Local Delivery

You’ve been looking forward to your annual sales meeting in Hawaii for months now. Then – Wham! – the budget axe drops and the boss says the meeting instead will be held at a local conference center. If you think you’re alone in your disappointment, think again. That scenario has been playing out again and again across the U.S., and meeting facility reps say they consequently are booking a greater percentage of their business from local companies than they have in the past, which in turn has led to shorter-term bookings.

Del Lago Resort (www.dellago.com), located near Houston in Montgomery, TX, has seen the trend first-hand. “We’re finding as we make sales calls in the Houston area that customers are mentioning their meeting would have been booked out of state, but for budget and travel [safety] reasons, they are now going to keep the meeting in state,” says Diane Bell, Del Lago’s national sales manager. Take petroleum giant BP as an example. The company’s meeting planner called Bell in January regarding a March meeting. “She told me that for the past three years the meeting had been held in Las Vegas, but this year the corporate office told her to cancel Vegas and find a site in Houston,” says Bell. Their reasons: budget and air travel safety concerns. Or consider the case of a Texas association that told Del Lago sales reps they weren’t interested in the property because they planned to book their meeting outside the country. That was in August. In late September they were back, overseas travel plans canceled.

In response to this trend, the Del Lago sales team has changed its selling approach. Regional sales reps who typically travel to their territories in the U.S. four to six times a year will make just two trips this year, while reps who would go to major Texas cities once a quarter now are making monthly calls in those cities. “In December I had three sales call trips scheduled to the Midwest and Northeast,” says Bell. “I canceled them to focus on regional businesses out of Dallas and Austin.”

Normally, 70% of Del Lago’s business comes from Texas companies. Today, says Bell, the resort is getting about 90% of its business locally. But that’s not necessarily good news. While local business generates roughly the same amount of revenue as a meeting from an out-of-state corporation, the local companies tend to book within a 30- to 60-day window while national business typically books six months out. “It’s very hard to forecast, it’s harder on the staff and it does make us nervous because we don’t have the backlog we normally have,” Bell admits.

Bell says other conference centers are seeing the same thing, and she predicts they’re in for at least eight more months of the same. “The information we have indicates this trend will continue through the end of 2002,” she says.