MN Exclusive Research: Meetings Transportation

Delegates and planners figure out ways to move on.

Rumors of face-to-face meetings’ demise have been greatly exaggerated. According to Meeting News Exclusive Research, 92 percent of all attendees are in-person participants, far surpassing all other methods of attendance (webconferencing, video uplinks, and podcasts).

Less than 10 percent of attendees travel less than 10 miles to a meeting, and 28 percent travel between 10 and 99 miles. The percentage of attendees traveling between 100 and 499 miles is the same as those traveling 500 or more (31%). Corporate attendees traveled the farthest (39%),since such travel is required, but association attendees led at 44 percent in the 100-to-499-mile category, since this range underscores regional meetings.

From the MN survey, attendees travel by automobile (70%) more than by airplane (64%), while 19% of corporate attendees travel by train. And cars are most popular among association attendees (75%), compared with corporate attendees (68%), who prefer the friendly skies (77%). There was a surprisingly large gender split between men (86%) and women (67%) who travel by car.

“We found our regional group activity traveled by car even when gas prices were high,” said Steve Lowe, sales director for the Harrah’s and Harveys resorts in Lake Tahoe. Cassandra Maej, senior VP of sales and services for the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, agreed: “We did not hear anyone not choosing to attend a conference based on fuel cost. This really affected leisure travel, not business and convention travel.”

Even though planners have much more control over attendee transportation after they arrive to a meeting, research indicates they do not leverage onsite transportation at their meetings. While 47 percent utilize chartered buses or trolleys, 33 percent infer that they have no plans for moving their attendees around the meeting destination (with 46% of association attendees having to fend for themselves). After buses and trolleys, the methods of conveyance used are public transportation (22%), car pool (17%), and stretch limos (10%). Corporate attendees were bused the most (54%) and left to their own devices the least (27%).

If a meeting is large, both plane and automobile requirements can add up to a Sasquatch size carbon footprint. With today’s heightened concern for the environment, Wayne Wallgren, president of Dallas-area World Wide Incentives Inc., wants “more consideration given to arrival and departure patterns to reduce the amount or type of local transportation required, which would reduce the carbon footprint.”

Sometimes, a meeting will innovate. Rich Grant, spokesman for Visit Denver, said that for the Democratic National Convention (DNC) last year, 1,000 free bicycles were provided to delegates. The bike program will be extended this summer, with 500 bikes at 30 stations to be available for low-cost rental. Grant added, “Visit Denver was the first convention bureau to create an online carbon calculator, and delegates at the DNC were able to calculate and offset their carbon footprints.”

Often, meetings properties step in to advise on travel costs. Alberto Martinez-Fonts, spokesman for the Saddlebrook Resort in Tampa, noted, “Group transfers to and from the airport are the most practical way to minimize the carbon footprint of transportation.”

Ben Baez, director of group sales at Palm Beach’s PGA National Resort & Spa, recommended using bus charters from companies that use hybrid power technologies. Beverly Stewart, director of sales for the convention bureau representing the Pinehurst, Southern Pines, and Aberdeen area in North Carolina, supported the use of hybrid buses, hybrid cars for taxiing, and more point-to-point rail systems. George Picard, regional sales manager for Houston-area Transportation Management System, said planners must be proactive in requesting newer and alternative-fuel buses with more environmental safeguards—which is what TMS worked on for World Wrestling Entertainment’s Wrestlemania 25 event earlier this month.

Michael Krouse, senior VP of sales and client services at LA Inc., Los Angeles’ tourism bureau, points to the city’s public transit system as a cost-effective, eco-friendly solution, offering a weekly pass for $11.Farther afield, Marriott spokeswoman Laurie Goldstein cited the hotel firm’s partnership with a Brazilian organization to save the Amazon rainforest: “Guests can offset their stays by contributing to the fund. We also donate 5 percent of the total meeting cost to this fund.”

Still, the economy continues to have an effect on meetings. “The lack of flights in certain areas has been a real pain,” noted planner Cher Lon Malik. “Less direct flights make it almost impossible to plan larger meetings. We are opting for more [regional] meetings in order to accommodate everyone instead of the one big meeting.”

Cheryl Heiks, director of special events for BeWell.com, citing the economy and the green movement, said more of her meetings are going virtual, saving crucial resources for when face-to-face is necessary.

Originally published April 20, 2009