The travel industry is working to redefine itself as a key player in the American economy: a means by which companies can improve profits, a source of tax revenue and a provider of jobs.
Geoff Freeman, U.S. Travel Association senior vice president, said factors that include the recession, a spurt of public anger over extravagant business travel and politicians who lashed out at the travel industry resulted in $2 billion worth of events and meetings being canceled when the rancor was at its peak early this year.
If over the years the industry had done a better job of articulating why it is a vital economic force, the damage likely would not have been so great, Freeman said Wednesday at a national marketing forum organized by the association.
"We had left ourselves exposed, terribly exposed. We were the folks that were an easy target," Freeman said.
Steve Moore, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau, said hospitality groups focus too much on hotel and meal taxes, when they should tout their economic impact, including sales taxes and property taxes they bring communities.
The convention business can do more to paint a picture of the people who work in the industry and note that travelers don't drain city services, Moore said.
Citing research by Oxford Economics, a consulting firm that collaborates with Oxford University's business college, Freeman said that for every dollar companies spend on business travel, they get an average of $12.50 in revenue and $3.80 in profit.
Christine Duffy, president and CEO of Maritz Travel Co., a corporate meeting organizer, said meetings are a tool for keeping "employees engaged and motivated."
"Sales and marketing executives know they have to get back in front of their people," she said.
Bentonville-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, didn't hold back this year for its annual meeting, which is webcast and shown on TVs in its thousands of stores. Managers from Walmart properties around the world gather in June for a week of training, culminating with nearly 20,000 people packing a basketball arena for a celebrity-filled cheering session and business meeting.
But Moore said even groups like teachers unions whose bylaws require annual gatherings are finding turnout as much as 30 percent below normal.