Time for Hotel Sales Professionals to
Lobby Meeting Planners

By David M. Brudney, ISHC, April 2009

Kudos to hotel and tourism industry leadership for its aggressive lobbying efforts at the White House and on Capitol Hill - - along with a timely and smart advertising, public relations, war room response and letter-writing campaign - - in the wake of the AIG fallout and the fact that our industry was not included in the U.S. Government’s $780 Billion stimulus package. 

And let’s give a big hand also to all those hotels that are working with trade and industry organizations to bolster the image of corporate meetings and incentive trips; those hotels offering user-friendly inclusive group meeting packages, and some exercising social consciousness by donating ten percent of the on-site event cost to charity.

“It took a slew of companies collapsing to bring down the housing
market, but only one to dampen the corporate meetings market” 
  - Orange County, California Business Journal 

Taking bold action became the order of the day when U.S. companies began cancelling and putting off booking meetings and events in part because of the economic climate, but also out of fear of criticism from the media, corporate watchdogs and boards of directors.

Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, said “meetings have been unfairly vilified - - just because of the easy symbolism.  You cannot photograph a large salary or bonus, but you can take a photo of a golf course or a beachfront hotel.”
“The results are predictable, and thousands of companies – most of which have not taken any assistance from the federal government – are cancelling their meetings out of fear,” Dow said.

Here’s some of the collateral damage so far this year: 

$1 billion in U.S. company cancelled bookings in the first quarter is blamed on outrage over AIG, L.A. Times reporter Roger Vincent’s “Junkets Are Being Junked”, April 7, 2009.

56 percent of corporate planners reported cancelling one or more meetings or incentive trips this year, according to a Meetings & Conventions survey.

$220 million in room revenue was lost in January and February, according to Dow and his USTA’s survey of companies representing one-fifth of the group meetings market.

40 percent less group revenue has been booked at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide during the first quarter of 2009 - - resulting in an elimination of 6,000 employees (a ten percent cut in staff).

95,000 room nights were lost by local hotels in February 2009 based on scheduled events, according to the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Bureau.

$131 million worth of business events have been canceled in just the first quarter, according to Chuck Bowling, Executive V.P., Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino.

$50 million estimated loss for statewide Hawaii.  Two of Hawaii’s largest meeting venues - - the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa and the Hilton Waikoloa - - lost $12.4 million due to cancelled corporate incentive meetings.

Occupancy expected to decline to its lowest levels in more than 20 years

While the focus with this article is on the meeting and events business, let’s not overlook the bigger picture here - - the overall impact on the lodging industry in general.

PricewaterhouseCoopers projects U.S. hotel occupancy will fall to 56.5 percent in 2009.  PKF Consulting projects a 13.7 percent decline nationwide.  The American Hotel & Lodging Association points out the significance of that decline for an industry that generates $116 billion in tax revenue each year. 

AH&LA claims U.S. hotels directly provide 1.8 million workers with jobs and help support an additional 7.5 million employees in related travel industries.

Hotel sales professionals start defending legitimate meetings and events

All of the strong efforts on the part of industry leaders notwithstanding, more can be done to help stimulate the demand for group meetings and events - - there is a very important role here for all hotel sales professionals.  This is not the time for hotel sales departments to be reactive, sitting it out, waiting for the market to turn and meeting and event planners to resume active booking again. 

Hotel sales professionals are on the front lines, in the trenches, interacting with clients and prospects every day.  They can have a huge impact by addressing misinformation and political rhetoric, by supplying good hard facts while encouraging these meeting and event planners on the importance of booking now.

What these hotel sales professionals will need is to be armed with some new “talking points” as ammunition to be used when lobbying clients and prospects.  Many of these can be found on a new website www.meetingsmeanbusiness.com

Meetings and events: big business - - meetings and events are responsible for nearly 15 percent of all travel in the U.S.; they create one million jobs helping to support local communities and working families around the country; $101 billion in spending and nearly $16 billion in tax revenue at the federal, state and local levels.

