Two major meeting associations have joined with the World Tourism Organization and EIBTM, a trade show organized by Reed Travel Exhibitions, to create a partnership that will measure the global importance of the meetings industry, with the aim of raising its profile and value among governments. The announcement was made at EIBTM 2004 in Barcelona last week.

The agreement was struck between the World Tourism Organization, the International Congress and Convention Association, Meeting Professionals International, and EIBTM. The WTO is a specialized agency of the United Nations, and lends its research and marketing guidance by using its Tourism Satellite Account, a system for measuring and analyzing the impact of tourism on an economy. TSA will now incorporate meeting industry data, allowing the partners to study how meeting spending relates to other economic measures such as Gross Domestic Product and job creation.

"This is an opportunity for the industry to really prove its worth at the government level and gain the kind of truly global recognition that it so surely deserves," said Tom Nutley, chairman of RTE in a press release. "This is not a flash-in-the-pan agreement but an evolving partnership that started more than 18 months ago and is here for the longer term."

Tuula Lindberg, ICCA immediate past president and ICCA Board WTO representative, said: "Accurate statistics for the meetings industry is a goal that we have struggled to achieve over many years. Some individual cities and a few countries have been able to develop local statistics covering some market segments, but common standards and consistency between studies have never been possible.

"The involvement of WTO, with its internationally respected track record in statistical analysis and its global perspective, finally raises the prospect of making concrete progress," she said.

The WTO conducted an initial survey last summer among its 150 member countries, which replied as part of its Tourism Barometer statistics gathering. RTE put out the same questionnaire to meetings industry associations and its suppliers/exhibitors.

The results of both surveys showed that there were many muddled and inadequate statistics, according to Jane Larcombe, public relations director, RTE, and therefore a greater need for harmonization. "Some countries, for example, include exhibitions and/or incentives; others do not. Business travel is often not broken down by sector. There is also a wide variety of structures and a weak government role even in mature meetings industry markets," said Larcombe.

The survey to the WTO members was phase one of the project. In the second phase, the partners will commission a research document to present at the WTO conference in fall 2005. The partners expect to release the final report at EIBTM next year and hope by 2006 to disseminate and implement its recommendations.

According to Hugh Lee, 2004-2005 chairman of the board for MPI, "Meetings and events are vital to the success of business and provide a significant boost to the global economy. We are pleased to join our industry partners ICCA, EIBTM, and the WTO to raise the profile of our industry and make meetings a true profession around the world."