Thursday, April 19, 2012

Calling The Wrong People To Testify

Savvy meeting planners know that the wrong individuals are being pilloried in recent hearings and news coverage about the excesses of some Government Services Administration (GSA) training events.

Anyone with a background in tourism knows that, as the proportion of that sector related to meetings and conventions continues to shrink well below 10%, overly reliant facilities, many subsidized by communities yet to diversify to more lucrative segments, continue to spawn.

So the potential for scandals like this is more likely to be fueled by the desperation of too many facilities and communities chasing too few events than it is by co-dependent meeting planner misconduct.

Maybe it is tourism facilities and experts who should be called to testify and then, instead of whining that the fall-out is unfair, sector-leaders might be more motivated to take responsibility for their part and look internally to create more transparency and to self-regulate far better free market solutions.

Pressure to meet facility revenue targets by juggling guest room rates, food and beverage expenditures, incidentals, programming, meeting room rental, not to mention per diems, is enough to conspire poor decisions.

But then add in pressure to inspire and inform and juice up productivity so that attendees can do more and more with fewer and fewer resources, including those who plan the events themselves, and it is no wonder poor decisions result.

I am not privy to the details of the GSA fiasco, but based on a now-concluded forty-year career on the economic development side of tourism my bet is that some private sector facilities and service providers and possibly some incentivized but unwitting individuals may have been just as complicit, if not more so, than government employees or contractors.

As with any problem, it won’t be rectified by destroying however many to clear away careers and lives or by sating the lust for sensational headlines among far too many news outlets chasing far too few stories or by election-year political jockeying or grandstanding.  Nor can it be rectified by piously fingering a handful of bad-actor businesses.

The problem is truly systemic and it will require less whining and more introspection and self-regulation by all of the various industries and organizations involved in tourism including feasibility study enablers and those that represent facilities and communities .

Face-to-face meetings and events play an important role but, due to a variety of factors, they are and have been in inevitable decline for decades.  It is time for less denial and more attention to where this small but important segment of tourism will find equilibrium.

Most crucial is that community subsidies including the holding hostage of community-destination marketing along with booster-driven overbuilding need to be cleared away so that full transparency and free market forces are able to salvage what remains of the conventions and meetings segment of tourism.

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