A CEO like AIG’s Edward Liddy will hardly starve if businesses halt meetings, but Larry the Caterer is a different story. So is the florist on 57th Street; the new small business that rents out furniture; the linen cleaner in operation for 30-years and their parts supplier for the steam machines; the highly-skilled pros who work 10-hour shifts manning cameras and mixing boards; both the airline pilot and baggage handler, whose jobs depend on weekday flights filled with business travelers; and if the feeding frenzy continues unabated, the war on business meetings could even trickle down to the quality of life of a school-age child in the Bronx.
2008 was not a spectacular year by anyone’s standard, but in New York, visitors spent $700 million more here than at any time in the city’s history. Not a single penny of it bought a credit default swap. Tourism, especially from business travelers, means real money flowing into hundreds of good businesses that employ thousands of great people.
Those who say business meetings are “inappropriate” right now should consider all the livelihoods our Destination Management Company – Shackman Associates New York - touches each week. The economic impact of the 400 people whose meetings we managed in the last five days alone goes far beyond their immediate industries. Not only do meetings generate new ideas and strategies that help the overall economy, they are critical in maintaining employee morale and provide direct business income to the peripheral vendors who depend on the business community to pay their mortgages and send own their kids to college.
These attendees who will build company morale and strenghten business relationships won’t be lathering up with bailout cash. Instead, they will be rolling bowling balls at one of New York’s fun-filled establishments, that – thanks to group events helping to paying the rent – are managing to survive the recession. They’ll eat New York style Pizza – not caviar, and among the real beneficiaries of these events are a décor shop owner in Chinatown, a by-the-gig Frank Sinatra singer, and scores of wait staff getting another night of pay and extra tips.
Another meeting group in real estate chose a theme not only appropriate in 2009, but critical to our recovery – “A New Start of It, Be A Part of It. ” While their scheduled tour truly captures the Spirit of New York, it has nothing to do with the boat ride. Participants will get a first-hand look at investment opportunities in innovative residential and retail economic development that is happening throughout Harlem. Some of the projects ironically meet a popular criteria of late - "shovel-ready" - and others are already moving full-steam ahead.
So despite knee-jerk reactions from some, holding an event in the business capital of the world is obviously appropriate. That includes those at five-star hotels. For a profitable company that just launched a Nationwide Wellness Workshop Campaign promoting healthy eating in public schools, hosting a food summit luncheon at a famous high-end destination warrants zero grounds for attack. In fact, more companies than ever are using business meetings themselves as a primary tool to “give-back.” We recently worked with Impact4Good to run a corporate team-building event that donated numerous “built-bikes” to area children whose families have been hardest hit by the economy. Additionally, flowers, table-settings and surplus foods from events are regularly donated to hospitals and charities, and catering requests are often made for local produce growers and wineries that in New York, account for millions in economic activity and jobs.
As the public questions what is “appropriate” in the economy of 2009, one thing is clear: The business meeting industry in New York and throughout America plays a critical role in the lives of millions like Larry the Caterer who work in a wide array of professions. Meetings deserve our support – not scorn.