YOUR VIEWS | Meetings Mean Business in Alexandria

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To the editor,

The public outcry over an incentive trip by American International Group (AIG) is understandable, especially because it came just one week after the company received $85 billion in federal bailout funds. But the uproar caused many to ignore the value of work-related trips and meetings for companies and employees and the importance of such activities for communities that depend on the hospitality industry, like Alexandria.

In recent years, Alexandria has averaged 3.3 million visitors per year, 27 percent of them business travelers. Of those travelers, 53 percent conduct general business and 36 percent attend a convention, conference or seminar, spending about $1,000 per event.

The business traveler is a huge part of Alexandrias economy, helping to support 5,600 hospitality jobs and a payroll of over $100 million. Overall, tourism generates nearly $20 million for Alexandrias coffers. Another $388 million has been spent on the construction of hotels and renovation of existing ones in Alexandria over the last couple of years, which created jobs and contributed tax revenue.

Theres no doubt that the recession is making it harder for companies to pay for business travel, and the AIG Effect is prompting some companies to abandon travel incentives and cancel business meetings at resorts, fearful theyll be judged guilty by association.

The notion that all such activity is wrong in this tough business climate is unfair to the companies that still need to reach out to current and potential customers and motivate high-performing employees. One study of Fortune 1000 chief marketing officers found that meetings and events produce the highest returns on investment of any marketing initiative.

Strategic, face-to-face meetings at off-site locations may mean the difference between surviving and failing. The same holds true for the hospitality industry in Alexandria and other communities that host these meetings, affecting hotel staff, restaurant chefs and wait staff that contribute to productive and rewarding gatherings.

Crushing the life out of business meetings may produce short-term gain, but it spells doom for Alexandria, the hospitality industry and the economylocally and nationally.

Denise F. BenoitAlexandria, VA

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