Leaders from across the meetings industry gathered Monday in New Orleans to launch an advocacy and research initiative to determine the economic impact of the meetings industry. While the Convention Industry Council has done economic impact studies in the past, the last one in 2004, it is believed to be the first time all leaders of the meetings industry have collaborated with the goal to lobby the White House and Congress, and communicate with the public on the size of the meetings industry and its importance to the overall economy.

The meeting took place at the Professional Convention Management Association annual convention and was attended by leaders from nine associations and two industry supplier organizations: PCMA, the Convention Industry Council, Meeting Professionals International, the U.S. Travel Association (formerly Travel Industry Association), the National Business Travel Association, Destination Marketing Association International, the Society of Incentive and Travel Executives, the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, Maritz, and Freeman.

The meeting was sparked by the bad press that the meetings and incentives industry has seen as a result of recent bank bailouts and, specifically, the AIG incentive trips that provoked outrage. The industry was caught flat-footed by the criticism because it didn't have the research and the numbers to combat negative reports, explained Christine Duffy, president, Maritz Travel Co. "We don't want to find ourselves in that position again," she said.

"We all agree that this isn't a turf issue. This is an industry issue," said PCMA President and CEO Deborah Sexton, who announced the research initiative at a press conference at the PCMA convention on Monday, with Duffy; Bruce McMillan, MPI; John Graham, ASAE; Roger Dow, TIA; and Gregg Talley, CIC, among those joining her to make the announcement.

The group has agreed to work together to produce the comprehensive research report and has arranged to meet again in two weeks to begin to hammer out the details. The plan, at this point, is to retain a research firm to complete an economic impact study within a year to 18 months. The group hopes to publish some results as they become available, perhaps releasing selected data every few months over the course of the study.

Through USTA, which is already lobbying Congress about the impact of the travel and hospitality industry, the group will lobby Washington specifically about meetings.

Attendance at the PCMA convention, which is in progress, is about 3,100, although final numbers aren't in yet. The conference kicked off with a Mardi Gras party at Mardi Gras World, an event venue where Mardi Gras parade floats are constructed and displayed.