With smaller budgets and fewer meeting attendees likely, associations that serve government employees—especially groups affiliated with the military—are trying to find ways to do more with less. And potential host cities are feeling the impact, too.
Meeting planners everywhere knew that when the government’s automatic spending cuts—better known as sequestration—went into effect, they could face some serious implications. A month later, the impact on government-related trade groups is spreading.
Add to the list of affected groups the Association of the United States Army, which represents all components of the Army and related constituencies. While trying to find a less costly location for its Winter Symposium, previously held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, AUSA came close to securing an agreement with the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau (GRCVB)—but that was before the sequester.
“Raleigh initially offered an excellent location to fit our changing needs,” Retired U.S. General Gordon R. Sullivan, president and CEO of AUSA, wrote in a letter, obtained by Associations Now, to North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory. But “with such strict restrictions on Army travelers, proximity to targeted Army attendees has become paramount. … [We] are unable to consider [Raleigh] while the sequestration and other extreme financial pressures on the Army are ongoing.”
The group is trying to find a venue that is closer to where its members and potential speakers are located.
“We’ve been looking to see how we can be adaptive given this downturn in finances in the Army,” said Retired U.S. Lieutenant General Roger G. Thompson, vice president of membership and meetings for AUSA. “While the Army is going through these tough financial times, AUSA has got to be adaptive, flexible, and dynamic. We have to tailor our events to meet the realities of what’s going on out there, and come up with the best possible solution.”
But for Greater Raleigh, being flexible is more difficult.
“A lot of bureaus, including ourselves, are a little hesitant to look at securing long-term contracts with government groups right now,” said Dennis Edwards, president and CEO of GRCVB. “We certainly want the business, but right now with them not really knowing what their attendance or the meeting itself will look like, it makes it very difficult for the planner as well as the destination to know exactly what needs to be held.”
In some cases, it’s hard to know if the event is even going to occur, Edwards said. And while government groups are trying to bring their meetings closer to home, most CVBs need out-of-towners visiting in order to meet their revenue goals.
“Most CVBs are funded through lodging tax,” Edwards said. “If we’re spending a lot of our time looking for local meetings and local attendees, we’re kind of defeating our purpose.”
AUSA hopes that by bringing its meetings closer to attendees, it will be able to continue to serve as a “quality platform” for the industry.
“These times present challenges for a lot of associations, not only government ones,” Thompson said. “It’s important for associations to show the value that their meetings provide to their constituents. These are great opportunities to get messages out to industry-based companies, to our members, and to members of Congress.”