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Salt Lake's reputation may now be an asset

Published: 03/06/2009

Bring your meeting here, we're boring

By Mike Gorrell, Salt Lake Tribune

The Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau has not had any companies or associations cancel meetings out of fear they might look like a junket in difficult economic times.

Still, spokesman Shawn Stinson said the bureau is solidly behind a U.S. Travel Association campaign, launched Wednesday, to "push back against the demonization of business meetings and events."

Salt Lake City's reputation as a rather staid, laid-back metropolis "is playing to our favor now," Stinson said. "Salt Lake trips and meetings are not seen as an extravagance. But I imagine high-end properties in Orange County and Las Vegas are feeling it."

Citing a survey by Meetings and Conventions magazine, the U.S. Travel Association said more than 20 percent of companies that have not received taxpayer assistance have canceled scheduled events because of "media and political attention."

Criticism has focused on once high-flying companies that continued to have corporate meetings at lavish resorts, used private jets to fly to Washington in search of taxpayer bailouts and spent millions on office remodels.

In response to the outcry, bailout recipients AIG, Wells Fargo, Chrysler and General Motors canceled gatherings.

"Make no mistake, companies that have received taxpayer assistance must be held to a different standard," said Travel Association President Roger Dow. "But the pendulum has swung too far. The climate of fear is causing a historical pullback of business meetings and events, with a devastating impact on small businesses, American workers and communities."

He said meetings and events are responsible for nearly 15 percent of all U.S. travel, generate $101 billion in spending, support 1 million jobs and produce $16 billion in tax revenue for federal, state and government levels.

"Our campaign will challenge policymakers to tone down the dangerous rhetoric," Dow said, "and promote travel as an economic solution."

Stinson said bureau President Scott Beck participated in industrywide discussions that led to the campaign.

"We recognize that a rising tide floats all ships," Stinson said. "We're not in favor of anyone canceling conventions and meetings. They're critical to us -- and to the companies.