Amid Economic Slump, Buzzword Now is 'Affordable'

Here's a surprise: Despite the rapid weakening of the economy since late last year, more than 75 percent of meeting planners attending the Affordable Meetings Mid-America Conference and Exposition at Chicago's Navy Pier April 9-10 said that their overall meeting and event budgets for 2008 have not been reduced.

Even so, the likelihood of many of those budgets remaining intact through year's end is slim given most economic forecasts. This made the conference, organized by Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International, particularly relevant for the roughly 1,100 attendees.

"The sizable turnout for the conference shows there is great demand for affordable options for meetings in today's economic environment," said Robert Gilbert, president and CEO of HSMAI.

At the event's opening general session, James Gowell, director of business development for Passkey, joined Katherine Markham, principal of, to present solutions to the most common event housing challenges, and offered advice on how to maximize the use of search engines and websites to save time and money.

In addition, attendees chose from 20 other sessions, many of which addressed cost-containment strategies: "Fundamentals of creating your meeting budget," "Effective negotiation: Understanding how hotels evaluate your business," "Special event cheap chic," and "Champagne on a beer budget: Food and beverage costsaving techniques."

Other sessions addressed topics that often are more prevalent in difficult economic times, including handling ethical dilemmas, crafting contract clauses that avoid or withstand litigation after the event, using webinars strategically to augment in-person meetings and events, and partnering with a property's convention services team to avoid meeting glitches and cost overruns.

Also, the expo portion of the event saw 71 new exhibitors, involved in market segments such as special event production, technology, and international destinations, which brought a total booth count of 314 across 31,000 sf of show floor.

The next several HSMAI meeting planner events for 2008 are Affordable Meetings West, June 11-12 in Long Beach, CA, and Affordable Meetings National and the Event Technology Expo, Sept. 10-11 in Washington, DC.

Originally published May 19, 2008