“Reality shifted instantly. There was the nostalgic ‘before’ time, when the future stretched comfortably ahead, and the horrifying ‘after,’ when the future had become uncertain.”
I wrote these words eight years ago, in the aftermath of September 11. Today, as I write this in mid-October, the parallel is striking. During the past weeks, a big chunk of the financial industry collapsed and was kept afloat by government intervention, the stock market tanked, the economy headed into recession, and incentive meetings became scapegoats for corporate greed.
We are once again in extraordinary and frightening times, requiring us to continually adjust to new normals. Two examples from recent research: Of 196 corporate travel managers in 17 countries (including the United States) surveyed in October by the Business Travel Coalition, 26 percent had implemented emergency travel cutbacks as a direct result of the financial crisis; and in a survey of U.S.-based travel buyers by the National Business Travel Association, 39 percent of respondents reported a reduction in company meetings and events. And even if your company is moving forward with a full slate of meetings for 2009 and beyond, you're facing challenges related to air travel, budgeting, perception, and a slew of other issues thrown at you like lightning bolts. Not to mention that your own jobs may be at stake.
As we know from surviving 9/11, we can move forward by focusing on our strengths, keeping things in context, and learning from each other. Financial & Insurance Meetings, in print and online, is dedicated to helping you through another crisis. One of the best ways we can do that is by sharing the viewpoints and best practices of industry pros like those featured in our cover story by Alison Hall, beginning on page 20. You'll find it a meaty read, filled with creative solutions to current challenges, ranging from hotel negotiations to the airline turmoil. For more air travel analysis and survival tips, turn to our feature beginning on page 30.
Closely following the news up to press time, we have also updated nearly all the editorial content in this issue to keep you informed with the latest industry intelligence on the financial crisis. The biggest, and most disturbing, news to date is AIG's cancellation of more than 160 conferences and events with a total cost of more than $8 million.
While the AIG meetings debacle is not a black-and-white situation, I believe that it reflects a huge perception problem caused in large part by the mainstream media mislabeling incentive programs as “junkets” and equating them with corporate greed. The business reasons for incentive meetings? Never mentioned. Cancellation costs? Never mentioned. The millions of dollars saved at AIG by consolidating its sourcing programs? Never mentioned. I join the call of my fellow MeetingsNet editor, Barbara Scofidio at Corporate Meetings & Incentives, for meetings industry associations to join forces on a public relations campaign that clarifies the missing parts of the picture and promotes the strategic, bottom-line value of incentive conferences.