That Christine Duffy is a champion of the meetings and incentive industry is a given. The fact that she and several other CMI 25 companies now have a seat at the table in the powerful travel association that gives voice to the meetings industry is perhaps not as well known. Nor is the fact that Duffy, president and CEO of Maritz Travel, and her counterparts at Carlson Marketing, ITAGroup, and Creative Group—typically dog-eat-dog competitors—earlier this year came together with industry associations to provide ammunition to combat proposed government regulation.
It was one day last October, after news broke that AIG, which had just received a federal bailout, had hosted an incentive program at the St. Regis Monarch Beach, that Duffy called Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “Christine said, ‘This is just the beginning. The auto companies will follow. This is going to take off,’” Dow paraphrased. “I give Christine the credit for starting the dialogue. She said ‘I’m coming to see you.’”
As company after company, even those not receiving funds from the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Fund, began to cancel meetings, Dow and his staff went into action. Duffy and her colleagues were not far behind.
“We had a meeting in February in Washington,” says Dow. “To their credit, four meeting and incentive companies stepped up to participate [all of which are now represented on the U.S. Travel board]: Maritz, Carlson, ITA, and Creative Group.”
They, along with eight industry associations, quickly “drafted a model board policy for companies to use for their meetings and events.” Since Maritz had already developed many meeting best practices, the model policy borrowed liberally from those. “We wanted to get guidelines out there so that the U.S. government wouldn’t define ‘luxury’ for us,” says Dow. The Meetings Mean Business campaign was born to promote the importance of meetings to the U.S. economy.
Just a few weeks later, in March, as Dow got ready to host a meeting of 12 travel industry CEOs (including W. Stephen Maritz, chairman and CEO, Maritz Holdings Inc.), his staff contacted the White House to arrange a meeting. Their request ultimately turned into a 30-minute sit-down with President Barack Obama. “It’s the first time a sitting president has ever met with this industry,” says Dow. “He’s a terrific listener. I really felt he got it.”
The result of the efforts of the industry coalition? Treasury released some “very loose guidelines,” in June, says Dow. “You must have a model policy in place if you are receiving TARP funds, but we think that’s all that’s going to be.”