A small group of politicians and event industry leaders gathered for a breakfast meeting on the final day of NEMICE, the annual meeting of the New England Chapter of Meeting Professionals International, to discuss how meetings and events can be part of the economic solution and get the message out to corporations that it is safe to invest in events.

David Rich, senior vice president of program strategy/worldwide for George P. Johnson, North Easton, Mass., led the briefing, held at the Boston World Trade Center. Rich recapped the challenges facing the meetings industry, including the media’s negative portrayal of corporate events (particularly those held by companies receiving federal bailout funds), and presented data from GPJ’s “EventView 2009: North America” study detailing the business benefits of meetings.

Rich commended the U.S. Travel Association’s ongoing efforts to curb the rhetoric against meetings and events but stressed that there is still more work to be done. “U.S. Travel has done a great job of showing the economic impact of meetings and events,” he said. “Now we need to focus on the business reasons for holding events and their ability to help companies grow sales.” Rich then opened up the discussion to the group and asked for feedback on how to spread the message to legislators, media, and the public.

“While presenting data on the economic impact of events is a good start, what we are seeing from national politicians is really a revulsion against excess,” which is to be expected in such trying economic times, said Betsy Wall, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism (representing Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick). “It’s useless to throw your arms up and complain about the media,” she continued. “Instead, focus on the fact that these meetings are not excessive.” In order for this message to resonate with politicians, you will need to “sell them on the merits of meetings and events,” she said.

State Rep. Tom Sannicandro, D-Mass., also spoke up, urging those in attendance to include state legislators in any efforts to move the industry forward. “We are people who can shape policies and public discourse, so include us in your conversations and in your processes as you try to move ahead in this regard,” he said.

Before leaving, the group signed a wall set up in the exhibit hall intended to show President Obama and national lawmakers that “meetings mean business.” The wall, which was created by Krisam Group and Global Event Partners, will be set up next at MPI’s World Education Congress in Salt Lake City, July 11–14, to collect additional signatures before it is delivered to the White House.

Participants in the meeting were

  • Jason Palitsch, representing state Sen. Michael Moore, D-Mass.;
  • Michael Carson, president, MPI New England;
  • Vicki Cimino, spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism Development;
  • Betsy Wall, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism;
  • Bruce MacMillan, president, Meeting Professionals International;