Judge meeting’s value by ROI standards

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forum040609MASSARIEmotion has usurped reason in the ongoing public debate over corporate meetings and business travel. The unfortunate result is that an otherwise worthy discussion has veered wildly off course and negated its value to shareholders and taxpayers alike.

The prevailing sentiment among the general public, fueled by innumerable references to “boondoggles” and “junkets” by politicians and journalists, is that any off-site meeting or event is a gross misuse of corporate resources. Nothing could be further from the truth.

To be sure, these times of enormous economic challenge mandate that companies, particularly those receiving taxpayer dollars to remain viable, allocate funds judiciously. Executives must act with prudence to grow their businesses through the most efficient means possible.

Legitimate business meetings and events do exactly that. They streamline essential communications. They bring potential business partners together. They educate sales forces. They strengthen customer relationships. They forecast relevant industry and market trends so companies are prepared to maximize opportunities and minimize threats.

In short, they help position businesses for success in the face of daunting fiscal challenges. Rather than being maligned, legitimate corporate meetings should be acknowledged as a means of hastening our broader economic recovery.

So I welcome the debate about corporate meetings. I welcome the opportunity to refocus a discussion that has, despite noble intentions, given birth to misconceptions and erroneous connotations that don’t serve the public good.

Within my organization, we will host more than 700 meetings across seven Las Vegas properties in the first quarter of this year and book 600 new meetings for future quarters. Forward-thinking companies clearly understand the value that business meetings provide in any economic climate. Every legitimate company meeting has a meaningful business objective, and the vast majority result in quantifiable returns on investment.

Another common misconception of late is that certain destinations are inherently unworthy of hosting business meetings. Las Vegas, where I work, is a perfect example. Its image as home to all sorts of extravagances is inconsistent with the unrivaled value it offers for meetings and conventions.

If there is one thing I have learned in my 20 years in this business, it is that meetings are vital for a company’s success. They are large investments that require large returns on those investments. Companies select destinations and properties for those meetings using only one measurement: return on investment. Where is this large, vital investment of time, money and resources going to pay the greatest dividend?

Las Vegas hosts meetings because it provides an excellent return on investment for the companies that choose to have their meetings here. Period.

There are many reasons for that. Las Vegas has upwards of 136,000 guestrooms and 9.7 million square feet of meetings and convention space, with options to fit all needs and budgets. Professional meeting-services providers are plentiful and competitive, giving companies options and price flexibility. Las Vegas has the infrastructure to bring in and move around large numbers of people easily and inexpensively. Convenient flights between Las Vegas and every major U.S. city provide reasonable airfares and minimal losses in productivity due to travel time. The proximity of the airport to the heart of the city — just one mile — reduces ground travel time and expense.

Las Vegas is consistently rated as the best value for meetings. In Las Vegas, we conduct an average of 22,000 meetings, conventions and incentive programs a year, ranging in size from 10 to more than 100,000 attendees.

We know how to do business, and that is why customers consistently select us.

So, as the pundits exchange their competing views on what constitutes responsible business practice, it is important to keep this in mind: Success breeds recovery, business meetings breed success and business meetings should happen where they will provide the greatest return on investment.

I welcome the opportunity to go back to competing on those dimensions.

Michael A. Massari is vice president of meetings sales and operations for Las Vegas Meetings by Harrah’s Entertainment. He has close to 20 years of experience in meetings and hospitality and in 2007 was named one of the “25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry” by Meeting News magazine.

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