Though the political and media elite have made business meetings, events and incentive travel symbols of corporate misspending, few Americans agree with them. According to early survey results from the American Gaming Association’s (AGA) annual resource, State of the States: The AGA Survey of Casino Entertainment, the vast majority – 87 percent – of business travelers think meetings and events are crucial to the success of their employers. In addition, two-thirds of Americans say gaming facilities – many of which include state-of-the-art convention centers – are a vital part of the business travel market.
And yet, the campaign against corporate travel for meetings and events continues to gather steam. Since I last wrote about this issue, policy makers eager to score political points and media representatives in search of enticing headlines have vilified companies planning business trips at popular tourist destinations. They have branded corporate events in gaming cities – particularly events in Las Vegas – as frivolous and wasteful.
In response to the intense public scrutiny, companies receiving taxpayer assistance and others concerned about becoming the next “easy target” are rolling back business travel plans in 2009. Already, Las Vegas alone has lost an estimated $20 million in cancelled trips and meetings from Fortune 500 companies. Each day, that number grows at an alarming pace.
Other markets are being hit as well, from Atlantic City to Biloxi to St. Louis. This toxic environment poses a serious threat to the gaming industry and to the broader economy. It also puts at risk the livelihoods of millions of working families.
An assault on business meetings and events is, ultimately, an assault on jobs. Corporate gatherings create at least one million jobs throughout the United States, including thousands of jobs in the gaming industry. When revenue from business meetings and events deteriorates, bellmen, custodians, casino employees and other hourly wage employees often are the first to lose their jobs. Hard-working Americans suffer.
Predictably, as those employees are laid off – and as restaurants, florists, gift shops and other companies that rely on corporate gatherings have to shut their doors – the economy sinks further into decline. At a time when America is starving for economic revival, demonizing legitimate business meetings and events does not make good sense.
The American Gaming Association (AGA) is proactively addressing the sustained, unfair attacks on meetings and events at gaming destinations. We have joined forces with the U.S. Travel Association to play an active role in its major, multi-faceted campaign to restore common sense to the public discourse on this issue.
One key component of the campaign is a nationwide grassroots effort to demonstrate to policy makers and other opinion leaders that business events and meetings are crucial to the economic health of communities across the country, including many gaming cities. To that end, the AGA recently developed a tool kit to help gaming industry representatives respond to opponents and repair the negative perception of meetings and events at gaming destinations. The tool kit includes talking points, sample letters to the editor and a sample letter to Members of Congress. It also links to a similar tool kit developed by the U.S. Travel Association that includes a wealth of information about the value of meetings and events for businesses and communities. (The complete tool kit is available at www.americangaming.org/industry/getinvolved.cfm.)
Last month, the AGA also widely released early data from State of the States, which closely examines public perceptions of travel to gaming destinations. Along with the findings I previously mentioned, the data also indicate that more than eight in 10 Americans think domestic tourism can boost the national economy. A majority (56 percent) considers casinos valuable community assets in recessionary times, and 65 percent agree that casinos are crucial to the travel industry. (Additional details on the early results from State of the States can be found at www.americangaming.org.)
These are just two of the steps the AGA has taken to minimize the damage created by the campaign against business events at gaming destinations. However, all of our efforts will only be successful if others in gaming industry speak out on this issue as well.
Already, several industry executives have publicly appealed to policy makers to cease overheated rhetoric about corporate gatherings at gaming destinations and to avoid rash policy decisions that jeopardize jobs and burden local economies. In addition, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) has actively engaged the media on this issue, providing useful statistics about how meetings and events impact the Las Vegas economy and the city’s many residents. In fact, the LVCVA, in partnership with Meeting Professionals International, recently released research that found that the meeting and convention industry injects an estimated $200 billion into the national economy annually.
These outreach activities have had a tremendously positive impact on public perceptions of meetings and events at gaming destinations. But there is still more work to be done.
Lawmakers, opinion leaders and media representatives need to hear from the entire gaming industry – from industry representatives in every corner of the United States. The industry’s collective voice is powerful and compelling. Together, we can ensure that our employees and the communities in which we operate are protected.
Armed with the tools the AGA has developed, industry representatives can call or write to their local elected officials to inform them of the value of business meetings and events, as well as the negative consequences of discouraging business travel to gaming destinations. They can urge lawmakers to embrace the standards for responsible meetings developed by the U.S. Travel Association (visit www.ustravel.org for more information), and to endorse business travel to their communities.
Industry representatives also can make their voices heard by submitting op-eds or letters to their local newspapers. Additionally, they can broaden the reach of their efforts by discussing this issue with coworkers, casino patrons and business partners and asking them to get involved.
The demonization of business travel to gaming destinations for meetings and events is one of the most pressing challenges we face right now. Immediate, decisive action is crucial to the health and future prosperity of the gaming industry. If we don’t act now, everyone stands to lose.