Meetings, Conventions and Incentives: Simply Good Business

Companies use face-to-face meeting opportunities to drive business objectives in good times and bad.

The public debate over meetings and corporate business travel continues on with no sign of cooling. While the popular focus is on banks and TARP-funded businesses conducting events deemed "junkets," little consideration has been given to distinguishing a boondoggle from a legitimate business meeting. The fallout from this lack of clarification – the "AIG Effect," as it's been dubbed – has rippled across the meetings industry and specific destinations that have been targeted., Companies from a range of industries have cancelled meetings, incentives and other programs in an effort to steer clear of potential public recrimination. I submit that not all these cancellations are beneficial to the country's economic recovery.

In the face of such controversy, there are still companies that understand the not-so-fine distinction between "junket" and meeting.. These business leaders recognize that it is more important than ever to ensure clarity from the top to the bottom of an organization to align a sales force, refine marketing strategy, develop staff and build customer relationships to get through these difficult times.

Meetings suppliers from around the country agree, saying that, while business is certainly down, they are still servicing meetings every day and booking business for the future. Within my organization, we will host more than 700 meetings across seven hotel properties in the first quarter of this year, and book approximately 600 new meetings for future quarters. Forward-thinking companies clearly believe that meetings are valuable for business in good times and bad. Nonetheless, it seems public perception has not yet caught up, and many continue to lump business meetings into the same category as junkets and executive retreats.

A junket is defined as "a festive social affair," "a trip made by an official at public expense," or "a promotional trip made at another's expense." No doubt that, particularly in the current economic climate, these would be conspicuous examples of excess and fiscal irresponsibility.

But clearly a junket is not the same thing as a meeting. The vast majority of company meetings have legitimate business objectives and produce a return on investment. Brainstorming sessions, sales meetings, training and development seminars, strategy meetings, product launches, professional conferences, and client events bring people together to generate sales, strengthen competitive advantages, drive greater profits and position a company for long-term value and growth. Even the much-maligned incentive trip has a legitimate business purpose: motivating and rewarding top performers for exceeding established profit or revenue goals and generating incremental profits beyond a company's investment in the program.

Let me be clear: meetings, like any other business activity, need to have defined goals and objectives. If a company is holding meetings that do not achieve their objectives – whether they are receiving government funds or not – they should call a halt to their meetings schedule. Such meetings are bad for business and need to be re-evaluated.

Still, in my experience, most business meetings are well thought out and generate growth. They have never been more important. President Obama appears to understand the value of face-to-face interactions. His campaign strategy was based on meeting people, in-person, to win their hearts and minds and motivate them to take action for change. His inauguration, where he addressed the world to garner support for his agenda, has been likened to a corporate meeting where a CEO would communicate with stakeholders. He took his maiden Air Force One voyage to a meeting to rally support for his stimulus package. As the war of words continues over what is and isn't appropriate in these challenging times, we must acknowledge that, now more than ever, meetings are critical to keeping businesses viable and bolstering our ailing economy. And those are aspirations we can all agree on.