In early 1991, Darryl Hartley-Leonard, then president of Hyatt Hotels, made a prediction that was to foreshadow a dark period in hotel profitability. He warned his fellow hoteliers to "survive til '95" in a keynote speech at the American Hotel and Motel Association annual meeting, and at several other large meeting planner gatherings shortly thereafter. His prediction that the overbuilt hotel situation, coupled with an oncoming economic recession, would mean hard times for the hotel industry, but better rates for meeting planners, came true.
While Hartley-Leonard, and Hyatt, did survive until 1995, that was also the year he decided to step down, fading quietly from the industry spotlight. He joined a number of boards of directors, among them PGI, Production Group International. It was a company that saw a future in one-stop management of events and meetings, and began buying up production companies, destination services companies, andorganizers, bringing them all under one roof. Hartley-Leonard resurfaced in the meetings industry in late 1997 as chairman and CEO of PGI, which has been reorganized and renamed PGI, The Event and Communications Agency, under his tutelage.Betsy Bair, TM's associate publisher/editorial director, caught up with DHL in our Manhattan offices in November.
BB: You made some pretty dire, but accurate, predictions back in the early 1990s. What's next?
DHL: In John Naisbitt's book, Global Paradox, chapter two, he said meetings and conventions illustrate the "high-tech, high-touch" paradox of the future. Technology will make some travel extraneous while building the need for in-person events. And I do have a prediction. I see business travel plummeting over the next five to ten years. And I see a complete lack of awareness of that in our industry.
We've entered a new cultural age. And there haven't been too many cultural changes in the history of mankind. No one really had any idea how videoconferencing and virtual reality would take off. But I think technology will mean meetings and conventions will rise, and become separate from the travel industry, per se. People need cultural and psychic interchange.
BB: Where has PGI come from, and where is it going?
DHL: The last year has been one of the most pleasant in my career. With my partner Cynthia [Engel, newly appointed president, COO, and board member of PGI], I am euphoric to see the concept come to fruition. We decided to cross-train the three disciplines: production, destination management, and trade show management.
That was the hardest part, teaching general contractors to care about shuttle buses, for instance. We integrated what were entrepreneurships--that is, 13 different organizations--spun off some businesses, sold some, and made them into one, but with 22 offices worldwide. We've actually opened some new offices overseas [overseas offices include Paris, Singapore, London, and Baku, Azerbaijan].
We've discovered a unique niche, and evolved from an event and communications vendor to an agency.
BB: What services don't you offer?
DHL: We don't touch food and beverage or equipment rental. We've talked about offering meeting planning services, but we consider the meeting planner to be our customer. I'm not sure over time how that will evolve.
In addition to destination services, trade show management, and production, we offer housing, travel agency, and registration services. It's turned out that housing and registration is a hot button for a lot of companies--they just don't want to deal with it. When we're one of five or six bidders on a piece of corporate business, the housing and registration option usually wins it for us.