Meetings Traffic: Opportunities and Challenges in Changing Economies

By Andy Dolce Founder, Chairman & Managing Partner, Dolce International | October 28, 2008

Meeting industry veterans know lodging is a cyclical business and the good times cannot continue without end. The meeting business has weathered many storms over the past ten years. From the fallout of September 11th to the more recent stock market fluctuations and mortgage crisis, a decline in the health of our nation's economy often affects top meeting and conference facilities and drive-in markets alike.

Some corporations respond to an economic downturn by putting an immediate freeze on "unnecessary" spending such as travel and meetings. While their intentions to prune spending back to more prudent levels are good, these policies are often misguided knee-jerk reactions to economic uncertainty. The reality is, staff members still need to be trained, client meetings still need to occur, and other important face-to-face activities can't always wait for an economic recovery. Sure enough, most companies quickly realize that even in an economic downturn, travel and meetings are more often than not, critical business activities.

In good and bad economies, there is no replacement for "face time" and the benefits that come from developing key relationships in-person. Personal relationships will always play a vital role in many industries and for these industries, networking and relationship building will always be a top priority. From new product launches and sales meetings to brainstorm sessions, some initiatives are much more rewarding in-person than via email or teleconferencing.

So, while business travel does not go away completely during difficult economic times, it does change in nature and the hospitality and meetings industries must be ready to adapt to these changing demands. This is where conference centers have a direct advantage over hotels. When it comes to the most productive environment for meetings, a conference center versus a hotel, the conference center wins - hands down.

While some corporations might be tempted to book a group into a hotel offering a low nightly rate, they will likely be disappointed by a hotel's general lack of dedicated meetings staff and sub-par meeting facilities. A full service conference center offering a dedicated meeting conference planning team is an invaluable resource to corporations looking to make the most of their travel budgets while benefiting from the best meeting facilities and services.

Having a dedicated meetings staff is particularly crucial. Teams at meeting facilities must be trained to identify the focal point of the meeting in terms and goals and meeting requirements to determine the group's final itinerary within the overall budget. For example, a sales team might suggest that a corporation replace a large national training meeting with several regional drive-in meetings with teleconference capabilities in order to save money on airfare and lodging costs. Another cost-cutting option might be to replace a four-day conference involving day meetings with a two-day conference comprised of day and evening sessions. From replacing five-course meals with themed buffets and suggesting affordable, yet fun group activities, a dedicated meetings staff ensures that all events will be coordinated down to the last detail within a given budget in order to create value for the company.

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