Shell-shocked by the dire economy and concerned that meetings in the financial sector have become politically incorrect, the nearly 600 attendees at Financial & Insurance Conference Planners Annual Conference in Cancun last week exemplified the message they’re trying to bring to corporate America: Face-to-face meetings with colleagues and business partners are one of the best ways to regroup, retool, and strategically move forward.

Despite the buzz about canceled meetings in the financial and insurance sector—and concern about the snowball effect the cancellations could create—the news at FICP was not all gloom and doom. A surprisingly strong majority of planners (76 percent) at a general session on Tuesday, November 11, reported in an interactive on-site survey that they have not canceled any incentive programs, either booked or not yet booked, because of the economic downturn or financial industry crisis—and 70 percent are not considering canceling any incentive programs in the future. However, 54 percent of the Hospitality Partners in attendance said that incentive program contracts at their properties have been canceled in third-quarter 2008 or beyond. The discrepancy suggests that fewer planners from economically distressed companies attended the conference this year.

The outlook for meetings was less optimistic, with 72 percent of Hospitality Partners reporting that meeting program contracts at their properties have been canceled for third quarter 2008 or beyond. Fifty-four percent of the companies that canceled paid cancellation fees; 43 percent were not charged cancellation fees in exchange for booking a future program at the property or some other form of compensation; and 4 percent were let off the hook.

Only 35 percent of planners said that their company will move forward with its normal schedule of meetings through 2010. They are taking a number of actions to reduce meeting costs, with 38 percent eliminating nonessential meetings, 26 percent reducing the number of attendees at meetings, and 28 percent reducing the length of meetings.

A majority of both FICP planners and Hospitality Partners believe we’re in a cyclical downturn, with 41 percent anticipating business getting back to normal in 2009, and 45 percent predicting business getting back to normal in 2010.

Other FICP News

In other association news, FICP President Patricia Kerr, CMP, Manulife Financial, passed the gavel to Cindy Wheaton, CMP, Nationwide Financial Network. Dan Young, CMP, CLU, ChFC, LLIF, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, was named president-elect. Outgoing board members Karyn Rizzo, CMP, Sun Life Financial (vice president, regional chapters); and Sharon Chapman, CMP, CMM (past president/conference chair), ended their terms with rounds of applause. Joining the board are Kelli Livers, CMP, AIG, as vice president, membership, and Todd Zint, CMP, CMM, NFP Insurance Services, as vice president, regional chapters. It was announced that FICP’s 2011 Annual Conference will be held at the Grand Hyatt San Antonio, Texas. And, hard times notwithstanding, the association raised $50,385 in its annual Silent Auction, with the proceeds going to a local Cancun charity that helps children with disabilities.