Since its signing on Jan. 27, President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel from seven countries with largely Muslim populations has led to media attention, legal challenges and speculation about its impact. Meeting planners work in one of the industries most likely to be affected by this travel ban—particularly if they plan international meetings or conferences with many attendees who live abroad.
Academics in the United States and beyond have been some of the most vocal opponents to the executive order, as academic research and advancements rely on international communication and collaboration. Many scholars in fields ranging from healthcare to anthropology regularly travel to the United States to participate in meetings, so it could have a major impact on the meetings industry.
Academics Speak Out
Thousands of scholars have signed petitions indicating their intent to skip conferences and conventions held in the United States.
One petition has more than 6,300 signatures as of Feb. 9, while another has more than 42,000 supporters, including 62 Nobel Laureates and 30,000 faculty members at U.S.-based universities. “These bans, as proposed, have consequences that reach beyond the scope of national security. The unethical and discriminatory treatment of law-abiding, hard-working, and well-integrated immigrants fundamentally contravenes the founding principles of the United States,” write the petition authors.
Major scientific associations have also taken action to condemn the executive order, and, more concerningly, reconsider planning meetings in the United States. The American Anthropological Association, boasting 10,000 members, recently called on the administration to reverse its executive order.
The International Astronomical Union (IAU), which has nearly 3,000 members from 79 countries, released a statement expressing that it was “profoundly concerned” about the potential impact of the travel ban. In 2015, IAU held its General Assembly in Honolulu; the meeting was attended by more than 3000 astronomers and brought an estimated $10-20 million to the state. Science reports that the organizing committee for IAU will not hold any meetings in the United States until the ban is rescinded. Committee members have also urged other associations to do the same.
Impact on Meetings
The impact on SMERF meetings— previously one of the most reliable and recession-proof segments of the meetings market—could be substantial. Hotels and convention centers may be affected by loss of revenue from lower attendee numbers, as well as conferences being moved from U.S. venues to international locations.
In some cases, attendees and speakers have not voluntarily decided to skip meetings; rather, the ban has blocked them from attending. Corporate, association, medical and SMERF meeting planners should carefully consider their target audience when selecting a host city. If a large international contingent is expected, planners might have to consider an international locale that’s easier to access.
Since the executive order has recently been blocked by U.S. courts, it is hard to predict the long-term effects of the ban. The administration may rewrite and resubmit its travel restrictions, presenting new challenges for the travel, meetings and hospitality industries.