Gracious Charleston Place welcomed the Financial & Insurance Conference Planners Education Forum June 20–22, drawing more than 170 planners and hospitality partners to Charleston, S.C., for networking, education sessions, and compelling keynotes. Charleston Place General Manager Paul Stracey welcomed attendees at the opening general session, noting that he’s been GM at the property for 17 years, and that there are employees in every department that have been there even longer. “Charleston,” he said, “is a special place to live and work.”
Keynoter Marci Rossell, former chief economist for CNBC, then took the stage, and unleashed a strong presentation about the world economy, the U.S. recovery, and how to keep our financial industry healthy. The latter, in her view, can be done with one regulation, not with the hundreds of rules in the 848 pages of the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act (which she termed “micro-managing”). Rossell’s one rule? Just don’t let financial institutions get too big (or too interconnected, she added later in the talk).
As a former television personality, she also had a suggestion for reporters covering the current 8 percent unemployment rate in the United States: Don’t focus on the folks in their 50s who can’t find jobs. Focus on the 20-to-24-year-olds who can’t find jobs. For them, the unemployment rate is a shocking 13 percent. The bottom line for our recovery, she said in closing, is that it will continue—but so will volatility and uncertainty.
What also will continue for planners is the budget challenge represented by airfare, which made the Forum’s “State of the Airline Industry” panel a well-timed session. Participants Laurie Fraher, vice president, global business, and Jeff Brown, executive vice president, both of Colpitts World Travel; along with Charles Jones, manager, global sales, group and meeting travel, at American Airlines, were on hand to answer the burning question: Are there blue skies or turbulent times ahead? The upshot: A few bumps are inevitable.
Major influences on the industry, the panel said, are the cost of fuel (accounting for 29 percent of airline expenses), employee wages (31 percent of expenses), the economy, and capacity. Rising fuel prices have caused not only an increase in fares, but also a reduction in lift to control costs.
Attendees also heard about air alliances such as OneWorld, Sky Team, and Star Alliance. “Alliances allow each airline to form strategic partnerships, providing more routes, better schedules, and the opportunity to share revenue,” Fraher explained. “When airlines negotiate for corporatethey do so as an alliance, and this will most likely carry over in time to meeting-specific contracts, which will benefit planners.”
Continuing its tradition of giving back,selected as this year’s charity recipient the Lowcountry Food Bank, which serves the 10 coastal counties of South Carolina and distributes more than 17 million pounds of food a year. At the opening reception, attendees packed 100 boxes of food for local recipients and personalized shopping bags for the families who would receive the food. An on-site raffle also raised more than $3,000 to be donated to the food bank.
And evening events showcased Charleston’s renowned southern hospitality, including an oceanfront welcome reception, a horse-drawn-carriage tour of the city’s Historic District, and a dinearound that offered variations on authentic southern cuisine.
FICP also announced the site for next year’s Forum: June 12–14 at Montage Deer Valley in Park City, Utah.