The new chairman of the U.S. Travel Association’s board of directors, Rossi Ralenkotter, began his term with a call for a new national agenda to strengthen the meetings industry. Ralenkotter, president and chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, released a white paper identifying three major ideas to secure the future of the meetings industry.

"We need to support and strengthen this industry by establishing a new agenda for change that promotes the value of business travel to the economy and to corporate bottom lines," said Ralenkotter. The white paper, available through U.S. Travel, said meetings—which contribute $458 billion to the U.S GDP, generate $64 billion in tax revenue, and employ 1.7 million Americans—are more than just a key driver of our nation’s economy. “Meetings are core to our national fabric as a means to educate, collaborate, and innovate.”

However, despite the benefits, there is a “perfect storm” of emerging trends that could disrupt the meetings industry, according to the paper. One is that many businesses and government entities are discouraging meetings travel for budgetary or public relations reasons. The hassles of long-haul travel are another factor, as outdated transportation infrastructure and struggling airlines discourage many from traveling. Third, high-tech (and low-cost) alternatives to face-to-face meetings are becoming good options for some people.

To meet these challenges, Ralenkotter suggests a new national agenda for meetings that includes three major points:

1. Make meetings more relevant. The industry must promote the “value of meetings” to policymakers, business leaders, and individual consumers. “Uniting the entire travel industry behind strong messaging, new research, and real data is the foundation for our future success.”

2. Make meetings more accessible. “Safe, efficient, and cost-effective travel requires a bold new approach to our national infrastructure.” The travel industry must help drive a multimodal transportation strategy for air, rail, and surface transportation. This includes developing a new travel infrastructure master plan and modernizing airports.

3. Make meetings more competitive. The final challenge is for the meetings industry to evolve and meet the needs of tomorrow’s consumer. “The entire travel industry must engage in new dialogue on how we can provide even better experiences for our customers.” This includes harnessing the power of new technology to strengthen the value of face-to-face meetings.

“This is our industry’s golden opportunity to regain traction and avert the threat of a perfect storm facing the travel industry in the United States,” concluded Ralenkotter.