Let’s make business travel hip again

    Earlier this year, President Barack Obama and other political leaders in Washington, D.C., publicly admonished companies for – in some cases – overly lavish business trips.

    These pronouncements unintentionally demonized legitimate business travel, which has had a devastating impact on tourism economies and the accompanying jobs throughout the country.

    While a city in the nation’s heartland such as Milwaukee has not seen the dramatic crash of familiar resort destinations, 70 percent of our $2.6 billion tourism economy (and 66,000 supporting jobs) comes from visitors on business travel or meetings and conventions and we’re feeling the pain with hotel occupancies down in the low double digits over pre-recession levels.

    Media reports of the president and federal government officials demonizing legitimate business travel earlier this year are still having a significant adverse effect on our economy. The Department of Labor reported that nearly 200,000 travel-related jobs were lost in 2008 and another 247,000 positions are expected to be cut by the end of this year

    A new study by Oxford Economics and funded by the U.S. Travel Association and the Destination & Travel Foundation, makes a compelling bottom line case on the ROI of business and incentive travel.

    Among the key findings:

    • Executives cited customer meetings as having the greatest returns, in the range of $15-$19.99 per dollar invested.
    • Executives identified the average return on conference and trade show participation to be in the range of $4-$5.99 per dollar invested.
    • Companies would need to increase an employee’s total base compensation by 8.5 percent in order to achieve the same affect of incentive travel, according to the executives.

    Business meetings and conventions are important lifelines to learn new information, grow businesses and meet with colleagues face-to-face. It’s important that we work to protect beneficial meetings, conventions and incentive travel because it makes good business sense. We need the president and our elected officials to again use the bully pulpit and take the lead on this.


    Working together, we can stop the hemorrhaging. The message we need our political leaders and all of us working in the hospitality and tourism industry to state is quite simple: start traveling. Please spread the message!

    David Fantle is vice president of public relations at Visit Milwaukee.

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