Few companies canceled meetings in the first quarter simply because of perception issues, according to a recent survey by the National Business Travel Association. However, concerns over the economy, coupled with the “AIG affect”—the negative perception of meetings (especially resort meetings) by the public, the media, and shareholders—precipitated decreases for the majority of companies surveyed in meetings that required travel, attendance at conferences, incentive travel, and parties and events for clients.

NBTA surveyed 119 corporate travel managers. In the four months before the March 2009 survey, here’s how their meetings fared. Note that in each case only between 4 percent and 5 percent of the respondents said meeting or event decreases were due to perceptions issues alone. The rest said that the decreases were a result of the economy or of a combination of the economy and perception issues.

Meetings:Only 12 percent of respondent had no decrease in their internal or external meetings that required travel, leaving about 86 percent who saw cuts. (About 3 percent said the question was not applicable.)

Attendance at conferences: Similarly, attendance at conferences was down at about 82 percent of the companies survey, with just 14 percent of respondents seeing no decreases. (A little over 3 percent said the question was not applicable.)

Incentive travel: Employee recognition events and incentive travel held on a bit better. Almost 20 percent of respondents said there were no decreases in the past four months. Close to half (47 percent), however, said they had seen decreases, and the remaining one-third of respondents said the question wasn’t applicable to them.

Parties and events for clients: Again, about a third said the question wasn’t applicable to them during the four months before the survey, but 56 percent of respondents had seen cuts and only 13 percent had not.

Despite downturn, companies still see off-site meetings and incentives as necessary—even important. Of corporate travel managers surveyed (85 percent from the United States and 15 percent from other countries), 85 percent said meetings were an “important” or” somewhat important” part of their business planning and talent development process.

When asked if they measure the return on investment or return on objective of their meetings, about a third of respondents said they do so for business travel, meetings, and events.

Only about 14 percent of the total say they measure ROI/ROO for incentive/recognition events, but that percentage is low because over half the group said the question was not applicable to them. (In another question, 71 percent of respondents report that they do not use incentive travel to reward high performers.)

Measurement of ROI and ROO is typically handled by the travel management department, but it can also be in the realm of the finance department, C-level executives, procurement, or other departments. Among the most commonly analyzed metrics are include the cost of travel as a percentage of overall expenses, the number of attendees at an event, improved customer loyalty/satisfaction, improved employee productivity, and the cost of travel as a percentage of sales revenue.