It was just a single finding from a recent Meeting Professionals International survey—but it spoke volumes: "Independent planners will have the largest budgets in 2003, with an average of more than $4.8 million in annual spending, nearly $800,000 more than the average budget for corporate planners," it read. "Independents will hold more of the purse strings, with projections for larger budgets than their traditionally better funded corporate counterparts."

How is the independent planner community reacting? "I saw the survey and found it to be a great source of support for the purchasing power of independents," says Shelley Harris, CMP and president of The Harris Group, Alexandria, Va. "My experience is that most independents do have larger budgets as it relates to the ‘spend’ for clients. They also have a greater perspective on their clients’ budget for the whole meeting—not just F&B and guest room revenue."

Rod Abraham, president of the Professional Meeting Planners Network Inc., Durham, N.C., and president of the Alliance of Meeting Management Cos., says he thinks some of the independent planners surveyed include larger meeting management companies, such as AmEx Travel Related Services and McGettigan Partners. If so—and MPI says survey respondents included a number of "large planning organizations"—the survey may not be representative of the typical independent planning company. "And certainly not the typical independent planner who is on their own."

Another probable factor: downsizing. With fewer and smaller corporate meeting departments, budgets are being outsourced. "(Corporate) planners are so busy just dealing with the meetings’ content they no longer have time to deal with the details of the meeting—so they outsource to save time and money," says Sandi Galloway, manager of meetings and conventions for the Canadian Department of Tourism. —Thomas Tennant