Over the blare of recorded music at Washington, DC's Planet Hollywood Restaurant, participants in the fourth annual Meeting Industry Legislative Action Day (MILAD), on March 6, traded notes between visits to Congressional offices. Sponsored by Meeting Professionals International (MPI), MILAD brought together 331 meeting planners, hoteliers, association officials, and convention and visitor bureau representatives. Their chief lobbying issues: increased funding for the U.S. National Tourism Organization (NTO), support for a traveler safety program, and an increase in the tax break for business meals and entertainment.

Last year the meetings industry (along with other tourism organizations) helped convince Congress to pass legislation setting up a public/private partnership to run the NTO, which replaced the U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration.

This year MILAD lobbyists focused on supplementing the NTO's current meager funding. Proposals for additional funding sources included an airline departure fee (possibly reflected in the ticket price), a fee paid at the airport by both Americans and foreign travelers, or a passport fee. If no permanent financing is found by October 1998, the NTO will be forced to fold up its tent.

MPI's agenda called on Congress to restore the business meal and entertainment deduction to 100 percent--or at least bring it back to 80 percent. LeeAnn Harle, an independent meeting planner from Dallas, told Rep. Ken Bentsen (D-TX) that the business meal deduction encourages her to make deals over lunch, keeping her business competitive with firms having large promotional budgets.

Since there is little chance of an increased tax break without a revenue offset, MPI's defensive strategy is to protect the existing 50 percent write-off. Rep. Charles Bass (R-VT) and other House members contacted during MILAD appeared open-minded, asking delegates such as Kelli McCann, meetings manager of the Society for Human Resource Management, in Alexandria, VA, for numbers on the economic impact of raising the tax deduction to 80 percent.

Last year, MILAD drew 250 people to Washington, representing ten associations. This year, an 11th organization, MPI's Potomac chapter, joined MILAD as a sponsor and fielded 55 delegates.