Meetings 2014: Five Issues You Can’t Ignore

by Harvey Chipkin

Joan Eisenstodt, who heads up Eisenstodt Associates in Washington, D.C., is among the most quoted commentators in the meetings industry – and for good reason.

The veteran consultant talks about issues – often overlooked by others – that might have a significant impact on the daily lives of planners.

Eisenstodt believes planners need to be more aware of what is going on around them. “There’s nothing easy about planning meetings these days,” she said. “There are so many bigger issues that have an impact on meeting planners, so awareness is key.”

Travel Market Report asked Eisenstodt to detail the five factors she thinks will have the greatest impact on planners in 2014. Here is her – sometimes surprising – list of concerns and issues.

# 1. Higher airfares
The merger of American Airlines and US Airways will have a huge impact on the industry, Eisenstodt predicted.

One effect will be the cost of tickets. With less competition and with the elimination of service to a number of cities, imagine what it will be like for planners who have booked meetings but have not yet booked air, she said.

“This is an issue that’s not talked about enough because people don’t think about it,” Eisenstodt said. “And they’re not thinking about service cuts. When Delta eliminated Memphis as a hub, it became very difficult to get there.”

More fees may also be coming, including a new security tax. There’s also talk of a carry-on fees, she said.

#2. e-cigarettes
“I am watching what the lobbyists for this industry are doing, and they are being very effective,” Eisenstodt said. “You can now use these cigarettes in major airports.”

Eisenstodt asked people at Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) and Meeting Professionals International MPI) if they had developed a policy on this issue. They said they will go along with what hotels and convention centers do, she reported.

“And all of those people [hotels, convention centers] are waiting until municipalities make decisions,” Eisenstodt said. She said everyone has reported that e-cigarettes are safe but they do have nicotine in them.

“And most of them come from China where there have been violations on chemical use in a variety of products,” she added. “To me it’s going to be worse than regular cigarettes.  It may be a situation like when flight attendants sued to get cigarettes off planes. You will see lawsuits.”

“In the short term, how is this going to be handled at meetings?” Eisenstodt asked. European convention centers are already banning “vaping.” (Vaping is the term used to describe inhaling vapor from e-cigarettes, so-called because e-cigarettes produce vapor, not smoke.)

#3. Lifestyle hotels
Meeting planners will find it difficult to find appropriate facilities because so many hotels are going the lifestyle route, Eisenstodt predicted.

“They [lifestyle hotels] are dark and the furniture is low,” she said. “They are not comfortable for people over 35 – and baby boomers are still traveling. People will get cranky about going to places not suitable for every audience.”

#4. Guns at meetings
Hotels are following municipal laws when it comes to carrying guns and that could result in people bringing guns to meetings, according to Eisenstodt.

“We don’t know what triggers someone to get angry,” she said. “Maybe a speaker will say something they don’t like and then things can happen quickly. I’m surprised we have no policies yet.

“I don’t know if hotels will restrict guns if they’re legal,” she added. “You can already bring them on planes in checked luggage.”

Eisenstodt believes meetings and meeting venues “are a target” and is surprised that there have been no incidents. How much do planners know about meeting registrants? she asked.

“Anyone can walk into a meeting. It’s something we should think about and not just cross our fingers.”

#5. Labor strife
Eisenstodt foresees informational protests or strikes by service workers in the future.

“We’ve already seen it at a hotel in Las Vegas,” she said. “With so much automation and so many people earning minimum wage, this will happen.

“I have a client looking at cancelling a meeting in a city that has labor problems,” she added. “Some clients do have a clause about labor actions because their members will not cross even an informational picket line.”

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Tip of the Day

As travel advisors, we have to be curious. Curiosity leads to impactful connections that pave our road to success. - Jenn Lee, VP of Sales and Marketing, Travel Planners International

Daily Top List

U.S. Airports with Shortest Security Wait Times

1. Salt Lake City International

2. Washington Dulles International

3. Boston Logan International

4. Minneapolis-St. Paul International

5. Charlotte Douglas International

Source: TMR

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