The travel industry cannot afford to wait for crises to happen to take action. It must be proactive in working to protect the industry’s reputation.
That was the message from industry leaders on a panel at the 2012 World Education Congress of Meeting Professionals International in St. Louis this week. They called on attendees to advocate for the meetings industry, both locally and on Capitol Hill, and on an ongoing basis.
Advocacy added to agenda
Recent and continuing concern over public perception of the meetings industry prompted MPI late in the game to add the topic of advocacy to the WEC agenda.
“The advocacy discussion at the lunch today was a last-minute decision, based on what I had seen from planners in social media,” said MPI’s Cindy D’Aoust, COO and interim CEO.
Representatives from across the industry discussed ways the industry can communicate a positive message, especially in the face of backlash against meetings.
“How do we react when things like the GSA scandal happen, or when Obama talks about not going to Las Vegas?” asked Anthony del Gaudio, senior vice president of sales for Loews Hotels.
Need to tell ‘our story’
Christine Duffy, CEO of Cruise Lines International Association, commented that “we can’t just act in a crisis.”
“I met with Congressman Eric Cantor after the Concordia disaster, and he told me that we have to be there every day to get our message across.
“We need outside of the industry spokespeople who can tell our story – like Jack Welch (the former CEO of GE) who is a friend of the travel and tourism industry,” Duffy added.
Duffy said that the meetings industry is in a better position than in 2008 when the AIG scandal struck. “At that time, the previous incarnation of the U.S. Travel Association was not even focused on meetings.”
Capitol Hill concerns
MPI chairman Kevin Hinton raised concerns about initiatives on Capitol Hill in the wake of the GSA meetings scandal and suggested that MPI chapters form alliances to advocate for the industry.
“There is pending legislation that could be damaging,” said Hinton. “For our chapters, local relationships are crucial. We can band together with other stakeholder groups.”
Hinton said travel industry members could get together with representatives of other industries and business organizations at the local level to deal with legislation and other issues on matters of regulation, taxation, etc.
Cultivate local support
Cynthia Douwes, an MPI chapter president from Calgary, shared an idea that her chapter has used to cultivate support locally.
“We give trophies to people who we think can have an impact on our industry. We gave a trophy to the mayor of Calgary, so he would show up at our meeting and we could give him our message. It works, and I think other chapters should do it.”
Attendees should work individually to make a difference too, suggested Roger Rickard, a partner in Revent and an advocate for the meetings industry. “Every person in this room knows one or two people who need education about our industry,” he said.
MPI’s decision to add advocacy to the agenda for the conference reflected the organization’s intent to be responsive to member concerns, especially during a transitional time for MPI, D’Aoust said.
“I felt it was important to get industry leaders together to show we will be in this arena,” D’Aoust said.