How the Sports, Recreation and Convention Industries Manage Inflation and Labor Costs

How the Sports, Recreation and Convention Industries Manage Inflation and Labor Costs

woman standing next to a table talking to a man sitting on a chair

Christina Estes/KJZZ

The International Association of Venue Managers held its annual conference in Phoenix in July 2022.

The International Association of Venue Managers recently held its annual conference at the Phoenix Convention Center. Many conversations focused on how the events and meetings industry is dealing with high inflation and low staffing.

The industry as a whole is back to around 70% of pre-COVID attendance levels. But the prices are not. Kate Christensen runs a Chandler-based event planning business. Businesses call him to find a venue and make all the arrangements.

She told conference attendees that the prices made jaws drop: “For example, a resort here in Phoenix is ​​now charging $10.50 a bottle of water, a little 16-ounce plain water, plus, plus.”

Plus, plus refers to taxes and tips.

“And that plus at that particular station is 24%,” Christensen said.

So that $10.50 bottle of water actually costs $13.02. To save money, some events may reduce service during breaks and instead offer drink and snack carts where patrons pay for themselves.

Christensen can consider packed lunches, buffets or speak directly with the chef, “And see how we can plan our meal which may not be much less but a few dollars off a plate of a group of 500 made a difference.”

three people seated at the stand and a man standing leading the discussion

Christina Estes/KJZZ

A panel discussion on food and beverage changes at the International Association of Venue Managers annual conference in Phoenix in July 2022.

“It’s also work engineering, isn’t it. It’s the big economy,” said Greg Fender, executive vice president of Sodexo Live, a company that manages concessions for various venues.

He said the sports and recreation sector carried out around 70% of pre-pandemic activities – not enough to support higher labor costs.

“It’s at all levels. It’s at the parking lot, it’s at the cleaners, it’s on the food side,” he said. “Each of those numbers has gone up, it hasn’t gone down. And it’s not a 10% increase, it’s not a 20% increase, it’s 30 plus.

It’s not just the entry level or temporary staff issue, it’s in mid-level management,” said Michael Hughes, Managing Director of Access Intelligence LLC.

His research found that nearly 80% of convention center leaders say staffing is very or extremely difficult.

“I think part of it has to do with working from home, that you’re competing with groups that allow remote work,” Hughes said. “I think that’s the biggest problem in the industry. I think that’s going to be the long-term challenge.

“I think that’s going to be the long-term challenge.”
—Michael Hughes, Access Intelligence LLC

In the two sessions I attended, there was no mention of the impact of COVID on staffing levels or employee concerns. But it was a concern for the conference organizers. They required attendees to show proof of a negative COVID test. Not everyone could, and panels were quickly reduced or replacements were added.

“The person on our team who was supposed to be here was from Canada, he has COVID, he hasn’t arrived,” Fender said.

Masks were mandatory – or supposed to be. During my visit, the vast majority of speakers, exhibitors and guests were unmasked. In one session, I counted less than ten out of 70 people wearing masks.

Andrea Smalls did. She is the Director of Operations of the Georgia International Convention Center.

“Our job is to bring people together, to help people come together,” she said. “Being able to come back to our venues and have people come back to our venues is amazing.”

woman smiling at the camera

Christina Estes/KJZZ

Andrea Smalls, director of event operations at the Georgia International Convention Center, removed her mask to take this photo in July 2022.

During the conference, Maricopa County saw high levels of transmission, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend people wear masks indoors.

“If that means I have to wear a mask, let me wear a mask, and I want to be a leader in this movement. It is not a political statement. It’s a health statement, it’s a business statement. I want us to stay in business,” Smalls said.

COVID has produced some positive changes, according to Danielle Lazor, Aramark’s West Region Vice President. His company manages catering operations at stadiums, arenas and convention centers across the United States, including Phoenix.

“We’ve really doubled down on technology,” Lazor said.

Depending on location and technology — self-checkout, scan and go, mobile ordering through apps — she said service can be 50% faster.

“But we’re not seeing those labor savings yet, because we just need to have more labor in the back of the house preparing the food to be able to deliver on a point ratio. different sales pitch,” Lazor said.

She and Fender said supply chain disruptions and costs have created opportunities for local businesses.

“The distribution lines are completely broken so we really had to look high, wide and deep for new partnerships and a lot of that comes from the local community,” Lazor said.

“In the past, I think, domestic products or larger scale products, it was cheaper to ship it and because everything else goes up between gas and shipping and labor, those cost benefits are less and you’re pushed even economically into the local market,” Fender said.

display of site seats in the showroom

Christina Estes/KJZZ

Several exhibitors presented seating options at the International Association of Venue Managers conference in Phoenix in July 2022.

While venues and markets differ, Hughes shared a prediction for the entire convention center industry: “I really think the next 12 months are absolutely critical. I mean if there are more waves and so on, or if we can’t get to that 80-90% attendance recovery, then I’d be more worried, but I’m in the positive camp as I see it. said.

Based on his surveys of convention center managers and event producers, most expect a full recovery by the end of 2023 or early 2024… it will be four years since the first case confirmed of COVID-19 in the United States.

More KJZZ Stories

people talk next to display in exhibition hall

Christina Estes/KJZZ

The International Association of Venue Managers held its annual conference in Phoenix in July 2022.

a sign saying masks are required outside a doorway as an unmasked man walks by

Christina Estes/KJZZ

Entrance to the exhibit hall during the International Association of Venue Managers conference in Phoenix in July 2022.

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