Look for government to play a bigger role in both pharmaceutical meetings and travel. That was the underlying theme of the opening general session of the 7th Annual Pharmaceutical Meeting Management Forum, co-sponsored by the Center for Business Development and Medical Meetings. While the meetings industry has made it through the worst of the storm, there are still challenges to overcome: regulations and compliance issues; the inconvenience, expense, and hassle of air transportation; and the environmental impact of meetings. Creating a true customer experience, said Christine Duffy, president, Cruise Lines International Association, and the conference chairwoman, must be the cornerstone of the industry's message about its value, both internally and externally.

For example, said Duffy, a recent report from the U.S. government’s General Services Administration concluded that the best way to save money and protect the environment was to curb travel. And yet, she pointed out, the Convention Industry Council's Economic Significance Study concluded that the meetings industry is one of the largest contributors to the gross domestic product, with a direct economic impact of $263 billion in 2009, larger than the auto industry. “We need to do a better job of educating the public about what we do,” she said.

If meetings are under increasing scrutiny, pharma meetings are doubly so. According to keynote speaker David Townson, PhD, PMP, senior vice president, development, Mannkind Corp., the Food and Drug Administration is stepping up enforcement of its rules. It is sending out more noncompliance warning letters, and also increasing the consequences of noncompliance to higher fines and even jail time. Another opening keynoter, Thomas Forrester, vice president, U.S. corporate compliance officer, sanofi-aventis, discussed the various statutes that regulate medical meetings, including the Sunshine provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which requires industry to begin tracking all payments to physicians in January 2012.

These themes continued through the opening day sessions, with an emphasis on how meeting planners in the pharmaceutical and device manufacturing industries can both comply with the increasing regulations and streamline their business processes. The conference concludes Tuesday, March 29.

Follow along the Twitter stream at #pharmaforum, and look for more in the June issue of Medical Meetings.