REPORT FROM THE U.S.—The U.S. Travel Association is meeting with lawmakers at a state and local level as part of the association’s campaign to build Congressional champions who will defend the meetings and incentive travel industry in their states or districts.
“The key is we want to be able to prepare members of Congress to start becoming more involved on a regular basis with this industry,” said Erik Hansen, director of domestic policy of U.S.Travel. “But also, we want them to be prepared in case anything happens like (the downturn in) 2009.”
Since the employment recovery began in March 2010, travel industry employment has expanded by 223,000, marking a 3.1% increase, according to the U.S. Travel Association’s analysis of the Labor Department’s January 2012 employment numbers.
The travel industry also added 7,000 jobs in January, making this its 13th gain in the past 14 months.
The next step
Although job creation is on the rise, there’s still work to be done educating congressional representatives in various districts about the importance of meetings and incentive travel.
In 2010, 2.6 million international visitors came to the United States to attend a major event or conference, according to data from the Department of Commerce. Not only does that create jobs, but it creates a significant amount of revenue for the hotel sector, Hansen said.
“One of the big ways we are trying to show the importance of meetings is not to just campaign but getting these congressional members to actually go to these meetings and events,” he said. “It’s important for them to see firsthand the amount of jobs being created and services being provided.”
And with the rise of digital platforms, it also is important to express to these officials the importance of face-to-face meetings.
“We have a lot of research that shows the most effective meetings occur face to face, not only for sales forces, but for educational purposes too,” Hansen said.
According to the “Return on Investment of U.S. Business Travel” study prepared by Oxford Economics USA in 2009, both executives and business travelers estimate that roughly 40% of their prospective customers are converted to new customers with an in-person meeting compared to 16% without such a meeting.
U.S. Travel’s campaign is first targeting the top 12 states in the country for meetings and events.
“Each quarter we will be sending these congressional districts performance for the meetings sector so that we can arm them with proof as to why it is important,” Hansen said. “We also want to maintain frequent interaction with Washington.”
What does it mean for hoteliers?
For hoteliers, business travel remains important, filling more than 104 million rooms in 2011, according to data from STR, parent company of HotelNewsNow.com.
More than 60% of revenue at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel comes from group demand, said Mike Ehmann, GM of the 1,231-room Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel.
“Being the largest hotel in Colorado, the meetings industry is extremely important to us,” he said. “We are a destination state, so we are very in tune to that fact.”
Sheraton Denver just launched a meetings and events promotion in order to capture more group business. They plan to give incentives to their groups, along with discounts and complimentary rooms.
“We want to stay competitive in our market,” Ehmann said. “As a company, we are constantly reevaluating that strategy.”
Even though Colorado is not in the U.S. Travel’s targeted list of the top 12 states, information is provided to all states so they can be a part of U.S. Travel’s campaign.
U.S.Travel’s Hansen said there is a lot out there that’s ready to go, meaning many plans already are in place. It is up to them to grab it and run with it. Meanwhile, U.S. Travel is working to get the word out.
“We will make the case to Congress why meetings and events are important to hopefully elevate the hotel industry’s profile,” Hansen added. “If you want to build a champion for an industry it goes beyond one meeting.”