Recession is taking a big toll on meetings

The Wall Street Journal

The recession, coupled with a post-Sept. 11 fear of flying, is taking a brutal toll on the business of meetings — be they conventions, training seminars or other corporate gatherings.

And any recovery could be muted because companies increasingly are turning to videoconferencing and other new collaboration technology.

In September, when it became clear that attendance at Key3Media Group Inc.’s giant Comdex computer show would be down sharply from the year before, the company hastily bought software from Interwise Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., to transmit 18 of the hottest courses presented at the November exposition over the Internet.

It is charging $49 a course, well below what it would cost to attend in person. Indeed, Comdex attendance dropped 37 percent to 124,000 from 200,000 a year earlier.

Meetings are a colossal money spinner.

They were responsible for a record $96.4 billion in spending in 2000, including registration fees, logistical support, airline tickets, meals, entertainment and hotel rooms, according to Meeting Professionals International, a Dallas-based trade group. Bjorn Hanson, who heads PricewaterhouseCoopers’ hospitality practice, predicts that level of spending won’t be reached again until 2003 or 2004.

"It’s going to be a traumatic change" for meeting planners, says Joe Alexander, managing director of the International Society of Meeting Planners, a trade group in Alexandria, Minn. Alexander says several hundred of his group’s 3,500 members dropped their memberships and apparently left the business since Sept. 11.

He says individuals who arrange small meetings for corporate clients are having an especially hard time because "instead of flying a lot of people to a central location for a meeting, with budgets tight, companies are doing a lot of teleconferencing and Internet meetings."

Patrick Moscaritolo, president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau in Boston, where hotel-room revenue is down 30 percent in recent months, predicts that large shows will rebound this year. But he says companies will continue to eliminate smaller shows booked into single hotels, "where it’s easiest to find alternative ways to share information" such as over the Web.

For many convention goers, meetings that used to be cheerful junkets have turned into nerve-wracking chores. Spouses of Parametric Technology Corp. employees were so concerned about air travel that the company canceled its annual sales meeting in Florida, where it planned to unveil a new advertising campaign to 700 staffers. Instead, the salespeople were directed to a Web-cast that used Parametric’s own Windchill technology to make three-dimensional presentations over the Internet.

"It gave people a motivation to use a technology they were resistant to before," says Grant Wilson, senior vice president for sales. Previously, he said employees weren’t thrilled by the prospect of online training because it meant "they’d miss the chance to party a little bit."

The Needham, Mass., company estimates it saved $850,000, and gained an extra day or two of sales time because the salespeople weren’t flying back and forth from offices in Europe and the United States. Although Parametric expects to resume some face-to-face sales meetings, Web-casts are becoming the primary way to deliver corporate statements, says Barry Cohen, executive vice president, marketing.

Despite the recent drop in attendance at Comdex, Fred Rosen, chairman of Key3Media, says he sees little long-term impact from either terror or technology, and expects an industry rebound as soon as the economy turns. "Human beings are social and tribal," he says. "Trade shows and conferences aren’t going away."

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Business

The Westwood Rainier is one of the seven ships in the Westwood line. The ships serve ports in the Pacific Northwest and Northeast Asia. (Photo provided by Swire Shipping)
Westwood Shipping Lines, an Everett mainstay, has new name

The four green-hulled Westwood vessels will keep their names, but the ships will display the Swire Shipping flag.

A Keyport ship docked at Lake Union in Seattle in June 2018. The ship spends most of the year in Alaska harvesting Golden King crab in the Bering Sea. During the summer it ties up for maintenance and repairs at Lake Union. (Keyport LLC)
In crabbers’ turbulent moment, Edmonds seafood processor ‘saved our season’

When a processing plant in Alaska closed, Edmonds-based business Keyport stepped up to solve a “no-win situation.”

Angela Harris, Executive Director of the Port of Edmonds, stands at the port’s marina on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, in Edmonds, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Leadership, love for the Port of Edmonds got exec the job

Shoring up an aging seawall is the first order of business for Angela Harris, the first woman to lead the Edmonds port.

The Cascade Warbirds fly over Naval Station Everett. (Sue Misao / The Herald file)
Bothell High School senior awarded $2,500 to keep on flying

Cascade Warbirds scholarship helps students 16-21 continue flight training and earn a private pilot’s certificate.

Rachel Gardner, the owner of Musicology Co., a new music boutique record store on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024 in Edmonds, Washington. Musicology Co. will open in February, selling used and new vinyl, CDs and other music-related merchandise. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
New Edmonds record shop intends to be a ‘destination for every musician’

Rachel Gardner opened Musicology Co. this month, filling a record store gap in Edmonds.

MyMyToyStore.com owner Tom Harrison at his brick and mortar storefront on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Burst pipe permanently closes downtown Everett toy store

After a pipe flooded the store, MyMyToystore in downtown Everett closed. Owner Tom Harrison is already on to his next venture.

Melrose and Vine Collective owner Kara Langus in her vintage collection room at her store on Friday, Jan. 5, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
New and vintage women’s boutique aims to dazzle in downtown Everett

Add some sparkle to your wardrobe: Melrose and Vine Collective opened inside a former bank building on Pacific Avenue.

Garry Clark, CEO of Economic Alliance Snohomish County. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)
CEO steps down at Economic Alliance Snohomish County

Garry Clark, who has led the nonprofit chamber of commerce for three years, is leaving to “seek new opportunities.”

Dan Bates / The Herald
When Seattle Genetics founder, Clay Siegall lost his father while in college, he switched from studying for an MD to studying for a PhD., and a goal to treat cancer patients.  His efforts are paying off in lives.
Ex-Seagen CEO to return to Bothell to lead newly relocated biotech firm

Clay Siegall, who resigned from Seagen over allegations of domestic abuse, is now CEO of cancer therapy developer Immunome.

Molbak’s Garden Cafe in Woodinville, Washington. Photographed in 2016. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)
‘Shocked and heartbroken’: Woodinville garden store Molbak’s to close

After 67 years, Molbak’s Home + Garden, a mainstay just across the county line, will cease operations early next year.

Good Cheer’s two thrift stores are great places to find Christmas decorations and other knick-knacks. (File photo by David Welton)
A guide to gift buying on Whidbey Island

Consider these unique gift idea suggestions from the South Whidbey Record and the Whidbey News-Times

Senior Hailey Jardine uses the new heat press for DECA to make school apparel at Snohomish High School in Snohomish, Washington on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.  DECA is a national nonprofit for students interested in business. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Hot off the press! Snohomish High School students create custom swag

New heat presses allow teens to make T-shirts, hoodies and gear at the school’s merch store, Panther Pause — with the copyright.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.