Anniversaries and audits

 

In a year of significant anniversaries: Montreal’s 375th, Canada 150th, and  the 65th mit-coveryear of The Queen’s reign. I have my own small anniversary.

This year I begin my 25th year writing about the meeting and incentive industry. My first article, a summary of Maritime meeting venues and ideas, appeared in the September 1992 issue of Meetings & Incentive Travel magazine. Since then I have written over 300 articles for M&IT.

Twenty years ago I began contributing to The Meeting Professional published by Meeting Professionals International. I also contributed to One+, which was The Meeting Professional under a different name.

For the last 13 years I have covered Eastern Canada for Association News.

association-news-cover-1I’ve written over 500 articles about places, people, ideas and industry trends. I enjoy the industry’s creativity and inventiveness.

My research has had me crisscross North America, travel extensively in Europe, and venture as far as South Africa, Hong Kong, China and India. I’ve done over 1,200 site inspections of hotels, convention centres and off-site venues in 85 cities in 27 countries.

My work has appeared in: Meetings & Incentive Travel (Toronto), Meetings Incentives International (Toronto), Corporate Travel (Toronto), ignite (Toronto), Association News (Los Angeles), The Meeting Professional / One + (Dallas), Sports Travel (Los Angeles), Executive Traveler (US), Golf Event (US), Incentives & Meetings International (US), Motivation Strategies (US), Meetings and Conventions ((US) and Progress (Halifax). I have also provided custom content for VisitBritain, Atout France, Destination Halifax, Scottsdale, mpi-coverNewfoundland Tourism and Caesar’s Entertainment.

The interviews and travels with planners, partners and suppliers are supplemented by background fact-checking of websites.

It is astonishing that static details about a property or a venue are so often inconsistent, inaccurate and/or lacking sellable details. Planners and incentive house reps have long complained about this and my on-line research leads me to share their frustration.

For example, for back-to-back assignments in November/December 2015 I visited 128 websites belonging to hotels, destinations, convention centres and off-site venues. Only 11 had information I could confirm or find. Year-after-year these on-line problems persist.

executive-traveler-coverFor this research a destination’s marketing organization (DMO) supplied a capacity chart for the city’s major hotels (room count, meeting space summary). One 200-room hotel showed 0 meeting space. I knew that wasn’t right. I contacted the hotel. My contact confirmed that they had 2,700 sq. ft. of meeting space. I later found a meetings page for this property which said they had 5,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Another web page listed capacity at 4,000 sq. ft., yet adding up the individual room capacities listed on their meeting room inventory showed 4,377 sq. ft. of meeting space. They variously are said to have five and seven meeting rooms. The following year, the same DMO’s capacity chart didn’t list this property because the destination still believes the hotel doesn’t have meeting space. And neither the hotel or marketing people notice!

Another property’s website says it has six meeting rooms and 9,000 sq. ft. of space. However, theirsports-travel-cover capacity chart lists seven rooms totaling 12,399 sq. ft. of meeting space. Another list says this property has 11,000 sq. ft. of space spread over five rooms. Web pages for a third city property show its meeting capacity ranges from 20,000, 21,631, 21,742, 22,000 to 28,000 sq. ft.!

These inconsistent numbers are only part of the problems with property, destination and supplier websites.

Meeting planners and incentive house reps constantly complain about the quality of information potential suppliers provide. It makes their work harder. Often planners are working in the evening, on a weekend or during a long layover to pull together a client proposal. They don’t have the opportunity to contact a property or destination to confirm facts. And, since they often only need one or two numbers, they don’t want to waste their time making the call and engaging in the usual niceties of a business conversation. Consequently, destinations and properties are dropped from consideration.

golf-how-to-guide-coverPlanners have said to me, “If you don’t know how big you are, what other details will you get wrong?”

The comic strip Pogo famously said, “We have seen the enemy and he is us.”

Based on industry frustrations I have conducted web audits for hotels and suppliers to ensure their facts are uniform, accurate and presented in a meaningful way for clients.

The good news is that the fix doesn’t generally scottsdale-coverinvolve rebuilding a website, it’s about working with in-house tech experts and sales to hone the content. It is simple, quick and inexpensive. For first contact, write: nscelt@hotmail.com. Put “audit” in the subject line.

Questioning President Trump’s impact on travel and the meetings industry

In the movie Elizabeth, about the first Queen Elizabeth, not the current one, The Queen is facing war with France and Spain. It’s on the eve of the sailing of the Spanish Armada. The Queen says, “I dislike war. The outcome is so unpredictable.”

So it is with elections.

The new administration has the world’s travel trade in turmoil.

A Travelzoo poll done before Donald Trump’s win was announced found that 31% of Brits would reconsider travel to the US. 20% said they definitely would not go. The Travelzoo poll predicted an unstable 2017 for the US, but a good year for Canadian tourism. Cheapflights said that as the election campaign progressed they saw a decline in preference for the US as a destination and in the last week bookings declined 52%.

Cheapflights also said that overnight searches for one-way flights from the US to Canada were 133% more than a month ago.

On election night the website for Canadian immigration crashed under the weight of searches.

A Travelmole poll says 58% of UK travel professionals thought a Trump presidency would be bad for business. US travel professionals were slightly more optimistic, with just 52% thinking it would be bad.

In the week before the election, Euromonitor published a paper which said Trump’s promise to ban Muslim travel to the US could cost up to $71 billion a year and cost 132,000 jobs. They also said AirBnB and Expedia could be hurt, given their property listings and courting of business to and from Mexico and South America. The Euromonitor report also wondered about the impact of a Trump/Pence administration on the fast-growing female and gay markets. (In office Governor Pence has adhered to his fundamentalist beliefs to take anti-gay and anti-choice positions.)

In the spring of 2016 we saw how a string of discriminatory state laws negatively impacted the meetings sector. For example, when North Carolina passed a “bathroom bill” which discriminated against LGBT people, a number of business and professional groups pulled their business from the state.

I wonder what impact a Trump presidency will have on AirBnB? Given that Trump is a hotelier, how open will his administration be to this type of competition? I realize he will be expected to put his business affairs in a blind trust, but will a Republican-dominated Congress ignore this type of business and not try to regulate it more? Will companies, which now allow their people to use AirBnB, feel comfortable continuing their corporate policy?

And what does this presidency mean to foreign groups? Obviously, some nationalities aren’t going to feel comfortable coming to the US for business. In 2011 Boston Economics determined that slow VISA approvals for delegates hoping to attend US-based trade shows were costing the US industry over $2.6 billion a year. That broke down to $1.5 billion in lost business-to-business trade; $540 million in lost registration fees and exhibition space spending; and $295 million in visitor spending. Reversing this lost business would translate into 43,000 new jobs and $750 million dollars in state and federal taxes.

The VISA process has improved, but will the new administration’s positions impact attendance by certain ethnic groups, gay delegates and their supporters?

The other question is how the new administration will impact sun destinations. Are US businesses going to feel comfortable hosting events in Mexico? Will Mexican businesses and representatives feel comfortable participating in events in the US? Could the new Washington, with it’s America-centric position, take a dim view towards those groups who don’t use a US-based destination for their event?

Then we turn to the Caribbean. The Obama Administration has been opening doors to Cuba. American Airlines have started flying there. Marriott has opened a Havana hotel and announced plans for others. Several cruise lines are negotiating to include it in their itineraries. If President Trump rolls back all of President Obama’s legacy, what does that do to the future of Cuba-US relations? That impacts not just Cuba, but the rest of the Caribbean as individuals and groups have to rethink reservations or future plans.

There’s a lot to consider about the impact of this administration on the travel and meetings sector.