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by Lisa A. Grimaldi | July 01, 2012

The road has been rocky for financial and insurance events in recent years, with meetings and incentives canceled or scaled back, and luxury properties and long-haul destinations avoided. But by 2011, when M&C last profiled this sector, the industry was on the brink of recovery, and today, with no new major economic or public fallouts, it continues to stabilize and even prosper. Some changes, such as booking top-tier properties, reflect a return to tradition. Others, like concerns over negative publicity and more scrutiny of spending, have become the new norm.

For a real-time check on the trends shaping financial and insurance meetings, M&C sought insights from top industry pros and secured preliminary research from the Chicago-based FinanĀ­cial & Insurance Conference Planners' Economic Impact Survey, the first comprehensive study of the industry to be conducted since 2006, due to be released later this summer.

Luxury is back Today's financial and insurance event landscape is a far cry from the no-frills, strictly business environment that prevailed in the aftermath of the federal government's Troubled Asset Relief Program and the recession, causing groups to shy away from luxury chains and resorts. "There were policies put in place and certain brands were called out; that has softened," says Tom Wilson, division vice president, sales, at Fenton, Mo.-based Maritz Travel.

Dave Akin, director of marketing at the 210-room Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale (Ariz.) at Troon North, sees the sea change reflected in his property's business. "Definitely, more insurance and financial firms can meet at luxury properties now. Some clients had put out mandates and moratoriums against using us; those have mainly been lifted," he says.

Among other luxury chains, Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. and Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group report a strong resurgence in 2012 and beyond in group business from this sector.

Mary Bussone ITA GroupAnother reason luxury is back on the map: FinanĀ­cial and insurance companies want to retain their top performers and provide them with rewards commensurate with their efforts and expectations. "They are not short-sighted; they want quality associated with their brands and want to give their best performers a top experience," says Steve O'Malley, senior vice president at St. Louis-based Maxvantage/Maritz.

Mary Bussone, senior vice president of the ITA Group in West Des Moines, Iowa, agrees. "These companies are requiring greater effort [of their employees and channel partners] today to achieve their goals, whether it's in sales or service. The higher goals require a higher-perceived reward experience, typically at a luxury hotel."