Larry Luteran is the senior VP of group sales/industry relations at Hilton Worldwide and the co-chair of the newly relaunched Meetings Mean Business Coalition (MMBC). I spoke with Mr. Luteran about the revamped coalition made up of an unprecedented number of industry power players gathered to promote the value of face-to-face meetings.
For an overview of MMBC, check out our story with Nan Marchand Beauvois, senior director, national council relations, for the U.S. Travel Association, and liaison for MMBC.
Luteran was chairman of the Board of Directors for MPI in 2008, and he took over as chair of MMBC when the economy started to go south, AIG happened, and everyone could see the writing on the wall.
“We fell off the cliff, and by the fall of 2008 we knew we were in trouble,” says Luteran. “It was really a challenging time. Our business in particular, meetings and events, was under a spirited attack from various angles, and we needed to organize in a way we hadn’t before to fight back and organize a rally cry on behalf of the industry.”
Meetings Mean Business gathered steam in January 2009 at MPI when Christine Duffy, then with Maritz, and Roger Dow at the U.S Travel Association came out with vetted research proving how the value of face-to-face could be empirically measured.
Since then, the industry is much more aware that we need to be proactive in terms of getting the message out about the value of meetings to politicians, policy makers, business people and community leaders.
“Meetings and event really drive the economic vibrancy of communities and businesses,” says Luteran. “We know for a fact that anything material that needs to be done for an organization whether its introducing a strategic plan or generating revenue, it almost always starts with a face-to-face meeting. And we need to make sure people understand that.”
Luteran adds that meetings and events have so many tentacles in our business reaching people who are paying taxes and have thriving families. And because of that, people need to connect the dots back to our industry so they realize why we need to have a strong meetings industry.
He also says the job of planning meetings has evolved, and planners can take a stronger role in the direction of thier industry and their careers.
“They’ve gone from a very logistical-oriented profession to one that in many cases has an executive seat at the table,” he explains. “And so the role of the meeting professional is no longer about pipe and drape and lighting and audio/visual, as much as it is about the effectiveness of meetings and what do we need to get the return on investment we want. I think it’s pushed the whole profession upward.”
We asked Luteran how he sees the industry overall evolving moving forward.
“We’re on an upswing and I think people are really understanding that in order to generate business you’ve got to get out there,” he says. “And I think we’ve been through a business cycle now where whether you’re talking about association or corporate meetings, that people have really looked at their businesses and scrubbed their expenses and have done a really good job of streamlining businesses. I think the general mindset among meeting organizers and companies is that it’s time to generate revenue and it’s time to grow. The first step in doing that is a face-to-face meeting.”