Association meetings re-gained their stature with hotels and other suppliers during the recent economic downturn, thanks to a decline in corporate meetings. As large numbers of corporate meetings were cancelled or postponed, suppliers looked more favorably on association business.
Las Vegas is a prime example, especially given its excess capacity.
“With all the inventory we added during the recession, a lot of hotels looked at the value of association business and its steadiness,” commented Chris Meyer, CMP, CEM, vice president of sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
This is typical of the economic cycle, said Rick Eisenman, CAE, who is CEO of Eisenman & Associates in Glen Allen, Va.
Travel Market Report asked Eisenman, whose background straddles the hotel industry and association and meetings management, to help meeting professionals plan ahead by discussing how the current economic cycle is affecting association meetings.
Eisenman’s company manages meetings for 18 associations as well as overall operations for two industry associations – the Virginia Association of Hospitality Sales & Marketing Professionals and the Virginia Society of Association Executives.
How are association meetings affected by economic cycles?
Eisenman: It happens every time there’s a crisis like 9-11 or an economic downturn. All of a sudden, associations move up the food chain with hotels and other suppliers, because they maintain their meeting schedules. They don’t cancel.
Many have to have meetings per their bylaws. Many have meetings because they are moneymakers for the organization, whether from a trade show or other revenue source. We did not have a single association meeting cancel through the whole recession.
The problem is that as soon as things get better, some of those same hotels turn their focus back toward corporate meetings.
Why is that?
Eisenman: Corporate meetings are theoretically more lucrative. They tend to pay a higher rate and spend more on food and beverage.
Also, since they can compel employees to attend meetings, if they say 500 people are coming, 500 people will come. With associations, attendance is not mandatory so if you book an event three years out and there’s a crunch in your industry by that time, it’s tough to fill the rooms.
Will this recovery be different?
Eisenman: Hotels that want to be successful will stay with associations when there is a recovery. They’re starting to learn that they really can’t do without them. They have to blend their marketing so that associations are part of it.
How can planners insure that will happen?
Eisenman: What they can do is try to maintain their relationships with hotels they might have connected with during the downturn. They can say they were there when times were bad, and they also want to be there when times are better.
How have association meetings changed as a result of the recession?
Eisenman: Association meetings are shorter, because people simply can’t be out of the office for five days like they used to be; now it might be four days, or even three or two. And you’re seeing that recreational components, like golf, are being reduced or eliminated. That’s as much an issue of time as money.
What about meeting content?
Eisenman: Fluff doesn’t cut it any more. It has to be good stuff, and not just for the attendee. The attendee has to be able to go to his or her boss and say, ‘I want to go to this meeting and you will get the following return on your investment’ – just as in a corporate environment. It used to be, ‘Hey, it’s the annual convention, I’m going to sign up and go.’ That’s changed.
And, of course, there’s more and more technology like social media attached to every meeting, but associations are still a little behind on that.
Are budgets remaining tight?
Eisenman: They are. Planners have to do more with less, partly because sponsors are really tightening up. Planners have to go after more sponsors. And they have to be smarter in cutting waste. You don’t want to be paying for 40 extra servings at a banquet that you’re not using.