In a single year, a volcano in Iceland left travelers stranded throughout Europe, floods found Opryland under water, and the worst oil disaster in U.S. history damaged a fragile ecosystem and decimated tourism. All as the economy teetered on the edge of a long-awaited recovery.

In the midst of all this chaos, three different meeting industry trade shows began vying for our attention, though it’s anyone’s guess whether all will survive the coming year. And on a bright note, a new travel promotion act passed into law by President Obama signaled better times ahead.

Thousands wore smiles as 29 graduates of the brand-new SMMC (strategic meetings management certification) proudly clutched their diplomas at the 2010 National Business Travel Association Conference in August in Houston. Another first—standards for green meetings, which have been three years in the making—are within In the midst of all this chaos, three different meeting industry trade shows began vying for our attention, though it’s anyone’s guess whether all will survive the coming year. And on a bright note, a new travel promotion act passed into law by President Obama signaled better times ahead.

“Mobile” became a state of mind, with most planners and attendees sporting iPhones, BlackBerries, or Droids, and developers flooding the market with meeting apps. At the same time, people flocked to LinkedIn and Facebook to promote their meetings, their careers, and their personal brands. And, finally, every meeting planner now knows that tweeting is not just something a bird does.

Here are the Top 10 Stories of 2010, chosen by our editors.

1)The Ongoing Economic Saga

The economic crisis was the recurrent theme that wove itself through 2010—and will likely define the year ahead. At a panel discussion at the 2010 Pharmaceutical Meeting Management Forum in March, hoteliers declared the beginning of a turnaround. “We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Dorie Deebold, global account director at Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, stating that short-term bookings were up 100 percent in the first half of the year, lead volumes were up 15 percent, and occupancy rates in key markets, like New York City, were returning.

Also in the spring, Smith Travel Research updated its forecast for 2010 to reflect a stronger performance than previously predicted in the three main metrics—occupancy, revenue per available room, and average daily rate. “The takeaway is that 2010 is going to be significantly better than [hoteliers] thought it would be,” declared Mark Lomanno, STR’s president. While it won’t be back to 2007 or 2008 levels, it will be an improvement over 2009.”

That appears to be the case. The most recent proof, an “Intention Survey” of 505 planners done by PCMA/AMEX/Ypartnership, found that 37 percent of corporate meeting professionals held more meetings in 2010 than in 2009 and 43 percent plan to hold more meetings in 2011 than in 2009.

At year’s end, Smith Travel was reporting a 9 percent occupancy increase in the luxury hotel sector and a 7 percent increase in the upper upscale hotel segment (the sector used most by meeting groups, including such chains as Hyatt, Hilton, and Marriott).

The thinking among meeting planners had shifted. “We are well on our way to recovery,” Eldon Gale, director, meeting and event management, at Nationwide Insurance in Columbus, Ohio, said in an October interview. “It might still take a year or so to show up, but it’s coming.”

2) Disaster in the Gulf

The world watched in disbelief as the April 20 explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico created the worst oil leak in U.S. history. And even though news coverage of the spill has faded, the impact of the disaster has had a lasting effect on travel to the region. Summer numbers released by the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau showed a $64 million loss in lodging revenue; in Florida’s Fort Walton Beach area, summer business was down 30 percent. Overall, an Oxford Economics survey predicted, the impact could last three years and represent nearly $23 billion in lost tourism spending—including meetings. And as this magazine went to press, after two months with no tar balls, they were spotted again along the Alabama Coast. Even if the beaches were pristine—as they were in many Gulf resort regions—media hype made the situation worse.

3) Eruption Disruption

The unprecedented paralysis of European airspace as a result of atmospheric ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano in April and again in May had widespread consequences for meetings and events throughout Europe. Thousands of flights were canceled and tens of thousands of passengers stranded as authorities closed air spaces over Britain, Ireland, and the Nordic countries. The move shut down London’s five major airports. In a survey the week of the eruption, the Association of Corporate Travel Executives found that the vast majority of its members had been affected: 19 percent were dealing with stranded travelers and 11 percent had to cancel meetings. Only 11 percent said they were not affected at all. The incident brought home the importance of a strong risk-management plan for companies, a topic that gained great visibility across the industry in the second half of the year.

4) Boycotts in Arizona

Arizona’s passage of the SB 1070 immigration legislation in April led to at least 40 meeting cancellations and boycotts. Travel and meetings industry supporters quickly argued that these measures unfairly punish the most vulnerable of all—hotel workers and others in the travel industry. “The last thing we should do is punish those who are working hard to create the jobs that our nation’s economy desperately needs,” said Bruce Josten, executive vice president of government affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The first boycott was organized in May by the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group, and a coalition of Hispanic, union, and civil rights organizations. This was followed by a move by Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., asking groups to boycott meetings and conventions to the state, which evoked reactions from every corner of the meetings industry. After a ruling by Judge Susan Bolton of the U.S. District Court for Arizona that stripped out some of the most controversial aspects of SB 1070, Grijalva called off his boycott in July.

