When Missouri Meetings and Events put out its first issue in the summer of 2001, there was no question the industry would have its ups and downs. But no one could have anticipated the issues the magazine would cover – the catastrophe of 9/11, the recession and its after-effects, dwindling
travel budgets, and scaled-down meetings, just to name a few. The past 10 years have been an unprecedented time for this region, the state, and this publication.
“We saw a number of companies, very large companies, that had previously done meetings farther away, that pulled in the travel distance, and stayed closer to home,” said MM&E publisher Joe Clote. “And speeding forward to the recession, that same effect has occurred. Some companies did entirely away with travel budgets, but many of them pulled back in, and instead of going to another state, they went to the Lake of the Ozarks.”
Lay-offs forced many planners who had previously worked at companies to pursue independent planning careers. They also led individuals who had no experience in planning to take on these roles in a company. Consequently, the magazine gained new readership. “We actually saw an increase in circulation back then. Someone was stepping out in that organization, and there was somebody else who needed the information that the magazine provided,” Clote said. “And it’s happening again. There’s been a sea change in the personnel who hold those meeting and event planning functions in those organizations.”
Through its print and online trade journal, the video channel MEET-TV, and its expos, MM&E has made itself relevant in a changed world by providing resources and opportunities for adapting to this economy and thinking creatively about meeting planning.
On this 10th anniversary year for this publication, it seems especially timely to look back at the events and issues that have shaped us as an industry. How have we changed since 2001? Who are we now, and where are we going?
To address these questions, we have invited a group of leaders in this industry to provide their perspectives on the most pressing issues and trends that affected them in the past decade.
In the first part of this three-part series, three experienced industry professionals, Lagina Fitzpatrick, Susan Gray, and Jennifer Hollander, describe the major events and trends faced by their companies, organizations and properties and provide insights on staying resourceful in tough times. As we ask these same questions of other individuals in our industry later in this series, we’ll gain a wider picture of how we’ve grown and changed in 10 years.
About these contributors: Lagina Fitzpatrick, CMP, CHSC, is currently the director of sales for the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitor Bureau, and is an active member of many industry associations. She has worked for three different resorts at the Lake of the Ozarks in convention services and group sales. Susan Gray, DMCP, was among the first to receive the designation of Certified Destination Management Professional. She is currently the president of the Association of Destination Management Executives (ADME), and is a president and partner of MAC Meetings & Events, a multi-service firm specializing in meeting management, destination management, special events, registration management, international meetings and incentives. For more than 10 years, Jennifer Hollander has worked in various capacities in group sales and marketing for the Cedar Creek Conference Center, a St. Louis-area retreat destination independently owned by John and Joan Vatterott.
9/11 AND THE RECESSION: “IT CHANGED EVERYTHING”
All three of the individuals interviewed for this story seem to agree that 9/11, corporate scandals and the “AIG effect” all had major impacts on the industry, but the recession caused the most extensive damage.
“Although 9/11 spread fear of traveling and the AIG incident changed some spending habits, the recession has been the most devastating to our industry overall. It has touched every aspect of the hospitality industry,” Gray said. “The face-to-face meetings have long been the lifeblood of planners and those who work with them to produce meetings and events.”
Along with these economic changes have come shorter turnaround times for meetings, Hollander said. “Groups used to reserve anywhere from eight months to a year and half out, but the turnaround time became much quicker because they didn’t want to allocate dollars and didn’t want to plan too far ahead,” she said. “They didn’t know what was going to be there for the budget, orwho was going to be there to plan the meeting.”
Hollander said that over the past 10 years, Cedar Creek has focused on being flexible in challenging times, and has looked at new ways to market further to groups it has traditionally reached such as faith-based groups. It also has expanded into weddings and family reunions.
“We tried to adapt, and modify, and be adaptable to the current climate because you’ve still got to be successful. You’ve still got to bring revenue in, you’ve still got to provide your services, so it’s been a challenge, no question,” Hollander said. “We were able to compete on that level
because we offer a very good service and we are reasonably priced.”
TECHNOLOGY AND TRENDS
Some of the most significant shifts in how we do business as an industry involve technology. Within 10 short years, we’ve moved into the world of high-tech smartphone applications, new conferencing technology and social media. “As planners we need to have information at our fingertips 24/7, whether it’s an immediate need on-site or just browsing the Web to see what is available to us. All aspects of technology advancement over the last 10 years have touched the meeting planner,” Gray said.
