With agencies like the FBI moving conferences out of destinations like Las Vegas, the U.S. Travel Association recent release of a comprehensive study of the ROI of business travel couldn’t come at a better time.
It’s not just corporate meeting planners that are afraid to hold events in beach, resort or entertainment destinations. Now government agencies are saying that both formal and informal policies have them avoiding destinations like Las Vegas and Orlando, FL., to avoid any criticism that their business meetings are really junkets.
“What’s going on is a lot of fear in the marketplace,” says Geoff Freeman, senior vice president of public affairs of the U.S. Travel Association (USTA). “That started in the corporate world and has shifted to government agencies. Folks from different agencies are admitting this is going on.”
It has gotten so bad, Freeman adds, that planners arranging meeting for government agencies “are willing to spend more money—taxpayer money—to avoid the perception of wastefulness.” Among those who agree is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), whose state relies upon Las Vegas as a major economic engine.
Noting that the director of the FBI recently ordered an agency conference relocated away from Las Vegas because it is a “vacation and leisure destination” as well as “an unmatched location for conducting business in terms of cost and availability of convention and related space,” Sen. Reid recently wrote to Rahm Emanuel, President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, asking for his “assistance to reverse the current informal federal policy which prohibits and/or discourages government meetings and conferences in Las Vegas and other cities on the basis that they are too leisure oriented to be awarded such business.”
Last week came the reply from White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel: Viva Las Vegas!
The federal government has no business forbidding government meetings and conferences from taking place in communities “known for attracting vacationers,” Emanuel wrote. “For me, the test of government travel is what will be accomplished by that travel and whether the cost to the government is reasonable as opposed to other options.”
No word on how the “what happens/stays” formulation might be affected by the federal Freedom of Information Act.
“What’s really going on here is most people don’t think other people’s meetings are necessary,” says Freeman. “We must fight that as an industry.”
So far, he adds, the meetings, incentive, conventions and events (MICE) industry has failed to present the business case or defend the value of meetings and conventions. To that end, on July 28, the USTA will unveil a comprehensive study on the ROI of business travel—the quantifiable impact of business travel on business bottom lines.
But that’s only one step, Freeman warns. The MICE industry must continue along that path by continually making this point to the government, to the media, to business executives and to the general public if the message is to get through.