Politics, economic setbacks and disasters of all kinds pose constant threats to the meetings industry. But increasingly, MPI, its members and others associated with meeting planning, are taking steps to be advocates for their industry before problems arise. Christine Duffy, president and CEO of Maritz Travel Company in St. Louis, wants her peers to “pay attention to what’s happening politically in Washington, as well as the effects of current events.”
Disasters such as an erupting volcano in Iceland or the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico affect travel and have a trickle-down effect on every area of the industry.
“Now more than ever, there is a heightened sense of awareness of how connected we are in the world,” Duffy says.
An example of that are the boycotts against Arizona resulting from the state’s tough new immigration law, SB 1070.
Roger Rickard has been an MPI member for almost 20 years and is a partner in the California-based consulting firm REvent. He has dedicated his career to advocacy since Arizona’s Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday controversy in the early 1990s led to boycotts similar to today’s SB 1070 backlash.
While Rickard is clear that he does not represent MPI, he does believe that “we need to do more as an industry … if we don’t, we’ll become extinct.”
To that end, he has created Voices in Advocacy, which defines a strategy of how meeting and travel planners can advocate for themselves, including promoting and raising awareness for the industry using various tactics. In particular, the strategy details the significance of educating elected officials on the importance of the tourism industry, as well as the value of meetings.
“I aim to bring together members of all segments of this industry and help them set up meetings with officials to educate them,” Rickard says. “We want them to understand who we are and our value, and answer any questions they may have about what we do.”
Duffy adds that after 2008’s corporate meetings backlash, the US Travel Association became instrumental in advocating for the industry. The group released an ad pointing out the number of jobs lost in the industry (an estimated 1 million) due to the backlash. The association now serves as a powerful lobbyist on Capitol Hill.
Rickard notes that it’s important to get out the hard facts about the positive benefits of the meetings industry. He points to an Oxford Economics study that found that for every dollar spent on business travel, the return to a company’s bottom line is $12.50.
Theresa Davis, director of strategic communications with MPI national, adds that the organization’s research-based initiative, Meetings Deliver, “provides a comprehensive analysis of independent research conducted during the past two years on the value of meetings.”
She says it is critical for MPI members to “commit to speaking the ‘language of business’ by providing solid business arguments that speak to strategic meetings management from procurement and programming to measuring ROI, and being compliant with corporate CSR policies.”
Debbie Johnson, CEO of the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association, says many controversies surrounding the meetings industry have been blown out of proportion. It’s her challenge, she says, to “change people’s minds by providing facts and getting correct information out there.”
Johnson notes that additional marketing, public relations and direct communication efforts can provide event and meeting planners with talking points they can use to inform their clients about everything Arizona has to offer.
“We need to remind people about the benefits of the state and the reasons to visit,” she adds.
Thanks to MPI, Arizona’s meeting planners don’t have to fight this fight alone.
“When you bring the collective know-how and buying power of 23,000 members from more than 80 countries around the world, affiliation with a leading organization of MPI’s breadth and depth often helps drive our collective point home,” Davis says.