Our readers share how their jobs — and their lives — have changed since September 11, and what they see ahead.
Q: How has your business as an independent meeting planner been affected since September 11?
A: I'm subcontracting more than ever to keep overhead down. More independents will be taking temp jobs for meeting planning firms that need assistance but don't want to hire another employee. The same will be true for corporations that find they need help with meetings in a specific time frame.
I've begun collecting a percentage up front from some clients. I collect deposits and progress payments for subcontractors rather than lay out my own funds. Then if the client cancels, it doesn't affect my business as severely.
Probably my biggest challenge, though, is working with a shorter lead time. Because of the economy, we're in a quarter-to-quarter cycle, with clients waiting to see quarterly revenues before booking a meeting that they want to take place in the next quarter. That makes acquiring space in primary locations and other requirements a definite challenge.
I'm also looking for sources of revenue beyond meeting management. One service I offer is leading seminars for hotels' meeting clients. It shouldn't be the hotel salesperson's responsibility to train clients. I also offer training to companies that rely on administrative assistants to plan meetings.
I'm fortunate that the major portion of my revenue comes from the consulting side of the business, things such as aiding clients with troubled meeting departments, attending company meetings and conventions and recommending ways to cut costs, and helping to centralize corporate meeting and travel departments.
Leila MacFeeley is president of Leila M. MacFeeley & Associates, Greenland, N.H.
Q: Have you had any horror stories as far as canceled meetings?
A: The biggest was abanking conference, scheduled for Singapore, that was canceled one week before it was to happen. That meant, for me, two years of work and a lot of money, gone in a poof.
We are still struggling with hotel charges in Singapore, which the association that canceled agreed to pay. But documenting and receiving the credits is time-consuming and confusing; they're calculated and debited/credited in three currencies: euros, Singapore dollars, and U.S. dollars. We have recouped some, and the conference will go back to Singapore in 2002 — but it was tough.
We had extra security precautions and personnel, which of course we didn't use. We're not doing much differently, although we'll certainly consider those things more seriously as we plan for 2002.
I'm trying to make everyone more aware of
Kathleen Moore is vice president, global event manager, JPMorgan Treasury Services, New York.
Q: What has had the greater effect on your job: the threat of terrorism or the economy?
A: We are doing more videoconferencing and keeping meetings more regional, but this is more because of the economy than September 11. Our travel policies have not changed, but as a result of the economy, we are trying not to travel unless it is necessary, and we're bringing in only key people to attend company meetings.
My biggest overall challenge is having enough time to do everything, which is compounded because we have a hiring freeze on. We're not laying off, but we're not hiring, either. I have to do as much as I did before with less manpower. The demands are greater, and there's less flexibility.
Since the terrorist attacks, the whole travel industry is up in arms. I fear we'll see more layoffs. The year will be tough — but we'll survive.
I feel fortunate to have a good job and to keep it. I think people will be working harder to keep what they do have. If you can't do more than was expected six months ago, you may be in trouble.
Susan Byrd is education operations manager, SAS Institute Inc., Cary, N.C.
Q: Is your company using online meetings or videoconferencing to replace live meetings? What other changes have you seen?
A: In the days after September 11, several European meetings were videoconferenced. It worked so well that we continue to use that format when practical. We're also keeping many meetings local.
Our travel policy had already been examined before September 11, with thought toward our national sales meeting in February. We investigated all carriers, airports, and arrival/departure schedules so we could divide our attendees and still have them arrive at the appropriate times.
Elissa Powell is manager, meetings & conventions, Roche Vitamins Inc., Parsipanny, N.J.
Q: How have your personal traveling experiences changed since September 11?
A: My job is not nearly as much fun. I'm paying more attention to a lot of things, from getting information to traveling. Personally, I'm still traveling as much — 12 or 13 times a year. I may be down one site visit.
I've experienced every travel precaution there is. In one day, flying to Portland, Oregon, and Phoenix through Buffalo, I went through every security check they had. They went through everything I had with a fine-tooth comb. It's a good thing I had plenty of time.
I can warn our employees about everything. If a person misses a flight and the next one is not until tomorrow evening, he or she has no choice but to get another hotel night. As a company, we're going to have to be reasonable with extra hotel nights. If, on the other hand, somebody says they're going to get a ticket on another airline, there might be resistance.
We've tightened up tremendously on travel. ‘No’ has become a common answer to everything. We've focused on getting folks to use alternative airports and to get lower fares. We're looking hard at change fees and people who don't think they have to follow the new travel rules.
Carol Schweinsberg is manager, travel & events, Element K, Rochester, N.Y.
Q: After many years in the business, what do you make of the past year?
A: I'm an opportunist by nature, and I'm old enough to have been through economic setbacks before. In the big picture, it's another little bump in the road.
Right after 9/11, I spent a lot of time helping clients understand the consequences of canceling and counseling them about whether it's worth it. Hotels have such stringent cancellation policies. For several weeks, it kept us from seeking other business.
The other side of September 11 is that we do a lot of international meetings. These people, from all over the world, seem OK with the way things changed.
Nancy Burke is president of Preferred Inc., Edina, Minn.
Q: What message do you have for companies canceling their incentive programs?
A: Now, more than ever, is a time for incentives. We should create outstanding programs that motivate our salespeople to sell even more, thus boosting not only today's economy, but a company's morale as well.
However, several of our clients have canceled their incentive trips. In the case of some incentive trips that were canceled or postponed until next year, we honestly aren't so sure these companies will even be around. We also had some holiday events canceled.
Because our clients decreased so many trips, we had to do some layoffs, as we no longer have the work to support the labor. This has been one of the worst parts of the whole thing.
Lorna Kirk is director of operations, Launch Incentives Inc., San Rafael, Calif.
Q: How have your relationships with hotels played out when you have had to cancel or postpone your meetings?
A: The hotels I work with have been absolutely phenomenal. In the days after September 11, most of my immediately upcoming programs were canceled, and some postponed, because most of what I do is international. Two of the meetings that I send client contingents to were totally canceled. One was the International Monetary Fund conference in Washington, D.C. — which is held once a year by the world's bankers — and the other was the Ryder Cupin Britain.
Especially in dealing with seasoned people like me, hotels know that they're going to get business going forward. All my deposits for the IMF were transferred to next year.
It's a good time for seasoned professionals, because we know the business. But it's a tough time because the hotels have lost so much money.
Sally A. O'Connor is CEO of Sally O'Connor & Associates, Brookline, Mass.