On Oct. 16, IMEX America and the U.S. Travel Association brought a trio of U.S. mayors, destination CEOs and industry association heads together for a dynamic, first-of-its-kind forum designed to continue advocacy efforts on behalf of the meetings and events industry in the U.S.
Bringing high level government participation to the event were Mayor Vincent Gray of D.C. linked via live video as well as in-person panelists former Mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman, and Mayor David Coss of Santa Fe. In addition, Lt. Governor of Nevada Brian K. Krolicki joined in the luncheon preceding the forum.
The first ever Policymakers Forum was held as part of the third annual IMEX America tradeshow at the Sands Expo in Las Vegas. The invitation-only forum provided an atmosphere for frank and productive conversation where challenges and issues were put on the table and proactive ways to increase value for local governments and economies, business travelers and the meetings industry alike were outlined.
“[This] forum demonstrates the importance of ongoing political advocacy in our industry and reminds us of the full economic power of meetings and events and their role in building knowledge economies,” said Ray Bloom, chairman, IMEX Group, as he opened the session.
Bloom was followed by Roger Dow, president and CEO, U.S. Travel Association, who briefed participants on the key priorities of his organization including improving the visa and entry process for international visitors, increasing awareness on the need to improve America’s travel infrastructure and supporting the meeting segment of the travel industry.
“Six to seven years ago, the travel industry was not all that relevant and was seen as more frivolous versus other industries such as manufacturing, technology and healthcare,” said Dow. “This time, when the government shut down the White House called the U.S. Travel Association to come in for a meeting and asked us our thoughts on the impact that could be expected to the tourism sector.”
Furthering the thought of the value connection between the government and meetings, Dow was followed by Jon Gray of Rockport Analytics who shared new research data, commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association, on the benefits of government meetings and conferences.
The government meetings and spend data shared showed some decline, but on the flip side, these results also showed that 92 percent of those surveyed in the government “believe there is a benefit from meetings.” This benefit, the data also showed, stems from important efforts like employee development and training, key knowledge transfer, private sector business development and standards and regulation application: all supported by meetings.
Following the sharing of these important facts and figures, Dow then introduced and moderated the main element of the forum, a mayors panel featuring Mayor Gray linked live via video feed from Washington D.C., along with Mayor Goodman and Mayor Coss. This provided a unique opportunity to hear multiple, high-level policymakers share their firsthand perspective on and commitment to meetings and conferences as part of their local economies.
Mayor Gray was, not surprisingly, asked to provide an update on how the District is doing in the wake of the government shutdown. In doing so, he acknowledged the strain it is placing as the government is the No. 1 employer and tourism the No. 2 but said that D.C. is very much open for business and new exciting developments such as a new Marriott Marquis convention hotel, City Center, new public transportation line and improved wharf area are moving forward.
Mayor Coss commented on meetings held by the Los Alamos Labs, Sandia National Labs and others as being critical to their tourism and hospitality economy. Finally, Mayor Goodman was asked to share his experience of leading Las Vegas through the AIG effect aftermath to its present status as a meetings mecca, which he stressed took large levels of resolve and in-depth market research to create a winning recipe to attract a business crowd.