San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau
David Peckinpaugh, president & CEO

On the economic effect

Peckinpaugh: We're seeing consistent pickup on the meetings side, although we are seeing softening on the leisure end. As a top-five market, we're still in high demand and are seeing few cancellations to date — a handful here and there, but nothing like what we've seen during other significant economic downturns.

We're definitely seeing more of a buyer's market, including more aggressive pricing from the hotels, although there has been little impact on contracts. In some instances, groups are trading down in terms of what hotels they're using, and we're also seeing some hotels go for group business that they wouldn't ordinarily look at in a stronger market.

One of the other things that affects our market is that we have a lot of new inventory coming online in an 18-month period, including the new 1,200-room Hilton San Diego Bayfront, opening in December.

We see this as a time to be more aggressive and focused on the meetings market: We're ramping up our meetings marketing efforts and are expanding our sales team by eight people.

On airline cutbacks

Peckinpaugh: Like most markets, we have definitely been affected. We expect an 8 percent decrease in airlift this fall, compared to about 11 percent in the industry overall. Our nonstop direct service is expected to be reduced from 54 flights to 41 (mostly due to Express Jet closure), which is significant.

One result of these changes that we expect — not just here but nationwide — is an increase in regional meetings. We are also seeing a nice increase in international visitation due to the value of the dollar.

On financial services and insurance meetings trends

Peckinpaugh: While the current market conditions hold, there is little doubt that we will see a downturn in financial services and insurance meetings, as well as smaller corporate meetings that might start going to different kinds of venues than in the past.

Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau
Gary Sain, president & CEO

On the economic effect

Sain: We're holding our own, but we're facing the same challenges that many destinations are facing — especially in certain segments of the corporate market, such as financial, where we're seeing some last-minute cancellations at hotels.

Occupancy will be slightly down for the year at the convention center and the hotels right now. We're providing additional incentives in the meetings market in November and December, as well as during select time frames in 2009.

The buyer's market can be enhanced based on flexibility — if a planner can be flexible, it can be a great time to buy. Professional, seasoned meeting planners are asking for more value, and they're getting more built into the rate.

On airline cutbacks

Sain: This fall, we have about 12 percent less seating capacity, primarily from the Delta Connection (regional jets), so that will affect tertiary markets that no longer offer direct service. However, travelers from those markets can still connect through other hubs to get to Orlando. We'll still continue to serve every major destination in the United States, and in the international arena, we're doing very well with air service.

Last summer, we formed Air-team Orlando, a CVB-sponsored task force, in conjunction with the major attractions, convention center, airport, economic development council, and others, to sit down and communicate with the airlines directly about our needs. Since then, we have met with several airlines and have increased our co-op marketing with some to drive additional demand.

On financial services and insurance meetings trends

Sain: The insurance side has held up better than financial services. We're seeing more cancellations in the financial sector than in other corporate markets. The financial market is under extreme pressure due to our current economic conditions and is taking a lot of heat right now. Every dollar spent is being challenged. More than ever before, companies are asking questions about how they can increase their return on investment.

Because of the great uncertainty in the market right now, especially with the recent bailout and the decline in the stock market, meetings have not only slowed down, but they won't increase substantially in the future until confidence is restored — on the part of the companies and the consumers.

But when the financial sector does come back, there will be a pent-up demand and we expect a higher number of meetings booked at that time to make up for the current losses in meetings.

Irving Convention & Visitors Bureau
Maura Gast, executive director

On the economic effect

Gast: It's chaos right now. Every day is a new adventure. There's nothing in the handbook about weathering an economic countdown — in an election year — with a war on. It's just a very different time.

We're used to economic cycles. Every seven to nine years we go through a dip, and we roll through it. But we've all got to be more conservative, more cautious. We need to be doing things more efficiently. So that means that critical business meetings will continue but will take place over two days instead of three. Companies aren't spending $100,000 on a keynote. They're foregoing the “nice-tos” and going to the “need-tos.”

Companies still have to roll out products, issue new releases, test the market. But they have to approach their meetings and travel differently, and they are being more resourceful.

We've always been a very short-term meetings market, and that is definitely not changing. We've started to see a little bit of “give” on hotel rates, but it is cautious and the hotels remain more willing to sacrifice on occupancy. It has been very positive to see that hoteliers have been more cautious in their selling strategies this time and have not immediately embraced deep discounting as the only solution to stimulate sales. Hoteliers who experienced the very long recovery period from dramatic rate discounts in 2001 are aware of the impact that sort of reaction has on their business.

On airline cutbacks

Gast: The airline industry is directly connected to the success of short-term meetings business. If secondary markets can no longer depend on air service, they have to work differently. We're a primary air market, not a primary destination, but it remains a key advantage to have really good air access. Dallas/Fort Worth remains a major hub, and we benefit from people being able to fly in and out in a half-day's time.

