Friday, August 03, 2012

Dear Politicians: Don't Let the GSA Scandal Devalue Meetings

It’s ironic that the same politicians who have, since 2009, attacked corporate meetings paved the way for the GSA to spend freely at a minimum of 77 conferences.

This blog isn’t going to discuss the legitimacy of GSA meetings, but the venues that host them are a vital part of the economy.  The Meetings and Conference industry adds billions of dollars to the US GDP and employs millions of hospitality workers.

According to a recent study by the Financial and Insurance Conference Planners (FICP), the annual collective-buying power of FICP member organizations ranges between $659 million and $913 million. The study of 91 FICP planner members, which was conducted in March, also reveals that 95 percent of those polled have average annual meeting budgets of $3 million, spend $900,000 for their largest annual event and planned approximately 95 meetings in 2011. In other findings, 95 percent of respondents expect their budgets to increase or remain flat in 2013, and 21 percent expect an increase in the size of their meeting planning teams next year.  (Meetings and Conventions Magazine – July 8, 2012) 

The $800,000 the GSA spent in Las Vegas is about average for a large conference.

However, since the financial crisis of 2008, corporate meetings have found creative ways to stretch budgets and even add serious business elements to destination incentives.  This category of meeting is traditionally a luxury experience reward for top company performers.  For example, destination meetings we have managed in New York saved thousands of dollars by piggybacking food and AV with other meetings at a hotel.  They sometimes cut luxury itineraries in favor of open downtime.  

Most notably, corporate meeting attendees have not shown up on YouTube sipping top-shelf champagne in Las Vegas penthouses.  In fact, the opposite is true.  At Shackman Associates, we have helped meetings appropriately stay under-the-radar during the challenging financial climate and include economic development tours and “give-back” programs in the local community in New York City.

Destinations like Las Vegas and New York have finally bounced back after several years of unhelpful and uneducated criticism by politicians in Washington.  Let’s hope that going forward, government meetings use some of the cost-saving strategies corporate meetings have been using for the past 4 years.

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