Travel, Convention Groups Defend Corporate Confabs

Ad Campaigns Fight Back Against 'Demonization' of Biz Meetings

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WASHINGTON ( -- Congress may have found convenient whipping boys in bailed-out financial companies holding seemingly lavish corporate retreats, but two groups who host such events are fighting back.

AIG was blasted for taking a government bailout then holding a weeklong meeting at a California resort that cost $440,000. Then Northern Trust was called out for holding an expensive event in connection with a golf tournament it sponsored -- after receiving government funds. In between Wells Fargo canceled a four-day employee recognition event in Las Vegas; Goldman Sachs moved a Las Vegas event to San Francisco; and Morgan Stanley canceled a Monte Carlo event because of the political climate.

Now here come both the U.S. Travel Industries Association and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority saying, "Hey, hold on a minute."

In ad campaigns they are standing up to defend the value of corporate meetings as necessary and an important contributor to the economy.

The Travel Industries Association campaign breaks today with newspaper ads in a number of cities and internet advertising using a "Meetings mean business" theme that the group suggests is meant to "counter demonization of business meetings and events."

Though group officials declined to detail the campaign pending a news conference today, an advisory said the "unprecedented nationwide grassroots and advertising campaign" is aimed at defending "millions of American workers under assault by dangerous rhetoric" and "short sighted attacks."

'Witch hunt'
The group has been concerned for several weeks about attacks on business travel, going as far as calling them a "witch hunt."

Last week it warned members of Congress to consider the economic value of business travel for meetings, events and incentive programs before enacting laws and regulations "that may unintentionally hinder economic recovery and cost American jobs."

Roger Dow, president-CEO of the group, said in a statement that there is nothing wrong with Congress asking for accountability from companies receiving taxpayer dollars, but the result should be rules or guidelines, not inflammatory rhetoric.

The warning was accompanied by ads in Capitol Hill publications.

"The Department of Labor is reporting a loss of nearly 200,000 travel-related jobs in 2008 and Commerce Department data predicts a loss of an additional 247,000 travel-related jobs in 2009. That number may grow if the rhetoric is not toned down," warned the ad.

The group also complained about some of the rhetoric used to criticize Northern Trust.

"For every case of wasteful spending, we are seeing scores of instances in which the game of 'gotcha' has forced businesses to cancel legitimate activities that would have grown their bottom lines and generated jobs and economic growth for local communities," said the statement.

Las Vegas doubles down
Las Vegas too has been reacting amidst meeting cancellations. Last week it ran "An open letter from Las Vegas" as an ad in the Wall Street Journal.

"Recently a prominent financial firm cancelled a meeting in Las Vegas and moved it to another city because of the perception that Las Vega is a 'fun' trip or an unwarranted extravagance," said the ad.

"We admit, Las Vegas is more fun than any other place on the planet. Guilty as charged. However serious business is done here every day.

"Don't get us wrong. We don't think taxpayer dollars should be spent on any unnecessary expenses. But at a time when America is getting back to basics, there is no room for playing the perception game. Las Vegas has been doing business for decades and has the track record to prove it. That's the reality," said the ad.

Jeremy Handel, a spokesman for the group, said the convention bureau is about to get even more active. It will launch a $1 million ad campaign aimed at CEOs, rather than its normal target of meeting planners.

The ads, set to run in business publications, are aimed at correcting "misperceptions" about the Las Vegas in some of the press and specifically why it's a good decision to hold meetings and conventions in the city, he said. R&R Partners, handles the Las Vegas convention bureau.

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