Ask a group of people that question these days and you won't get the same answer twice.
It makes me think of Southwest Airlines' hilarious TV ad, where a group of executives is huddled over a speakerphone wondering why their colleague at the other end isn't picking up — only to watch in amazement as he waltzes through the door. The message: “Business Travel Is Back.”
But is it? A new National Business Travel Association survey of 200 corporate travel managers found that business travel was still down from a year ago in 70 percent of their members' companies. The majority (62 percent) expect that the recovery will take at least until next summer.
Another example: An MPI cybercafé poll of 820 attendees at its July meeting in Toronto — a la Southwest — found 90 percent of respondents saying that meeting business is moving forward, and 78 percent believing the industry will slowly return to pre-9/11 levels. This show of optimism spread like wildfire over the Web, the MIMlist (the popular meeting industry listserv), and in the trade press. How can that be, I can't help but think, when a full 25 percent of CMI's readers (according to a recent in-house survey) are now using e-conferencing and videoconferencing to replace meetings? That's a lot of meetings.
One thing is certain: The optimism of earlier this year has faded. No one is expecting quick turnarounds. The job cuts in the airline industry grow more widespread each week, and we're regularly hit with reports of planes being turned around and foiled terrorist plots. None of this is good for meetings.
That's why, over the next couple of issues, we will probe our contacts in the industry to get some real answers to the question “How's business?” We'll let you know what we learn, starting with next issue's cover story, which will focus on the luxury side of the industry, from high-end cruises to five-star resorts, and again in December, with a comprehensive report from the IT&ME Show, where we talked to hundreds of suppliers and planners.
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