“Across the board, clients are waiting as long as possible to sign,” says Chris Gilbert, national sales manager, Charleston Place in Charleston, S.C. “They're just not quite sure what the future holds. There can be good and bad in that. They run the risk of losing the space, rates, and dates that they want.”
At The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo., Jack Gage, CMP, director, insurance and incentive sales, has seen the same trend. “People are sitting on the fence,” he says. “So it's taking more time to get contracts signed.” For both, though, the current turmoil is simply history repeating. “I am treating this as one of the four downturns I've seen in my career,” says Gage, who has been at The Broadmoor for 31 years. “Is my year going to be stellar? No. But I'm planting seeds for next year. And I think there will be pent-up demand.”
Gilbert takes the long view, too. “This too shall pass. The industry will come back,” he says. “And this is the time to really work with your clients and strengthen those relationships.”
But as for meetings from the financial industry in the Northeast: “That tap has been turned off,” Gilbert says.
And yet some insurance and financial services companies may find that high-end meetings can send a message of solvency and confidence to customers and salespeople, Gage believes. One conservative insurance client wrapped up a customer meeting at The Broadmoor just as the crashing markets sparked panic in late September. Gage says his client remarked, “That meeting was the best thing we could have done. With everyone else scrambling, we made a big statement.”
Doris Dallow, vice president, Krisam Group/Global Events Partners in Chicago, has also seen the waiting game take hold, along with some cancellations, particularly internationally. “Planners and management are being extra cautious,” she says. “They are delaying decision-making but they are still rewarding their people.” She has seen a few meetings being pulled from overseas locations and placed domestically, a trend she attributes to the “perception” issue. Nevertheless, when these meetings come back onshore, they are being booked into luxury hotels. “For incentives coming closer to home, some higher level properties are getting more play,” Dallow notes.
The Broadmoor's Gage is a case in point. He recently booked a high-end financial services meeting for 2010 that traditionally would have been planned overseas. “They'd always gone to Europe,” he says. “Now they can't afford it. We are a great domestic alternative.”
But that's not happening every day. Gage, like Dallow and Gilbert, says he's having to work a lot harder now. “I've got a far more aggressive travel schedule next year,” he says. “I've got to go out there and talk to customers. But I feel good about it.”