Hotels worried that business travel now seen as wasteful perk

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Hoteliers are tired of being beaten up because of the foibles of Wall Street.

Every week or so, there seems to be another revelation about a bank that received billions in government aid doing something stupid like sponsoring a celebrity-laden golf tournament (Northern Trust Corp. (NTRS)), almost buying a new corporate jet (Citigroup Inc (C)), and hosting getaways at swanky resorts (American International Group Inc. (AIG)).

All of these scandals are hurting the hotel business. Executives say that companies are "concerned that legitimate meetings, business events, and recognition travel are now being portrayed as perks and symbols of excess." The fear is understandable.

Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC) recently decided to move a health-care conference from Las Vegas to New York, citing the "current business environment," according to Bloomberg News. I am sure that many businesses are now holding their annual conferences at VFW halls to avoid attracting undue attention to themselves.

That may sound sarcastic but the travel industry is worried. Travel and tourism is the largest services export industry in the United States and has lost more than 200,000 jobs last year, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

"In addition, the Treasury Department's efforts to restrict corporations that receive emergency government money from using it for their meetings and incentive travel programs ... are beyond belief," the association said on its website. "Our objective was to change the perception that companies should not travel or meet for legitimate business purposes, reminding everyone that the hotels and resorts providing these venues employ thousands of Americans."

The industry can't be blamed for protecting its own interests.

People are too broke to travel for pleasure. Businesses are encouraging people to cut back on travel through video conferencing and other types of technology. Profits are being squeezed so badly that hotel chains are reducing the variety of fruits available in their breakfast buffets.

How ironic that many of the people involved in such a fun industry have not had much fun lately.

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