Out-of-town meetings important - - 87 percent of Americans who have attended an out-of-town meeting or convention for work say it is important to running a strong business, according to a new study sourced by USTA.

Meetings and events drive business growth - - by fostering collaboration, idea-sharing and generation as well as employee retention.

Part of the solution - - revenue generated by meetings and events is good for the economy and will help establish travel as part of the recovery solution.

Highest return on investment - - according to a recent survey of Fortune 1,000 Chief Marketing Officers, meetings and events provide the highest R.O.I. of any marketing channel.

Investment in human capital - - misinformation: far from extravagant perks for top executives, performance incentive travel represents an investment in human capital, provides valuable development and networking opportunities for employees at all levels.

Securing the bottom line - - non-cash incentives are two to three times more effective at motivating employee performance; companies spend less on incentive travel than on cash compensation to achieve exceptional productivity from employees.  Good managers encourage the professional growth of employees, and employers must make sound investments in key staff in order to retain top talent and secure the bottom line.

Increase in profitability - - a five percent increase in employee retention can generate a 25 to 85 percent increase in profitability. 

Better overall returns in the stock market - - companies with satisfied employees generate better overall returns; firms on the list of “100 Best Companies to Work For” generate up to five times as much return as their competitors.

Deepen employee relationships - - meetings and events are strategic tools that deepen employee relationships and contribute to the overall health of companies.

Critical for strategic planning - - meetings are critical for strategic planning, corporate development and creating culture, as well as building organizations around key objectives, says Dolce’s Steve Rudnitsky.

Essential tools for companies - - meetings, events and incentives are essential tools for companies to strengthen business relationships; align and educate employees and customers; and reward business performance. Members of Congress share this opinion when convening their annual retreats at resorts outside Washington, DC. 

Trust, bonding - - face-to-face meetings and “responsible” incentive trips build trust, afford attendees opportunities for bonding, growth and networking.

Study, rehearse and use these talking points

Okay, hotel sales professionals, you know what needs to be done.  This is your opportunity to influence, to help stimulate U.S. companies into committing to scheduling new meetings and incentive trips.  Check out the “Meetings Mean Business” website, study, rehearse and use the talking points to give you substance and confidence when you interact with clients and prospects. 

Remember what Alexis de Tocqueville found so unique in America back in the 19th century?  Americans need to congregate.  Americans always have and we always will.  Early immigrants to Boston gathered at The Commons to find work and to sell their products and services.

We are social animals.  We may be using technology for support more in the future, but nothing will ever replace face-to-face meetings.  Let’s never forget that 90 percent of human communication is non-verbal.

We need - - for so many reasons - - to get American companies back to scheduling regular off-site meetings and incentive trips.  Hotel sales professionals should be ready and able to play an important role in inducing new demand. 

Use these talking points - - help persuade meeting and event planners to make their case with upper management, and make those decisions on booking new business meetings and incentive trips.  It’s a good investment for companies, good news for hotels, and good for the economy.
© Copyright 2009 

David M. Brudney, ISHC, is a veteran hospitality sales and marketing professional concluding his fourth decade of service to the hospitality industry.  Brudney advises lodging owners, lenders, asset managers and operators on hotel sales and marketing “best practices” and conducts reviews of hospitality (as well as other industry) sales and marketing operations throughout the U.S. and overseas.  The principal of David Brudney & Associates of Carlsbad, CA, a sales and marketing consulting firm specializing in the hospitality industry since 1979, Brudney is a frequent lecturer, instructor and speaker.  He is a charter member of International Society of Hospitality Consultants.  Previously, Brudney held hospitality sales and marketing positions with Hyatt, Westin and Marriott.


David M. Brudney, ISHC, Principal 
David Brudney & Associates 
Carlsbad, CA 
760-476-0830 Fax 760-476-0860 
(c) 760-994-9266
[email protected]

Also See This is No time for Hotels to Cut Back on Sales and Marketing / David Brudney / February 2009
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Mike “Shiny” Dimond: One of the Great Hotel Sales Impresarios / David M. Brudney / June 2008
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