As concerns (and headlines) heated up last month over incentive programs and meetings sponsored by firms getting federal bailouts, two different entities -- the U.S. Department of the Treasury and a coalition of meetings and incentive industry groups -- issued guidelines for future events.
The USDT's guidelines, part of its Troubled Assets Relief Program, state: "The boards of directors of companies receiving exceptional assistance from the government must adopt a companywide policy on any expenditures related to aviation services, office and facility renovations, entertainment and holiday parties, and conferences and events. This policy is not intended to cover reasonable expenditures for sales conferences, staff development, reasonable performance incentives and other measures tied to a company's normal business operations.
"These new rules go beyond current guidelines," the USDT adds, "and would require certification by chief executive officers for expenditures that could be viewed as excessive or luxury items."
At the same time, leaders from organizations representing the meetings, events and incentive travel industries issued guidelines on acceptable business travel practices to companies that have received emergency government lending. Highlights include the following.
• Conferences or events with a cost exceeding $75,000 must be supported by a written business case identifying a specific business purpose and positive return on objective and investment metrics.
• At least 90 percent of incentive program attendees shall be other than senior executives (as defined by USDT guidelines) from the host organization.
• Total annual expenses for meetings, events and incentive/recognition travel shall not exceed 15 percent of the company's total sales and marketing spend.
The full set of guidelines is posted at ustravel.org. Sponsoring associations include the American Hotel and Lodging Association, Destination Marketing Association International, the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, Meeting Professionals International, the National Business Travel Association, Professional Convention Management Association, SITE (formerly the Society of Incentive Travel Executives) and the U.S. Travel Association.
Brenda Anderson, CEO of SITE, said, "Our belief is that by being proactive and creating guidelines, we have a stronger influence in any future regulation or law, which ultimately has an effect on SITE's entire global community. We have created what we believe to be sensible guidelines and best practices that could be adopted by any company -- not just those receiving emergency federal lending."
Among the firms that drew Congress' ire prior to the guidelines were Wells Fargo & Co., which pulled the plug on a February recognition event in Las Vegas, and Morgan Stanley, which canceled spring events in Monte Carlo and the Bahamas for its top-producing brokers.