“Videoconferencing allows us to have face-to-face meetings with clients or colleagues without the expense of traveling across the continent or the world,” she continued. “The incorporation of social media in our day-to-day business has allowed information to be shared much more quickly. It also provides a method for cost-effective promotion of meetings and events, and creates a platform for attendees to share their experiences of the event.”
In addition to technology, planners have had to stay abreast of those developments and trends that have made an impact on their meetings, Gray pointed out. “For example, healthier menu options, later start
times or earlier finish times of meetings allow for exercise or downtime from the program. The buzz words ‘work/life balance’ have grown over the last 10 years.”
BACK TO BUSINESS
Gray, Fitzpatrick, and Hollander also agree that the outlook is much better than it was in early 2002 or 2008. Even though it’s still a trying time, there are signs of hope in the industry.
“It’s getting better by the day. Corporations, medium and small business, and associations are all coming to the same conclusion. It’s time to get back to doing business and having meetings to solidify the goals and objectives of their businesses,” Gray said. “We’re finally getting back to business as usual, maybe with smaller budgets or a mindful eye as to how that money is spent, but back to business nonetheless.”
“I do feel business travel is starting to increase, and you just have to do your research to find those that are holding events and will continue to do so even during the non-peak times,” Fitzpatrick added.
Hollander also commented on the importance of her property’s relationships with clients. “We still have those relationships, and they are genuine,” she said. “We still keep in contact with them even though they may not be utilizing the property. Our hope is that when they get to the point that they can [use it], they’ll want to come back. We hope that it pays
off for them, and pays off for us, down the road.” MM&E
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
We have seen many changes and growth in the meeting and event industry over the last ten years. Check out just a few of the new players to hit the scene!
The Keeter Center is situated on the tranquil campus of College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri. Although newly built in 2004, the center is also part of history. Its design is based on the State of Maine Building from the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. The Keeter Center houses the Hotel/Restaurant Management program. When you visit, students from this program are involved in making your stay memorable and pleasant. With 40,000 square feet of space, The Keeter Center offers everything from intimate, elegantly appointed meeting rooms to state-of-the-art conference facilities, all complemented by on-site, four-star accommodations and exquisite fine dining.
The new Busch Stadium, home to the St. Louis Cardinals, offers a variety of meeting and event spaces – 15 different venues to be exact. Special event areas range from formal to informal, conference center to patio, indoor to outdoor. Located in the executive offices of the St. Louis Cardinals, the conference center can be used in its entirety or can host smaller meetings in the 3 Busch Boardrooms. The individual boardrooms allow for 25 guests conference-style, 20 guests classroom -style and 50 guests theater-style. All rooms are equipped with projectors, drop down screens, plasma televisions and wireless Internet access. The large main area can host up to 120 guests theater-style and up to 70 classroom-style.
Offering more than a half million square feet, the Kansas City Power & Light District has more than 50 unique shops, restaurants, bars and entertainment venues. With a diverse array of activities and venues, the Kansas City Power & Light District offers incredible flexibility for private events of any budget for 50-8,000 guests. From corporate groups to meetings and banquets, you can choose from a wide variety of spaces including world-class restaurants, bars, lounges and theaters. Resting at the heart of the $420 million Branson Landing development is the Branson Convention Center, a high-tech architectural gem managed by the Hilton Hotels Corporation. It offers tons of flexible meeting space, comfortable rooms and state-of-the-art professional technology. Meeting planners have no shortage of choices to customize the perfect event. Also close by are several lodging selections, including the Hilton Branson Convention Center Hotel, which is situated conveniently across from an exquisite shopping and entertainment district.
THEN & NOW
In 1958, the White River was dammed to form Table Rock Lake, and the stage was set for the Ozarks’ Big Cedar Lodge, America’s Premier Wilderness Resort. Bass Pro Shop acquired the property in 1987 and founder John Morris chose to restore the Simmons and Worman buildings to their original prominence, initiating a rigorous commitment to renew the natural beauty of Big Cedar Hollow, the land adjoining the Long Creek arm of the White River.
Big Cedar Lodge is constantly changing and improving, including the addition of a conference center. Grandview Conference Center is the perfect blend of inspiring rustic luxury with thoughtful design and the latest technology for unforgettable events. Completed in October 2008, this new facility comfortably accommodates groups of 10 to 1,000. The functional design of the event spaces offers unobstructed flexible meeting rooms to host conferences, banquets, trade shows and intimate board meetings.
(Heather McNeill is a contributor from Kansas City, Mo.)