With the US presidential election nearing and the increasing push to keep the economic value of meetings on the radar of policy makers, the US Travel Association (USTA) held the first ever Political Advocacy Forum yesterday (October 9) at IMEX America 2012.
Building off the success of the long-standing and effective Politicians Forum at IMEX in Frankfurt, the IMEX America event attracted a strong and engaged crowd of close to 100.
The overall message coming from the session was that the meetings industry must think globally but act locally to influence policy and political change. This means that meetings professionals in the US and globally must unite as a group under the core message of meetings as an economic and job engine … but each individual must also roll up their sleeves at the community, state, and national level to educate, communicate, and build critical relationships with policymakers.
Delivering this message of unity and action was a mix of industry and political heavy hitters including USTA President and CEO Roger Dow; Carolyn G. Goodman, the Mayor of Las Vegas; Rossi Ralenkotter, President and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA); and Rod Cameron, Executive Director, Development, International Association of Convention Centres (AIPC) and Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC).
In his speech, Dow focused on four specific actions industry members can take to help raise the political bar. First was strengthening relationships with government stakeholders by inviting members of Congress and local officials to go behind the scenes of local conventions and meetings. Second, was feeding them a steady stream of real-time and localized meetings data. In his third point he reinforced the need to tell the USTA about challenges being faced on visas, security and custom issues, and/or transportation and aviation needs so they can carry these concerns to Washington and, finally, he urged his audience to join the Power of Travel Coalition – the USTA’s grassroots advocacy program that is already 500,000 people strong.
Extending the theme of action and involvement to create progress, Mayor Goodman stressed the need for the meetings and events industry to “be strong and make change happen” by “getting groups together to push the needs and issues of our destinations and states.”
These addresses were followed by a panel discussion among invited destination leaders, moderated by Geoff Freeman, COO and Executive VP of US Travel. Driving home the need to act locally yet think big, Elliot Ferguson, President and CEO of Destination DC; Steve Moore, President and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitor’s Bureau; and Rossi Ralenkotter stressed the benefits of proactively sharing localized meetings data on tax revenues, wider job creation and community benefits, and working to offset the view that meetings or events are somehow non-essential.
“It was very powerful to have such an impressive group of industry and government experts in one place talking about the best way to advocate for our industry in the US,” said Ray Bloom Chairman of the IMEX Group, “We hope those attending the session walked away not only with the inspiration to keep coming together as an industry but also with some practical ideas that they can bring back to their destinations to help move the needle with policy makers.”