Meetings Industry Collaborates in a Highly Competitive Field

Left to right: Roger Dow, Michael Massari and Michael Dominguez at Global Meetings Industry Day at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City, New Jersey

Global Meetings Industry Day unites major players while educating participants

Michael Dominguez and Michael Massari are natural rivals. Dominguez, chief sales officer for MGM Resorts International, competes every day for business with Massari, his counterpart with Caesars Entertainment Corporation.

But they also are brothers in the ongoing effort to boost the hospitality industry, so they are collaborators, as well. A vivid example of this is the way that they are working together to help strengthen Atlantic City as a meetings destination.

MGM purchased partner Boyd Gaming Corporation’s $900 million stake in Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa in Atlantic City last year, demonstrating its faith that the city was about to emerge as a much stronger meetings destination. Since Borgata is an elite property, the move changed the dynamics of the city’s meetings and hospitality industries. Caesars Entertainment—which owns Caesars, Harrah’s and Bally’s hotels in Atlantic City—was most affected.

“Mike Dominguez talked very eloquently about collaboration,” said Massari at Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID) in Atlantic City, where he and Dominguez were panelists last month. “It’s something we both believe in. I told him to kick my ass here for a couple of years, and then we’ll do even better than them. This competition makes us—and the destination—stronger.”

Dominguez has a similar perspective. “As Henry Ford said, ‘Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success,’” Dominguez said. “I’m competitive, but we’re all dependent on each other in this industry.”

This spirit of collaboration was displayed at the grand opening of Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center in Atlantic City in September 2015. It was perhaps the defining moment in the city’s effort to become a stronger meetings destination, so the event attracted not only Caesars executives, but also local business executives, politicians and more.

“We need to keep on building more and more conference facilities in Atlantic City—not just our own company, but our competitors, as well,” said Gary Loveman, chairman of Caesars Entertainment’s board of directors, at the event.

Atlantic City not only is a vivid example of a place where companies are pulling together to create a more attractive meetings destination. It’s also a microcosm that illustrates the general need for collaboration in the industry, particularly in the aftermath of two significant developments within the past decade: the AIG effect, resulting from a major insurance company that had received $85 billion in federal bailout money spending about $400,000 at a luxury retreat; and the SGA scandal, in which a federal agency spent $823,000 on catered parties and other entertainment.

Some critics, generalizing from these and other specific incidents, began characterizing the entire meetings industry as excessive and frivolous. And in many respects, the industry was unable to successfully respond to the criticisms, largely because it lacked effective, widespread advocacy.

This led to Meetings Mean Business, an industry-wide coalition formed in 2009 by the U.S. Travel Association, playing an increased role in showcasing the value of business meetings, trade shows, incentive travel, exhibitions, conferences and conventions. The coalition rallies industry advocates, works with stakeholders and conducts original research. Comprising more than 60 members, the coalition unites the meetings industry.

Roger Dow, president and CEO of U.S. Travel Association, feels that many of the major players in the industry had been inclined to “do their own thing,” but they’ve discovered that they’re much stronger together.

“Several years ago, we were caught totally flatfooted when the meetings industry came under criticism,” he said. “We didn’t have the numbers or the data to show industry’s value. So, we kicked off Meetings Mean Business, which brought together the alphabet soup of organizations to tell the story of why meetings are important.”

Another effort, GMID, was created last year to showcase the impact that business meetings, conferences, conventions, incentive travel, trade shows and exhibitions have on businesses and communities. Each year, more than 100 GMID events are held in more than 30 countries, spanning five continents.

This year, the event was held April 8, and one of the main gatherings took place at Caesars Atlantic City. Some 120 people participated, including Meet AC staff, property partners and planners.

Dow moderated a panel that included Dominguez and Massari, as well as Paul VanDeventer, president and CEO of Meeting Professionals International; Larry Luteran, executive vice president and chief sales officer for Freeman Company; Karrie Hall, vice president and general manager of Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City; and Jim Wood, president and CEO of Meet AC.

Their discussion focused mainly on how each of them first got involved in the hospitality industry, available career opportunities, the need to collaborate in a competitive atmosphere, ways to provide excellent service and how the industry should improve.

The Atlantic City event, like others held throughout the world, played a major role in solidifying the meetings industry and educating people about it.


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