5) Opryland Under Water

In May, disastrous flooding left 800,000 square feet of Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland resort under 10 feet of water and, over the next six months, cost parent company Gaylord Entertainment $300,000 in lost room revenue. Hotel staff had to relocate six months’ worth of meetings, but only some events were able to relocate to other Gaylord properties because of size constraints. “Once groups received notice of cancellation from the Opryland Hotel, there was a frenzy to book rooms elsewhere,” said Allison Kelley, CAE, executive director at the Romance Writers Association, which moved its 2,000-attendee annual conference to the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando. According to Kelley, not counting the hotels in Las Vegas, there were fewer than 30 hotels [in the U.S.] that had adequate meeting space and the double rooms she needed.

After an additional $225 million in renovations, Opryland reopened in November. In all, seven Nashville hotels were shuttered from the flooding, and the overall cost of the damage was estimated at $1 billion.

6) Travel Promotion Act Signed into Law

On March 4, President Obama signed the Travel Promotion Act into law, creating the United States’ first national travel promotion program. The act created the nonprofit Corporation for Travel Promotion, whose purpose is to promote the U.S. as a destination to international travelers, and which is expected to create 40,000 new travel-industry jobs and attract 1.6 million visitors. The CTP will be partially funded through a $10 fee, paid once every two years, imposed on Visa Waiver Program travelers coming to the U.S. through the Department of Homeland Security’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization program. The rest will come from private donations and grants from corporations. In September, the first 11 travel and tourism industry leaders were named to the new Corporation for Travel Promotion board of directors, a diverse group including tourism directors from the states of California, Wyoming, and New York; the president, worldwide operations, for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts; and Roy Yamaguchi, the founder of Roy’s Restaurants.

7) SMM Gains Ground

Strategic meetings management made the news throughout the year, including with the announcement by the National Business Travel Association of the first graduating class of the strategic meetings management certification program in August. The SMMC is the only industry certification program for SMM, consisting of two core weeks of classes and three elective classes. Also released in August were the first tools from the SMM tool kit being created by NBTA’s Groups and Meetings Committee. These templates can be used by meeting planners in their own companies, and include a tool to help build a business plan for an SMM, another to begin registering a company’s meetings, and a document that compares meeting cards against each other. In November, Corporate Meetings & Incentives and the MeetingsNet magazines introduced the first-ever SMM Portal, a central Web resource that includes an articles archive, an education section listing classes and Webinars, downloadable research, and a forum where four top SMM experts answer questions.

8) IMEX vs. AIBTM vs. The Motivation Show

Industry associations scrambled to affiliate and co-locate with one of the three major trade shows planned for 2011, while meeting planners and suppliers scratched their heads and wondered how all three could survive. The new AIBTM: The Americas Meetings and Events Exhibition makes its debut June 21–23 in Baltimore, while the new IMEX America show kicks off in Las Vegas October 11–13 and the Motivation Show is planned October 4–6 at its usual home, Chicago’s McCormick Place. Meanwhile, Meeting Professionals International announced that its 2010 MeetDifferent will be its last, and signed an exclusive strategic partnership with IMEX America. Maritz will hold its annual senior-level customer event back-to-back with IMEX, Site is holding its annual conference in Las Vegas piggybacking with IMEX, and the Professional Convention Management Association moved its 2011 Education Conference to Baltimore June 20–23, overlapping with AIBTM.

9) APEX/ASTM Green Standards for Meetings

Hundreds of industry professionals worked to create the soon-to-be-released Green Meetings and Events Standards developed by the Convention Industry Council Accepted Practices Exchange and ASTM International, which brings together interested stakeholders to develop needed standards in various industries. Its committees are open to anyone, from producers, to consumers, to general interest participants. When standards are written, they are sent out to subcommittee members and then to full membership for a vote. If final voting is successful, the green standards—which cover every aspect of meetings, from accommodations to food and beverage to transportation—are expected to be released by the end of 2010.

10) Mobile and Social Networking Explode

With the massive growth in smartphones, it became more common this year for attendees to create their own personalized schedules, post to events’ Twitter feeds, and keep up-to-date on event-related messages while mobile. Meanwhile, event organizers scrambled to find the right app to do everything from distribute handouts to attendees, to provide leads to vendors. A new Web site, MeetingApps.com, now allows visitors to not only learn about new meeting apps, but to review them for others. At the same time, social media further infiltrated the industry, with LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter now common marketing tools, both for meeting promotion and self-promotion. One LinkedIn group, SPIN (Senior Planners Industry Network), which was launched in October 2008 as a place for senior meeting planners to network, went live in 2010, hosting 40 events in 14 cities.