Downturn hits U.S. corporate meetings
By John Buchanan
ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - The storm buffeting the U.S. economy threatens to swamp the $175 billion corporate meetings industry as companies seek to cut back on expenditure by reducing the number of conferences they hold.
By organizing fewer big meetings in distant cities, companies can save millions on airline seats, conference hall bookings, hotel rooms and a range of smaller items.
But those savings -- while smart for the companies -- are provoking a crisis in the industry that provides the services.
"I've been in this business 40 years and I've never seen anything like this before," said Kevin Maguire, president of the National Business Travel Association.
"I call it the DDE for 'devastating domino effect'," said Maguire. It is having an impact from cab drivers and florists to restaurants and street vendors, he said.
Tammi Runzler, vice president of convention sales and services at the Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau, compared the situation to the weeks after the attacks of September 11, 2001, when fear of air travel gripped much of the business world.
A total of 64 percent of companies globally will reduce spending on meetings next year, a figure that has doubled since August, according to research by Meeting Professionals International, the world's largest organization for meeting executives.
A separate survey, by Maguire's National Business Travel Association, presented a more mixed picture. It showed that about 38 percent of U.S. companies will maintain their meeting budgets next year, with the remainder about equally split between those planning to cut their budgets and those increasing them. Continued...