If you’re hearing and reading less about the negative perception of meetings and incentive travel, it’s no accident. The four lobbying firms working for the U.S. Travel Association and its Meetings Mean Business campaign have orchestrated separate meetings between industry heavyweights and President Obama and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in the last six weeks. U.S. Travel has succeeded in focusing the mainstream media’s attention on the jobs being lost due to the cancellations of and incentive programs and away from the excess of a few companies.
Geoff Freeman, senior vice president, U.S. Travel, anticipates the Treasury Department’s guidelines regarding executive compensation for recipients of Troubled Asset Relief Program funds will be released this week, and “we do not expect Treasury to focus significantly on travel provisions. Our next success will be for Treasury to say that the boards of directors of TARP companies will put a policy in place that will prevent travel [and meetings] from being excessive and luxurious.”
Ideally, adds Freeman, Treasury’s recommendation will be that boards should adopt the guidelines written by U.S. Travel and the meetings industry coalition back in February and that each company should not write its own policy. “Treasury is not going to micromanage meetings and events, because we did a good job in making our case,” predicts Freeman.
But don’t be lulled into complacency, warns Freeman. “This should be a wake-up call for everybody. It shows that when we [the travel industry] collaborate, we can be an influential force in Washington, D.C.,” he says. “We can think we’ve taken care of this, but [complacency] … will lead to another issue just like this. And there will be a whole new issue to identify.”
To “prepare for that next fight,” Freeman says, the meetings industry, led by the Convention Industry Council, is undertaking a yearlong economic industry study. It will be modeled after a study conducted in Canada by Meeting Professionals International Foundation Canada, released earlier this year and based on the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s measurement model.
When the attacks on meetings and incentives began late last fall, Freeman says, “We kept saying, if they only knew about our economic impact. We did not have the data we needed; we were not properly armed.”
But U.S. Travel, as the go-to advocacy voice for the meetings industry, is not waiting for the study, which will be “bulletproof,” according to Freeman, to go into action. “Our researchers, our economist PhDs, are able to determine the impact of meetings and events apart from business travel and leisure travel.” Using the Travel Economic Impact Model, U.S. Travel tracks the total impact of travel in the United States at $740 billion in annual spend. There’s already a breakout of meeting and event spend by state on the Meetingsmeanbusiness.com Web site.
Next will be a city-by-city analysis. “We are getting ready to release the economic impact of meetings and events in the top 250 metropolitan statistical areas,” says Freeman.