Commentary: Sequestration Provides an Opportunity for the Meetings Industry to Get Stronger, Not Surrender

Posted by TMG on March 19, 2013 3:47:00 AM

The recent decision to allow a government sequester to take effect sent shock waves throughout agencies around the country and created ripple effects in a number of related industries, among them, those of us who work in meetings and conventions.

The meetings industry, which has increasingly been under attack in recent years, will be hard hit from multiple fronts – delays in airline flights and security wait times, making it more difficult to properly plan logistics, increased scrutiny of conference travel affecting attendance by government participants, as well as bearing the brunt of public outrage. In fact, in a recent “Travel Weekly” article, Roger Dow, president of the U.S. Travel Association is quoted as saying, “Travel has the very real potential of becoming the face of the March 1 sequester cuts.”  And so, the industry must gird itself for tough times ahead.

With a growing national debt that stands at upwards of $16 trillion, we all understand the need to trim the budget, but issuing mandatory, across-the-board spending cuts, a number of which will specifically target travel and meeting expenses, may end up causing more harm than good.

Travel has most recently been put under the microscope since a 2010 report detailing excessive spending at a General Services Administration (GSA) agency conference held in Las Vegas. The public outcry, professional embarrassment and negative publicity prompted the Office of Management and Budget to require agencies to reduce travel spending significantly through 2016. Agencies are now more carefully scrutinizing the need for travel, requiring additional approvals and, in some cases, denying travel altogether in favor of web broadcasting or other means of disseminating the information to employees.  But even with more stringent regulations and the enactment of a significant number of cuts, agencies cannot seem to shake the GSA stigma; in fact, GSA recently cancelled its 2013 Training and Expo, citing the current fiscal climate and the need for all agencies to make tough spending cuts. And meetings continue to be viewed by many under a harsh and unforgiving light.

While cutting travel spending will indeed save money and trim the budget, it also comes at a significant cost. Virtual meetings and online training certainly have value, and a place in the industry; however, the importance of face-to-face meetings does not decline as fiscal uncertainties increase. The results of a recent study conducted by the IMEX Group, in partnership with the Meetology Group, speak to the higher quality and number of ideas gleaned from face-to-face sessions versus meetings conducted over the phone or by video chat. Soon, companies may feel pressure, or a desire, to opt out of face-to-face meetings in favor of virtual events or no meetings at all. And saving money at the cost of employee education and professional development is not really a cost savings at all and can end up hindering an organization’s growth and competitiveness in the long run.

As meeting professionals, we will be called on more and more to not only justify our services, but to do more with a lot less. Our challenge, therefore, is to be flexible and swift enough to adapt to what may become a hostile environment, driven by volatile global economic conditions, and provide the knowledge and leadership to guide this industry, and those who depend on it, into the future. The economic climate may not improve for the foreseeable future, but we form a powerful base and must continue to advocate the value of events and be committed to promoting professional practices and facilitating the exchange of information and ideas, as CIC has done since 1949.

Karen Kotowski, CAE, CMP is the Chief Executive Officer of the Convention Industry Council.
This article originally appeared in the March 12, 2013 issue of CMP Today.

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