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March 12, 2009

Larry Luteran:Global solutions to a global problem

Our European Meetings and Events Conference (EMEC) in Torino at the beginning of this month was a great success, and it showed that now more than ever our members are turning to us and looking for answers and solutions to the challenges facing the global meetings industry. This meeting was full of meaningful and timely business discussion tailored to equip our members with the kind of tools they need to survive during these challenging times. EMEC was a testament to the need for face-to-face meetings and the networking and sharing of best practices was at an all time high.

Having come so close on the back of MeetDifferent in Atlanta, it was interesting to note that the mood was very similar at both events. There was a real focus on talking, sharing and doing business. Everyone associated with the industry realises our business is under attack and the challenge stems from the “perception” that meetings and events are somehow excess expenses. Nothing could be further from the truth. When times get challenging there is an increased need for people to get together to strategise, network and to share ideas and solutions that will lift us out of this economic hardship. The data from our EventView study with the George P. Johnson company once again underscores the fact that face-to-face meetings have the number one return on investment of all marketing options.

A truly global challenge
The problems we are facing are not just isolated issues. While the degree of the challenge may fluctuate from region to region, we are witnessing a truly global challenge in the meetings industry. With this challenge comes a tremendous opportunity for meeting professionals around the world. We have a responsibility as meeting professionals to tell the story of meetings when all eyes are clearly on our profession. Why is it so critically important to continue to meet? What is the data that supports our decision to carry on with scheduled meetings? How can each company justify not meeting when company revenues rely so heavily on interaction between buyer and seller? When meeting professionals can tell this story with the facts and figures and when they clearly articulate this story to the C-level executives in their respective companies then we will do our profession a great service.

Short term we are having our challenges and it will be a difficult stretch of time. We will recover, however, and I see our profession as a beneficiary of this increased scrutiny on meetings and events. This will force a focus on measuring return on investment and return on objective that will be good for securing our seat at the table in executive circles. In addition, this downturn will put a spotlight on just how many jobs and families rely on this industry. Our reach as an industry is about as expansive as it gets and when meetings and events are held in our communities it helps support so many constituents from taxi drivers, to housekeepers, to florists, to restaurants, and on and on.

In many ways the issues facing the industry are the same as they have been: the need to have solid metrics and data with regard to return on investment. Why are we having the meeting in the first place? If we have the clear answer to this question then we will invite scrutiny and when questions are asked it will only give us an opportunity to trumpet the importance of meetings to our economy, our businesses, and to our society. We must be better story tellers when it comes to the importance of our profession. We must also clearly understand the economic impact of meetings and events to our communities. The reach of this industry is enormous and when it is truly and accurately measured it will be clear the global economy is closely tied to the health of this sector.

Larry Luteran is chairman of the international board of directors for Meeting Professionals International (MPI), and senior vice president group sales and industry relations, Hilton Hotels Corporation.

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