On July 29, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.. introduced a bill into Congress, The Protecting Resort Cities from Discrimination Act of 2009 (S. 1530), which will, if passed, “prohibit an agency or department of the United States from establishing or implementing an internal policy that discourages or prohibits the selection of a resort or vacation destination as the location for a conference or event.”
That bill, which has been referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, was co-sponsored by the two Florida senators. Both Las Vegas and Orlando were reported to be on a blacklist of resort destinations where certain government agencies were discouraged from holding meetings, as reported by MeetingsNet last week. Official government spokespeople have denied any such list.
Reid also wrote a letter to the White House chastising the prohibition of government meetings at resort destinations, which spurred a response from Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s chief of staff, who said federal policy should not dictate where government events are held, according to Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.
In a wide-ranging conversation with MeetingsNet during DestinationAssociation International's annual meeting in Atlanta last week, Dow said the choice of a meeting site “should be about value. Las Vegas is probably the biggest bargain in America right now.”
The rapid response from the Obama administration and legislators to the vilification of meetings by the media and the public is no coincidence. Since AIG was exposed in the media for holding a high-end incentive program last fall at the St. Regis Monarch Beach after accepting government bail-out funds, the consumer press has been on a ratings and Internet traffic-driving hunt for other meetings held in resort areas by organizations funded by the taxpayer’s dollar. But the travel and meeting industry has launched a full-court press on the White House and Congress, which culminated in a face-to-face meeting with President Obama and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett in March, according Dow.
What the meetings industry needs, says Dow, are more CEOs to speak out on the importance of meetings, people like Texas Roadhouse's G.J. Hart, who publicly extolled the virtues of his $2.5 million incentive trip for his restaurant owners last spring.
Look for more on our conversation with Dow in next week’s MeetingsNet Extra.