According to the U.S. Census, the percentage of white Americans grew only 5.9 percent between 1990 and 2000, compared to 15.6 percent for Blacks, 48.3 percent for Asians, and 57.9 percent for Hispanics and Latinos. The face of the United States is changing, and associations—and their meetings--need to change along with it.

Not surprisingly, one association in the vanguard is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Last year, it joined in a legal battle with Adam’s Mark Hotels for alleged discrimination against a Black group that held a meeting at one of its properties. This year, the NAACP is taking a proactive approach to boost minority business through its convention in Dallas this week. While it is required to use the main city-contracted companies for much of its convention at the George R. Brown convention center—Aramark for food services, AVW for audiovisuals, for example—seven of the eight contracts it controls went to minority-owned subcontractors, including shuttle services, floral and decorating, and music providers, according to a report in the Houston Chronicle. The convention also includes financial clinics for small-business owners, and an exposition and job fair.

Richard Huebner, executive director for the Houston Minority Business Council, told the Chronicle, "This convention is a blessing. It’s going to leave behind a lot of opportunities for minority businesses."

Another show scheduled for next week, the 6th Annual International Multicultural Tourism/Hotel Ownership Summit and Trade Show in Miami Beach, is looking to encourage better business practices between the hospitality industry and minority groups. On the agenda are educating attendees on how to market to minorities, sharing minority travel trends, and looking at diversity issues that affect the industry.

Industry associations are tuned into diversity issues as well. The American Society of Association Executives renamed and relaunched its leader-development initiative as the Diversity Executive Leadership Program over a year ago. DELP provides six recipients each year with free registration for the annual meeting and two other ASAE events of their choice, plus free travel and accommodations, and mentoring. The Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau last year signed on to sponsor DELP for three years, which makes thoughts of expanding the program more feasible.

ASAE’s Diversity Committee also conducts membership outreach, including breakfast meetings for various minority association executive organizations. The association also offers a diversity listserv for members through its Web site, www.asaenet.org. "We feel that diversity should be interwoven into all aspects of an organization—it shouldn’t just be the business of the diversity committee," says an ASAE diversity spokesperson.

Meeting Professionals International, in partnership with the National Multicultural Tourism Council, also launched a multicultural initiative program last summer to provide leadership opportunities for under-represented groups in the meeting industry. Supported by the MPI Foundation and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, the program is conducting research to identify industry segments and organizations that offer the best opportunities for multicultural groups, and to define the skill set needed to propel minorities into leadership positions. Then MPI plans to develop educational programs based on the results, and mentoring programs to help people move up in their chosen fields.

The City Connection

Cities are also jumping on the minority bandwagon. Milwaukee, which recently landed the NAACP 96th Annual Convention in 2005, is looking forward to gaining more visibility as a multicultural convention destination through the media hoopla that usually is drawn to NAACP events. Bureau officials say they have been pushing to gain more of that market, and believe that the NAACP’s commitment will bring them further along the diverse-meeting path.

The Philadelphia Multicultural Affairs Congress, a division of the city’s CVB, also is pushing to get more of this increasingly lucrative market. Earlier this year it launched a Web site designed specifically to highlight the area’s points of interest for black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American visitors, which the city estimates constitute a $90 billion market in aggregate. Customers also can book multicultural conventions into the region online. The hope is that the site, www.philadelphiamac.org, will play an instrumental role in increasing the number of multicultural conventions coming to the city.

Why all this attention now? According to ASAE’s diversity office, by 2010, Hispanics will number 41 million and their purchasing power will triple to $965 billion; the fastest growing segment of business owners is women of color; and by the year 2050, whites will be the minority in the U.S. As forward-thinking associations and urban communities recognize, if they want to stay ahead of the curve, these statistics can’t be ignored.