unique market niche.
Q: What services don't you offer?
A: We don't touch food and beverage or equipment rental. We've talked about offering meeting planning services, but we consider the planner to be our customer. I'm not sure over time how that will evolve. . . . In addition to destination services, trade show management, and production, we offer housing, travel agency, and registration services. It has turned out that housing and registration is a hot button for a lot of organizations--they just don't want to deal with it.
Q: You made a dire but accurate prediction back in 1991. Have you any predictions for the future of our industry?
A: In John Naisbitt's book, Global Paradox, he said meetings and conventions illustrate the "high-tech, high-touch" paradox of the future. Technology will make some travel extraneous while building the need for in-person events. I see business travel plummeting over the next five to ten years. And I see a complete lack of awareness of that.
We've entered a new cultural age. Years ago, no one really had any idea how videoconferencing and virtual reality would take off. But I think technology will mean meetings and conventions will increase--and become separate from the travel industry, per se. People need cultural and psychic interchange.