"Embracing Change," the theme of the International Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus' (IACVB) upcoming annual convention scheduled for July 19 to 23, is particularly appropriate, say organizers, as the conference will be the first hospitality industry meeting to be held in Hong Kong following its reunification with the People's Republic of China.

While there is no doubt that the timing is fascinating, IACVB's choice of Hong Kong as a destination has caused controversy because of the expense entailed in attending. IACVB's 1993 convention in Nice, France failed to attract enough members to hold a quorum. The quorum requirement has been eliminated, but the contention continues.

"We went into this knowing not everybody can travel to Hong Kong, for a lot of reasons," acknowledges Michael J. Wilson, IACVB board chair and president of the Greater Cincinnati CVB. "As an international association we have a commitment to take our meeting offshore every four years. Hong Kong will reinforce dramatically the fact we are indeed a global marketplace. People must be thinking and acting globally in order to compete. I would envision in ten years that meetings in Hong Kong and other similar destinations will be quite commonplace."

The convention will also make history because it is IACVB's first formal joint meeting with the Asian Association of CVBs (AACVB). AACVB changed the dates of its meeting to forge the partnership. So far, about 160 bureaus have registered, says Karen Jordan, IACVB president and CEO. "Our goal is to get over 200," she says. "We are doing well." About 25 percent of registrants are non-U.S. members, a much higher percentage than have registered at U.S. meetings, she points out. While she has not yet tracked U.S. registrants by bureau size, she says both smaller and larger CVBs have expressed interest.

Two smaller bureaus that are not attending are Wichita, KS and Oklahoma City. "Anytime a bureau in our budget category leaves the country, it's gotta be for a really great reason," says Don Jaeger, director of marketing with the Oklahoma City CVB. Even some larger bureaus that are attending are sending fewer people. The Greater New Orleans Tourist & Convention Commission usually sends six sales managers in addition to sales execs, but will be sending only three representatives this year. William C. Peeper, CEO and executive vice president, Orlando/Orange County CVB, usually takes one staff person with him; he will attend alone.

Another roadblock to attendance is the conflict with the American Society of Association Executives annual meeting, July 26 to 29 in Chicago. "A couple of our key members are going to be unable to attend both," says Jordan. "I really hate that."

Conference sessions at IACVB will follow the theme of globalization, focusing on international marketing. At the Asia Pacific Destinations Showcase, a tabletop trade show, bureaus will have the opportunity to display light exhibits and meet about 100 prospective buyers from the Pacific Rim.