While still unsure exactly what the future may bring, meeting and hospitality associations are taking proactive measures to help their members—and the associations’ own meetings—prepare for a war between the U.S. and Iraq.
The American Society of Association Executives has prepared plans for pre-war, at-war, and post-war planning, which include both securing its own operating environment and contingency plans, and also stepping up its services and training for the coming months. Plans are in the works to continue to identify new ways to communicate electronically with members, should travel become economically unfeasible. Of its own meeting, ASAE spokesman Chris Vest says, "We have some reasons to be optimistic, and we’re certainly committed to holding the annual meeting in Hawaii this summer."
Meeting Professionals International spokesperson Kelly Schulz says MPI’s putting together a special section on its Web site to accommodate members’ war-related information needs. The section will include white papers from MPI’s attorney advising on acts of war and meeting; links to sites containing statements issued from the U.S. government and leaders of other countries; travel tips; and a section on how to talk to your children about war. "Lots of planners and attendees have children who might be concerned about their parents going on the road in this situation," explains Schulz. The site also will offer updates from MPI, and information about some of the major hotels’ and airlines’ cancellation policies.
While MPI doesn’t expect the war to impact its next U.S. meeting, the World Education Congress, to be held in San Francisco in August, Schulz says that its Professional Education Congress-Europe will go on as scheduled April 4 to 6 in Berlin. She expects that the 375 people registered—which is about what the meeting usually draws, will attend. "We feel meetings have to go on, and we want to send that message by holding our PEC-Europe as planned," she says.
The Professional Convention Management Association is going live Thursday with a new community of interest on the PCMA Web site: Crisis and Contingency Planning, says PCMA spokesperson Maxine Golding. "Right after 9/11, PCMA set up a "Meeting Crisis Management Exchange" on our Web site; that information is both relevant and available on the PCMA Web site, and this new community will add an extensive new resource," she says, adding that a number of members have agreed to post ideas, information, issues, and questions that planners need to know right now. On a local level, PCMA’s New England chapter has sent invitations to a session to be held in Boston in mid-April on how to address the risks resulting from the increasing pressure of world events. The workshop, which will be led by Joan L. Eisenstodt, of Eisenstodt Associates, will address issues such as contingency and emergency plans, safety and security, and managing meeting risk and liability.
Other industry associations also are focusing mainly on communication and education efforts: "We are preparing a resource guide on our Web site that will include helpful links for planners and their attendees, including TSA, National Security Office, Homeland Security update center, and the International Airport Authority, among others," says Mary Power, president and CEO of the Convention Industry Council. "The goal will be to provide the latest information on safety rulings, travel warnings, and updates on the airlines and airports."
The Insurance Conference Planner Association also is informing its members about health and security issues by putting information published by Event & Meeting Security Services on its Web site, says executive director Karen Hopkinson. She adds that ICPA plans to keep the information current, which is necessary now that the war momentum is speeding up.
According to Maura Nelson, a spokesperson for the International Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus, the situation for CVBs is a little more complex. "Our business is really a funnel for all the other businesses," she says. "Members have no control over what the hotels or airlines do, but we do have responsibility for the ultimate experience of attendees, since it reflects on the city," she says. IACVB’s main push in preparing for war has been to work closely with the Travel Industry Association of America, which is preparing a comprehensive resource covering every segment of the travel industry, which will be available on TIA’s Web site. IACVB also has a statement ready to be posted on its home page in the event of war.
Eric Allen, who heads up the Health Care Exhibitors Association, says that while his organization isn’t doing anything on a formalized basis right now, it has ensured that its communication lines remain open in case members need to exchange information quickly. These include listservs and e-mail blasts. The biggest question—and one that he doesn’t feel is possible to address ahead of time—is whether the U.S. will experience any retaliatory terrorist attacks. Pre-registration numbers for HCEA’s upcoming convention in June are holding steady, but, Allen says, "We have talked a lot about potential contingency plans. Like most people, we’ve got as much insurance coverage as we could put on it, but the policies don’t cover all the possibilities." He adds, "We could talk next week and I could have a totally different story. The best thing any of us can do is to have a clear idea of what we want to pursue should something go wrong. We don’t want to scramble round in a panic; we must have a clear vision of our responsibility to our members. It is a time that calls for a great deal of wisdom—and judgment—and its critical to have the ability structurally within our staff to react quickly."