US Travel on the Future of Meetings

It’s been six years since President Obama’s warning about the cost of meetings and events put on by companies receiving federal bailout money coincided with an economic recession that had already dealt the meetings industry a heavy blow. What's happening now?

In the most recent installment of The Intersection, presented by PCMA and PSAV, U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow calls the situation a “triple-whammy” that “took the meetings and events industry to its lowest point in decades.” The industry lost $2 billion in cancellations in the first two months of 2009, Dow added in an interview with Convene.

But that crisis of public and corporate faith mobilized the meetings and travel industry in dramatic ways, Dow notes in the video, titled “The State of the Meetings Industry.” And today Dow is optimistic about how things have evolved since the industry was caught “flat-footed.”

For one, it organized itself, banding together as the Meetings Mean Business Coalition and collecting data to demonstrate the industry’s value to the U.S. economy — millions of jobs and more than $200 billion in annual revenue. “We found we were woefully unprepared when it came to data,” Dow told Convene. “We all knew it was an enormous part of the economy, so Meetings Mean Business began proactively stepping out with stories and rhetoric.”

A half-decade after the bottom fell out, the meetings industry is as healthy as ever, growing 3.2 percent in attendees and 5 percent in revenue last year alone. According to Dow, part of that dramatic recovery stems from how battered the industry was to begin with. “We took such a tremendous hit [in 2009],” he said, “and were down so low.”

To keep growing, however, the industry needs to keep telling its story, Dow said. As travel increases and hotel occupancy rates rise, planners will encounter pressures that may have been unfamiliar even two years ago, when a wealth of space meant that “if planners planned something a month out, they could find someplace without pressure on availability,” Dow said. “They could always shop rates. Now, that has changed quite a bit. The industry is experiencing extraordinary occupancy.”

In coming years, meeting planners should look to attract more international visitors — the new five- and 10-year visas available to Chinese visitors to the United States will help, Dow said — and also be able to communicate results. It won’t be enough to simply “dust off” last year’s program. “The planners that are more proactive about delivering results,” Dow said, “are to be the planners of the future.” In the video, he notes: “The future looks very bright, if we don’t let our guard down.”

Corin Hirsch

Corin Hirsch is associate editor of Convene.