If 2022 was the year of scrambling to accommodate revenge meetings, travel industry leaders are hoping that in 2023, the industry will build on the mandate earned during the pandemic downtime and remind everyone that #MeetingsMatter. That is the theme for this year’s Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID) planned for March 30 by U.S. Travel Association.

Tell the Meeting Profs Story

“We need opinion leaders, policymakers and moms to understand what we do,” said Geoff Freeman, U.S. Travel president and CEO in an interview with Smart Meetings shortly after this year’s GMID theme was announced. He warned that even after the appreciation earned during the Covid absence, meeting budgets could still be on the chopping block if there is a recession and the industry hasn’t invested the time in educating those in power about what they do and what they need to do it effectively. That includes helping to solve problems with delayed and canceled flights due to understaffed air traffic control and cripplingly small inbound international travel as a result of “absurdly long” waits for visas.

This week, Freeman called new Covid testing requirements for those arriving from China, “reasonable and appreciated” and said he looked forward to welcoming Chinese travelers back to the United States.

As the industry prepares to come together with receptions, panel discussions and virtual celebrations on March 30, Freeman urged everyone associated with meetings and events to tell their stories. “We need to prove our value and ensure we don’t go back. GMID is one day. We have to advance the industry and be advocates all year long.”

Community Voices

Jack Johnson, chief advocacy officer with Destinations International, the association for convention and visitors bureaus, is also hyper focused on telling the industry’s story in the new year. At the 2022 Advocacy Summit in Bloomington, Minnesota, in October, he stressed the importance of maintaining relationships with communities and lawmakers. “We made sure everyone understood there was going to be no recovery without the meetings and travel industry recovering,” he said. “Local governments and states showed that message was heard” by including relief for travel in budgets. Now he would like to see the conversation evolve.

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Next October, the same group will meet in Little Rock, Arkansas, to talk about expanding the organizations’ roles by “aligning with government and community organizations more intentionally to support initiatives designed to improve social issues and local quality of life; fuel priority sector development; attract outside investment and high-value talent; and elevate the overall destination brand beyond the tourism lens.”

“We need to talk the same way elected officials talk, using the language of emotions, based on values,” Johnson said. He suggested talking about the importance of tourism for economic, emotional and social good.

Even though everyone is busy again, Johnson was optimistic that the momentum built up over the last three years will continue as the memory of loss is fresh, lessons about how to advocate effectively are in place and many groups have hired people dedicated to the role. “Now we need to engage in issues on the local level that we traditionally stayed away from: violent crime; equity, diversity and inclusion; homelessness; transportation design; and accessibility,” he said.

“There is a new realization those are areas that come with the game,” he said. Sometimes he sees the industry taking a supporting role, rather than leading, but it is important to be involved so people see the value of tourism and conventions just as they see the value of schools and hospitals.

“Elected officials have always seen the value of conventions, but perhaps not the breadth and how many people it touches,” he said. The impact of an expo goes beyond the downtown and the caterers and hotels. It supports florists, rental cars and 30 different sectors. “Hopefully we can now go to city hall with new muscle to shut down a road for a parade, or bring in a new convention hotel,” he said.