There’s a growing disconnect between the optimism about a resurgent meetings economy and the reality on the ground for many planners and suppliers.
It isn’t that anyone is misstating the facts, but rather that two things are simultaneously true: an increase in industry activity is feeding a flurry of optimistic news, but little of that activity is translating into new hiring.
Nearly three years after the crash of 2008, we’re all talking a good line but spending as cautiously as we can. The downside of that mixed message has come through loud and clear in recent conversations with clients and industry colleagues. Conference directors talk about upcoming programs that generate strong interest but limited registration. And a half-dozen seasoned planners and association executives, all of them between jobs, have told me about their continuing efforts to line up work, and too many of the new hires see their positions evaporate after a month on the job.
The funny thing is that the big winners seem to be the people without full-time work. Anyone hanging on in an under-resourced organization is working at double speed and scrambling to keep up. But I’ve talked to a couple of colleagues who are happily settling into the informal meetings economy, nabbing occasional assignments, gradually forgetting why they ever needed an alarm clock to start the day, and finding that there’s life after the 80-hour work week.
But despite the happy talk in all directions, none of this paints a picture of an industry that is dynamic enough to help drive recovery in a knowledge-based economy, or stable enough that anyone—investors, employees, or front-line staff—is prepared to commit for the long term. That means the industry has lost a lot of the confidence, resilience, and bench strength that we’ll need when we have to cope with the next moderate or severe economic dip.
Meanwhile, the Front Door Shakedown Returns
Last November, I shared my revulsion at a shakedown taking place at too many hotels, where doormen and front-desk staff extract kickbacks from taxi drivers in exchange for lucrative airport fares. I argued that whenever anyone pulls this scam when a conference is in house, they’re perpetrating it in our industry’s name. Last week in Dallas, I saw it happen again, and this time I’m naming names.
A front-desk clerk at the Sheraton Dallas North on LBJ Freeway was just about to call me a taxi when a cab drove up to drop off a passenger. The clerk tried to stop me from doing the obvious thing, which was to step into the cab that was right at the door. After I did, they summoned the driver inside for what looked like a heated argument. He later told me they demanded a $10 bribe for the fare they had ostensibly lined up for him. “That’s why I don’t like working the hotels,” the driver said.
General Manager Thomas Economos said HEI Hotels & Resorts took ownership of the property just 10 days before the incident. “Our policy as a company is that we don’t accept any kickbacks from any vendors,” and outside contractors are asked to report any staff who break the rule. “Integrity is one of our core values, and non-compliance with the policy is met with the most stringent accountability.”
The problem is that it’s hard for a property to extend institutional procurement policies to the informal economy that operates at the grassroots, between front staff and taxi drivers. That’s why it’s up to each of us as meeting professionals to report the Front Door Shakedown whenever we see it happening.
Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president of The Conference Publishers Inc., Ottawa, one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog and tweets as @mitchellbeer.