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Advocacy in the Meetings, Events & Incentive Travel Industry – We Can All Make a Difference

I feel fortunate to be part of our vibrant, exciting industry that creates so many job opportunities for individuals at almost every level in such a wide variety of categories. I’m proud to be a part of it for many reasons – the opportunities we get to make a difference, the ROI we provide, the knowledgeable professionals that make up our hospitality community and the enthusiasm for the work that we do. I am also now proud to be a part of our efforts and gains around industry advocacy – in raising awareness and support for how meetings and events help drive the global economy, jobs and knowledge sharing.

Prior to 2009 and the US financial crisis, advocacy was not a word generally heard in connection with the meetings, events and incentive travel industry. When money seemed like it was flying everywhere but into our pockets or strengthening our businesses, when meetings were being cancelled and planners laid off, our first thoughts were not of advocacy but of survival. In an industry where sole proprietors, and companies of all sizes could do what they loved and earn a good living, the financial meltdown was an unpleasant, unexpected shock and a wakeup call of massive proportions.

The industry had suffered downturns before but this was different. The severity of the situation made us realize it was time for action and since then, the meetings industry has made some substantial progress.

The US Travel Association has served as a consistent voice for the value of business travel and meetings and its direct link to the future health and growth of the US and global economy.

IMEX has been pleased to provide the annual Politicians forum in Frankfurt to bring together senior government representatives, ministers, policy makers and meeting industry leaders to better understand how meetings bring economic opportunities to cities, regions and countries as well as spur progress in scientific, educational & research exchanges.

In the last few years we’ve also found an exciting “outside” industry champion in Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP, one of the world’s largest software companies. Bill believes and has spoken passionately at both IMEX America 2014 and IMEX in Frankfurt 2015 about the value and effectiveness of meetings as a means to drive business growth and profit.

We also want clients and governments, companies and partners, however, to understand the true bottom line, business benefits of getting people together in our digital, global, knowledge sharing economy. However, while great progress is being made on an industry-wide level, to really strengthen our industry even further advocacy must find a pervasive home in all of our jobs, day to day activities, ideas, plans and strategies.

But how do we do this? It can seem like a daunting task but may actually be a lot easier then we think.

First, as industry professionals we need to be telling the story of the value of meetings. With the industry growing stronger and meetings being increasingly viewed as an important part of business success, we as planners have the opportunity to demonstrate and expand on that. Meeting planning is more than logistics and we have the opportunity to create and implement more meaningful strategic business events for our clients – ones that fit into their industry trends, opportunities and expertise areas.

Second, we need to stop laughing at the long-standing joke in our industry that no one … not even our families … understand what we do for a living. That used to be funny. These days, one of our responsibilities is to tell people about the significance of what we do. It could be based on stats around how many jobs our industry creates – according to WTTC research, Travel & Tourism contributes 9.8% of the world GDP and supports 1 in 11 jobs on the planet. That’s pretty impressive!

It may be to talk about how your pharma groups discuss new treatments or how your agricultural clients are looking for more sustainable ways to farm. It can be about how a particular destination is rich in industry, academic and research resources for your clients meeting there. Sharing this type of data helps combat the misconception that our industry is about glitz and glamour and shows the economic impact and heft of our industry.

Third, do good. By incorporating sustainability into our programs we can impact bottom lines as well as helping the planet and by bringing CSR elements into our programs, we enable our groups to give back to underserved communities.

So, whether you are involved in meetings, conferences or incentives and regardless of which part or place of the industry you call home, I would invite you to take a long look at what your job really involves and create a “story” of the business and community value you are creating. Use that story to advocate for the value of meetings.

Every day meeting professionals are involved in helping businesses grow, expand and evolve, and we should all be proud advocates for that.

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