The meetings and incentives industry will be GLAD TO BID FAREWELL TO 2009, a year of economic turmoil, bad press, and relentless meeting cancellations. So let's crack open that fortune cookie and look ahead.
There is some promising news. First up: While a LIMRA survey of financial and insurance companies in April revealed that 42 percent were changing or canceling their 2010 recognition conferences, that number was down from the 52 percent who were doing the same in 2009.
Then in mid-August, the economic research firm e-forecasting.com, in conjunction with Smith Travel Research, announced that after 19 months of consecutive decline, the Hospitality Industry Pulse index climbed 1.6 percent in July. (HIP gauges business activity in the U.S. hotel industry in real time using components such as revenues from hotel stays, occupancy rates, hotel employment, and other key economic factors.) Tipping point or fluke? In a press release, Maria Simos, CEO of e-forecasting, chose the former. “July was ground zero for a recovery to take shape,” she said.
And at press time in late August came an announcement from PKF Hospitality Research that nine consecutive quarters of declining lodging demand will come to an end in the second quarter of 2010. “Of the 50 markets monitored by PKF-HR, 45 will experience stronger demand in 2010 than in 2009,” said R. Mark Woodworth, president of PKF-HR. “It is important to note, however that supply increases are still an issue for hoteliers across the United States, as 25 of our 50 markets will report further declines in occupancy, even with 20 of those 25 experiencing demand increases.”
Word on the Street
Meanwhile, insurance and financial services meeting professionals sound cautiously optimistic. One meeting director whose company paid a hefty fee to cancel a resort buyout in 2009 just because of perception says that the same recognition program is going forward for 2010. It's booked domestically rather than at its usual international destination, but he believes 2012 will see a return to an overseas site.
Another planner canceled a 2009 recognition program to Central America because of negative publicity about corporate events but has been assured that the program will run in 2011 and 2012. “It was a legitimate meeting. It's ridiculous that I have to feel like a criminal,” this executive says. Management will decide in December whether or not the program goes forward in 2010. “I don't think conventions drive sales,” the planner continues. “But having the trip and spending the time with people binds you together. Then, if it's a tossup, maybe [our company] gets the business.”
At event company TBA Global, Alison Jenks, vice president, marketing, projects more mixing of online and face-to-face events for corporate clients. “They're not replacing all meetings,” she says, “but rather augmenting a lot of them with online options.” Some companies that canceled meetings in 2009 are seeing the effect of losing face-to-face contact with employees, she believes. “TBA recently released a white paper on employee engagement and it was our most downloaded white paper ever,” she notes. “Leadership is realizing that employees are their most important brand advocates and are the ones who will drive sales. So they are returning their focus inward, and hopefully that translates into more face-to-face meetings.”
Linda Pond Rindos has been named director of regional sales for Atlantis, Paradise Island, The Bahamas. She will handle accounts in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Boston. She had been director of national accounts, Northeast, for Gaylord Hotels.
Hyatt has extended its Multiple Meetings Program. Book two or more large meetings (at least 200 peak room nights) by June 30, 2010, and receive a slate of extras. Meetings must take place by the end of 2015. Find more at www.hyattlargemeetings.com.