On financial services and insurance meetings trends

Gast: In terms of the financial services and insurance industry, there's always a short-term boost from mergers and acquisitions when cultures and people from different parts of the country are merging. But the market is changing dramatically every day. There was an example about a month ago at one of our city's hotels, when a company needed a major amount of meeting space for a short-term one-day/one-night meeting midweek, which just didn't fit with the hotel's revenue management model. Rather than walk away from the meeting, the company booked the property for the required two nights, and sent everyone home without using the second night. I can't see that happening today.

Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority
Chris Meyer, CMP, CEM, vice president, convention sales

On the economic effect

Meyer: The biggest impact we're seeing is in the number of days that groups are staying here, which is down. But the volume of activity is still very strong — in fact, in July we were up 1.2 percent in convention attendance over the previous year. We also track leads, and my lead volume is actually up, which is an indicator of future business.

We have about $30 billion worth of development going on here, with 32,000 guest rooms under construction and slated to open over the next four years — obviously hotel developers are still very bullish on Las Vegas. But we have seen it turn into a buyer's market. We've seen some impact on room rates — there's a lot of value out there. We believe this will be the death of the hotel revenue manager position at hotels, and there's a loud cheer from planners about that.

On airline cutbacks

Meyer: We have a diversified mix of carriers: Even if one cuts service significantly, it won't hurt us as much as the gateway destinations that have only one or two carriers that are their bread and butter. We've created five different task force committees, including one focused on business travel, to talk directly with the airline industry. We are losing some flights, but those aren't being filled now anyway. We will still be serviced from about 130 domestic markets, and international is growing for us. We are even seeing new service from some airlines: Virgin America started service in September from New York to Las Vegas to tie into their international arrivals at JFK, and we're seeing new routes from Allegiant in the U.S. and West Jet in Canada.

On financial services and insurance meetings trends

Meyer: We haven't seen any changes in the insurance market, but it seems that financial services meetings are being cut back.

Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau
Pat Moscaritolo, president & CEO

On the economic effect

Moscaritolo: I was actually trained as an economist, but I've given up on trying to forecast what's going on. There's been a lot of talk and speculation, but we have not seen it turn into a buyer's market here yet. Consumer confidence is low, the stock market is volatile, gas is so high — these are all factors that should say that it would be difficult for the lodging industry to survive without fire sales, but it's not happening here.

We're well insulated here for a couple of reasons: We're very well diversified and attract financial, medical, educational, biotech/life sciences, international, and other meetings groups. We're also continuing to grow our international marketing as it relates to those markets. The data shows us that international meetings are a growth opportunity for us.

On airline cutbacks

Moscaritolo: It's a similar situation with the air carriers: No carrier here controls more than 22 percent of the total seats, which helps from a competitive point of view. Still, we lost some flights this fall and I expect that there will be a further retrenchment of the airlines — and when that happens, it could change my answer. Boston is also an easy gateway for international service and we've seen added nonstops from Milan, Italy; Frankfurt and Munich, Germany; and Stockholm, Sweden, along with an increase in flights from London. We're also well served by Amtrak, especially with New York, Washington, Portland and other parts of Maine, and even Canada. There's been a dramatic market shift for Amtrak, and the New York-to-Boston run is the fastest-growing route right now.

On financial services and insurance meetings trends

Moscaritolo: We're seeing that they're hesitant to book. They have to maintain their incentives and sales meetings, so they're still having those kinds of meetings, but they're very slow to commit right now. They'll plan the meeting but won't sign the contract because of uncertainty. We're also finding that these groups are looking to stay closer to home. New England-based companies are looking more closely at New England, as opposed to, say, the Caribbean, which is an opportunity for us in the short term until business gets stronger and they go back to more typical destination patterns and decision-making.

Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau
Kevin Kamenzind, CMP, senior vice president, sales & marketing

On the economic effect

Kamenzind: We are starting to see changes in the single-property meetings market. Occupancies are trending lower and rates are remaining flat. We are also seeing the booking window shortening. This, combined with some properties experiencing short-term cancellations, is making it difficult to accurately forecast production. The convention center meetings market, however, is — knock on wood — holding pretty strong. Although we're not seeing a total shift to a buyer's market, we are seeing more value-add being negotiated.

With our convention center expansion scheduled to open in January and our new headquarters hotel, the 1,000-room Sheraton Downtown, now open, we feel we are in a much better position than some of our competition to weather this current economic storm.

On airline cutbacks

Kamenzind: There's no way to predict what will happen. We've heard that US Airways might cut 6 percent to 8 percent here this fall, and we might lose as much as 10 percent capacity altogether. However, as a hub for two low-cost carriers, US Airways and Southwest, we again feel that we have a competitive advantage over some of our less fortunate competitors.

On financial services and insurance meetings trends

Kamenzind: We've definitely seen a slowdown in this area. Corporate in general was always a market with short lead times, but we're seeing meetings decisions being made in an even shorter time frame now in the financial services industries. In insurance and banking, activity has slowed in terms of groups looking for dates, and that's extending to the numbers of meetings booked.