Bailout backlash causes companies to cancel meetings

By Bill Poling

About one-fifth of meeting planners are canceling events because of media backlash against the reported travel expenditures of some companies receiving federal bailout funds, according to a new survey by Meetings & Conventions.

M&C, published by Northstar Travel Media (Travel Weekly’s parent), surveyed 135 meeting planners in the last week of February, 91% of whom work with or for companies that were not receiving federal bailout funds.

Twenty-one percent said they had canceled events as a “direct result of the bailout backlash,” and 15% said their companies or clients had canceled events, but they were unsure of the reason.

Of the total respondents, 41% are engaged in the incentive business. Of those, 58% said they had canceled some incentive trips.

Among other findings:

52% said the “mass-media backlash against meetings” has been “extremely” or “moderately” influential.

41% said they have changed a meeting or event destination, or have changed venues within the same city, “to appear more economical.”

38% said their companies decided to avoid luxury or upscale hotels and 30% are avoiding cruises;

24% said their companies and clients are developing new meeting policies to demonstrate “good faith and intelligent spending.”

Click here for the full report.

The U.S. Travel Association, working with a coalition of industry groups in the lodging and meetings sectors, cited the results as further proof that the industry needs to get more aggressive about putting the meetings industry in a positive light.

To that end, it has launched national ad campaign in USA Today, Politico and other print and online outlets under the theme “Meetings Mean Business,” emphasizing that the meetings business supports 1 million jobs and that meetings-related travel generates $16 billion in state and local tax revenue.

At a press briefing unveiling the national ad campaign, U.S. Travel President Roger Dow said even casual remarks by politicians, from Obama on down, are having chilling effect on legitimate business activity.

He called the backlash against business meetings an "unprecedented crisis" that justifies a broad, national campaign to "defend our industry." He said, "It’s crazy out there," and likened the situation to a "witch hunt," with news reporters "staking out luxury hotels," hoping for a "gotcha" story.

Geoff Freeman, US Travel’s senior vice president for public affairs, told reporters that the industry’s national campaign has three goals:

Push for Treasury Department adoption of industry’s recently published guidelines on responsible meetings.

Stop any "punitive legislation" in Congress that would restrict meetings or travel.

Get politicians and commentators at all levels to "tone down the rhetoric."

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