The economy is weighing heavily on corporate meeting professionals, according to an e-mail survey conducted by Corporate Meetings & Incentives and The Motivation Show in early September. The survey was sent to 165 corporate end-users who planned to attend the show.

When asked how the economy has affected their meeting budgets, 48 percent of respondents said “somewhat” and 33 percent said “significantly.” The impact on incentive budgets has been only slightly less, with 38 percent answering that it has affected them “somewhat” and 31 percent saying “significantly.”

“This economic uncertainty has led to indecision and stagnation in our economy and has therefore deeply impacted our industry — a falloff in business I have never seen before,” said one respondent. Other write-in responses make it clear that the economic situation is trickling down to corporate meeting departments in many ways: cutbacks in programs that have been consistent for years, lower budgets but the same high expectations, shorter lead times as companies wait for quarterly results before they commit to programs, and loss of staff from layoffs.

Many respondents also noted the difficulties they're having motivating employees, who are weary from salary freezes, staff cuts, and the expectation that they do more with less.

As corporate scrutiny of the bottom line has increased, so has procurement's influence on incentive travel. When asked if procurement has become more involved in incentives in the past year, 73 percent of respondents said yes, while only 27 percent said that their procurement departments leave incentives alone.

The survey also pointed to a trend toward strategic meetings management programs within corporations. Nearly half of respondents said they have begun taking steps to establish an SMMP in the past year; only 7 percent now have one in place.

These topics were addressed at The Motivation Show during a seminar called “Thought Leaders: The Best Minds in Meeting & Incentive Management.” Panelists included Louann Cashill, CMP, CMM, meeting services manager, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. Inc.; Beth Cooper-Zobott, director, conference services, Equity Residential; Cynthia Dugan, CMP, CMM, lead event manager, Abbott Nutrition International; Brenda Anderson, CEO, Society of Incentive & Travel Executives; Scott Graf, president, BCD Meetings and Incentives; and CMI editors.

Strategic Reading

We all know that traveling abroad presents added risk for attendees, but how prepared are you to handle potential security threats in a foreign country? It's a question Ed Lee addresses in his new book, Staying Safe Abroad: Traveling, Working, and Living in a Post-9/11 World. Lee, a retired U.S. State Department special agent, who has served at embassies around the globe, says that many threats travelers experience can be avoided simply by being better informed and prepared. The guidebook is divided into six sections covering such topics as cultural differences, security for international meetings, advice on dealing with day-to-day threats, and key issues to address before departure.