Federal Conference Spending is Leaving Las Vegas (and Orlando, Honolulu…)

Posted by Kevin Iwamoto on 01/09/2014

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Over the holiday break, USA Today ran an interesting article about federal conferences and large scale meetings avoiding Las Vegas, Orlando, Anaheim, Honolulu and other “resort-imaged” destinations.  Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  Talk about not being able to justify ROI and cost containment.  Talk about insanity!

In 2009, a Justice Department memo instructed that meetings “are not to be held in cities that are vacation destinations/spa/resort/gambling.” The Department of Agriculture also urged planners to select “a non-resort location,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

As my good friend Deborah Sexton, president of the Chicago-based PCMA accurately states: “That’s a perception issue, and so if your budget has been cut, you may rethink the destinations you’re talking to and make sure they have the right business tone.  It’s an unfair perception. Assuming that the meeting has proper objectives, it doesn’t matter where it is. And some environments drive more people to attend, and if that’s part of the objective — to get the maximum amount of people there — some destinations are more popular than others.”

Even House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who led the congressional investigations into travel expenses, said it’s the wasteful spending — not the destination — that he’s most concerned about.

“I have no problem with a conference in Orlando,” he said at a hearing in October. “No problem with the conference in Las Vegas where GSA got in trouble. It’s the spending and the amount of spending that goes on.”

Instead of demonizing and categorizing destinations, how about focusing on the core issues:
1)  Do you have the appropriate sourcing and documentation processes in place?
2)  Do you have appropriate contracting and signature authorization processes in place?
3)  Do you have the appropriate spend management technology and processes in place?

Heck let’s just cut to the chase – if you had a Strategic Meetings Management program (SMMP) in place you would be able to justify not only your destination choice but the ROI on even having the conference/meeting.  Banning cities based on “vacation destinations/spa/resort/gambling” criteria could easily ADD costs to your conference.

How do you feel about this issue? What’s more effective — holistically managing spending associated with an event–regardless of its location–or banning certain destinations that are perceived to not fit a corporate image?


– An ACTIVE Network whitepaper on SMART event planning trendsEvent Trends Report: 2008-2012

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