While reading Senior Writer Dave Kovaleski's first-hand account of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Honolulu, our cover story this month, I was struck by how the U.S. State Department's planning process for the November meeting was so similar to planning any association annual meeting.
First and foremost, it was an international meeting, with delegations from 21 countries, meaning the hotels and local organizers needed to accommodate a wide variety of cuisines and, in some cases, religions, setting up prayer rooms in certain venues. How many of you now need to cater to multicultural attendees to make your meetings successful?
It wasn't the largest of meetings, but there were enormous challenges in its execution. City departments had to coordinate with the Secret Service as well as law enforcement from multiple countries for the very tight security and “lockdowns” of entire neighborhoods that were needed for even short rides between hotels for the VIPs. Perhaps lockdowns are common for New York City and Washington, D.C., but not so much for cities like Honolulu and Seattle (which hosted APEC in 1993).
And how was the site for APEC chosen? It had a lot to do with the decision-maker in power at decision time. Once the U.S. was selected as the host country, President Obama chose his home state from among the U.S. cities bidding. How often has your site selection been swayed by an important board member or officer?
What really impressed me was the sheer number of volunteers who made it all work: 2,000 people worked as greeters and helpers throughout the city during APEC week. I know there are legions of volunteers who work during the Olympics, but there was something different afoot in Hawaii. Dave says that Obama referenced it at a fundraiser during the event, saying it was good to be back home and feel the “Aloha Spirit.” That spirit is the essence of hospitality, explains Mike McCartney, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority. “Aloha is more than a greeting or farewell,” he says. It is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence; it means mutual regard and caring, and extends warmth with no obligation in return. As Obama said in one address, that spirit is “what made me who I am. It's what shapes my interactions with all of you.”
Wouldn't it be nice if we all had the Aloha Spirit and stepped up to the plate more often as volunteers, whether as a matter of civic pride, professional development, or just because it makes us feel better to contribute to causes we care deeply about? I think it's an appropriate message during this time of year. All the joys of the season to you and yours.