Corporate Holiday Parties In Houston Make a Comeback

It looks like Houston is, once again, showing that the recession hasn't been as severe here as it has been across the rest of the country. While more companies in other parts of the U.S. continue to scale back, or even cancel, their holiday parties this year — those parties appear to be making a comeback in Houston. David Pitman reports.

Holiday parties across the nation are still on the decline. That's according to a recent survey by business consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Back in 2006, the last year before the recession officially began, 90 percent of companies surveyed had a holiday bash.  This year — with the recession lingering through a 'third' December — that's down to 60 percent.  And of the companies that are holding a holiday party, a third of them say they're spending less.

But if you work in one of Houston's major industries — specifically, energy, law, or medicine — which stood up fairly well during the down economy..  chances are pretty good that your company held a holiday party this year.  And, if your company had a better-than-average year, your gathering was probably at a swank location — like the hotel run by this man..

"Matthew Ness, General Manager, of the beautiful Hotel ZaZa, Houston. "

He says corporate holiday party bookings have started to rebound.

"In '08, it was drastic.  It was almost a 35-40 percent drop in business.  And in '09, we've seen a slight uptick, probably a 10 to 15 percent increase over '08.  But we're definitely not back to pre-'08 conditions."

Ness is expecting the holidays season next year will be even better, given that nearly a third of his customers have already expressed an interest in rebooking, compared to virtually no one last year.

(Music: Lady Gaga's "Poker Face")

Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" helped to set the mood, as preparations ramped up for Linn Energy's casino-themed party at Hotel ZaZa.

"Our employees have had a great year this year.  They've worked very hard.  And Linn has had a great year, and we wanted to celebrate."

That's Linn Energy's Paula Beasley.  She says the company spent about the same this year as it did on last year's holiday party.  But the difference for 2009 is the charity component.

"Through this holiday party, we are collecting clothes for the House of Tiny Treasures.  And we've just had gifts stacked to the ceiling for these children."

Texas Economist Dr. Ray Perryman says that strategy helps companies balance having a holiday party without appearing out of touch.

"And when you do tie in something with a charitable cause, obviously that helps the public image.  And it helps people in need and other causes that may be a bit more important in peoples' minds during economic slowdowns than they are, perhaps, at other times."

Perryman also says local industries may feel more comfortable throwing a holiday party this year, because the worst of the recession appears to be over, adding the spending habits of Houston's largest employers aren't under as much scrutiny as health insurers at the center of a national health care debate.. or financial companies that received a taxpayer bailout.

 

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David Pitman

Local Host, Morning Edition

The one question David hears most often isn't "What is it like to work for an NPR member station?" or "Have you ever met Terry Gross?" (he has)...