Can the exhibition industry be instrumental in increasing America’s exports? The International Association of Exhibition Events believes it can and has communicated that to President Barack Obama.

In a letter to Obama, IAEE President Steven Hacker, CAE, thanked him for the swift passage of the Travel Promotion Act. That measure, wrote Hacker, “can be instrumental in supporting (your) newly announced National Export Initiative." The National Export Initiative aims to double the amount of U.S. exports by 2015.

“This is an issue of national security—it has to do with our national economic security,” said Hacker in a follow-up interview. “It is vitally important that buyers get here and buy U.S. product or else they are going to buy product made in Germany or France or elsewhere.”

International visitors spent $10.3 billion in the U.S. on travel- and tourism-related activities in January, a 3 percent decline from January 2009, according to the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries. It was the 15th straight month that travel and tourism exports—U.S. goods and services purchased by foreign travelers—has declined. Last year, international travelers spent $121 billion in the U.S., down 14 percent from 2008.

IAEE also reached out to Ambassador Ron Kirk, United States Trade Representative, offering to collaborate with his office to "explore new strategies and tactics that we might engage on a systematic basis throughout the (exhibitions and events) industry to ensure that we reach the goal of doubling our exports,” Hacker wrote. “If we are successful in identifying effective methods for engaging the support of exhibition organizers, there is little doubt that our industry's contributions to the national initiative can be very significant indeed.”

The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office serves as the nation’s “front-line ambassador” charged with the promotion of international trade, Hacker says. He hopes the office, as well as other government bodies, such as the Department of Commerce and the Department of Homeland Security, can work with exhibition organizers to develop strategies to increase international participation. For example, the Department of Commerce has an international buyers program, but Hacker would like to see that expanded to include more exhibitions and trade shows.

“We need to cut through the delays and reduce the obstacles that overseas buyers face when trying to buy U.S. products and services at our members' events in the United States. We cannot do that alone. We need the enthusiastic cooperation of all key units of government. President Obama has defined an important national initiative, and we think this will help open the right doors to cooperation," Hacker said in a press release.

"When you think of the events that our American members produce as the sales showrooms of this nation's products and services that they are, it makes great sense to work in tandem with U.S. government officials to make sure that we attract as many global customers who want to buy U.S.-made goods and services as possible,” said Chris Meyer, CEM, CMP, IAEE chairman of the board and vice president of sales at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “We think that IAEE can be a very powerful force to ensure that the nation meets the president's ambitious goal of doubling U.S. exports, but only if there is a systematic and shared strategy between private industry and the U.S. federal government."

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