They call it the "AIG effect": Ever since American International Group shelled out $440,000 for executives to party down at the St. Regis Resort in Monarch Beach, Calif.--the same week the insurance giant got $85 billion in federal bailout money--corporate meetings and incentive trips have been a squirmy subject. Businesses are scaling back, canceling trips altogether and even hiding their identity when they do go (Jones Group? Your conference room is ready.) Earlier this year, meetingsnet. com, a web site for meeting planners, proclaimed that "fun" is "the new F-word."
And yet, despite all of that--not to mention sagging profits and teleconferencing technology--there are good reasons to meet face to face, including a recent Oxford Economics USA study that found every dollar spent on business travel results in $3.80 in profits. Just be sure the reason you're meeting is absolutely clear--and that you're sensitive to the perceptions you'll be creating:
Rigorously define the purpose of the meeting up front and have a way to measure its success.
Be more transparent, internally and externally. "If there are 50 people in your company and only 10 attend, let peers know that the officers are going to learn how to grow the company," says Roger Dow of the U.S. Travel Association.
Don't dismiss Las Vegas or other notoriously excessive destinations: They've seen some of the biggest drops and are offering steep discounts. "If you put your meeting in a good location, you stand a much higher chance of greater attendance," Dow says.
At conferences, have executives pay for their golf or spa outings, says Christine Duffy, president and CEO of Maritz Travel Co. in St. Louis. But include golf or similar activities for incentive trips: "You don't want to lose sight of the reward, recognition and motivation that those programs are all about."
Allow employees to help a charity. "It's a way to give back that also helps with perception issues," says Betsy Bair of www.meetingsnet.com.