Meetings industry professionals have an opportunity to ask lawmakers such as Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark.; and Florida Governor Charlie Crist about their positions on travel and meetings–related issues through U.S. Travel’s new initiative that seeks to thrust the industry into the 2010 elections.

Using U.S. Travel’s new Virtual Travel Town Hall Web site, meeting professionals are invited to submit questions that they’d like answered by candidates running for office in November. Questions related to meetings and travel are being accepted through August 25. Then, from August 30 to September 10, the industry will help to narrow down the submissions to the top three by voting at the Power of Travel Coalition Web site.

U.S. Travel has invited more than 150 candidates to respond to the industry’s top three questions. “We have identified candidates who are in travel-heavy areas of the country,” says Geoff Freeman, senior vice president, U.S. Travel, Washington, D.C. So far, commitments are in from several candidates, including Reid, Lincoln, and Crist, but U.S. Travel expects dozens more to participate.

Candidates will respond to the questions in writing or by video, and their answers will be posted on the Virtual Travel Town Hall Web page on October 4.

The key to the success of this initiative is industry engagement, says Freeman. U.S. Travel is looking for the industry to engage in the Virtual Travel Town Hall and challenge the candidates. “To do that we are working through all of our partners,” says Freeman, sending out word to convention and visitors bureaus, hotel companies, attractions, and industry associations, like Meeting Professionals International. “We are working with MPI and other organizations to get this Virtual Travel Town Hall out to folks who are especially interested in the meetings issues, so we are optimistic that there will be a meetings focus in part of this.”

To be taken seriously as an industry on Capitol Hill, “you need to have that grass-roots base that can say thank you,” Freeman says. “You also need that grass-roots base that can instantly make their voices heard when policymakers begin to consider harmful policies.” This initiative is a step in that direction. “It’s a way to look ahead to these elections and provide our industry with a seamless way to engage and to inform policy.”

In addition to posting the responses on the Web, U.S. Travel plans to “loudly call attention to the answers that the candidates have provided so the industry can head to the polls on November 4 fully informed where key candidates stand on travel-related issues.”