It used to be much easier to select destinations and sites/venues for meetings and events: rates, dates and space were the common denominators.
Today, regardless of which side of the political or cultural divide you sit (or stand or march) on, you are, I hope, aware of the many issues and laws just in the United States that impact booking and holding meetings. I’ve written about it before in previous blog posts for Meetings Today titled “What Do You and Our Industry Stand For?,” “2017 Meetings Industry Hopes & Predictions” and “When Laws and Meetings Collide: Go, Stay or Boycott?”
Why have I repeatedly written about and returned to this topic?
Because those in positions of authority in our industry first touted U.S. President Donald Trump as “one of us”—he owned hotels and golf courses and certainly would help to make tourism and travel more robust. Because as time has gone on, the executive orders and proposed U.S. budget have caused an awakening of the damage that can be done to hospitality with the stroke of a pen. And because I have experienced the impact of changing times and laws on meetings and booking meetings for clients and from colleagues. It appears, with the latest news about the travel ban, that there are still questions about who may or may not come into the United States.
And the laptop ban? We’re still uncertain about the impact it will have, especially if it is expanded. [Editor’s Note: it appears laptops are safe for now.]
In case you weren’t following closely, here’s a timeline of our industry’s reaction to the election of our current president and the subsequent actions impacting meetings, tourism and travel.
On Nov. 9, 2016, the U.S. Travel Association (USTA) congratulated Donald Trump on his election as the 45th U.S. President and said they thought he would be good for our industry because he was a part of it.
On Jan. 23, 2017, the industry again expressed its eagerness to work with the Trump Administration.
Then came what is now known as the original “travel ban” executive order, and on March 1, 2017, the impact of the “Muslim travel ban” and its cost to the U.S. was expressed in this article from The Independent, one of many articles from in and outside of the U.S.
On March 9, 2017, there was more discussion about the “travel ban”—now with more questions because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling—again confusing us all.
On May 17, 2017, The Hill published an article describing alarm over the potential of an expanded laptop ban within the travel industry.
On May 23, 2017, the Los Angeles Times published an article on the travel industry’s outrage following the announcement of President Trump’s proposed budget, which included a funding cut for the Brand USA marketing program.
On June 16, 2017, after airline, hotel, tour and travel companies—and many associations—had already begun the process of working with Cuba, President Trump announced an updated policy making it harder to do business in or travel to the Caribbean island nation.
In addition to the laptop concerns, which made it complicated for those traveling from other countries—especially for speakers and presenters who rely on their laptops or tablets to do work while on the road and to use for their presentations, foreign visitors now face even more visa application restrictions that require some applicants to submit their social media handles, thus giving up a great degree of privacy.
And here’s more information about the TSA and Homeland Security’s stricter security measures for travel that may discourage international visitors in the U.S.
Of course there are issues in the majority of U.S. states impacting our industry. If you’ve not kept up with what happened in North Carolina because of their so-called “bathroom law,” search it. There’s so much written about the business impact of the bathroom bill that the links would consume this entire blog.
North Carolina wasn’t the only state to pass or consider a “bathroom bill.” As noted in the July 2016 Friday With Joan newsletter, the American Counseling Association pulled out of Tennessee because, even after trying to work with the governor and state legislature, a law in direct opposition to their work, was enacted.
And then there’s this:
AILA leaves TX for 2018 over sanctuary city law. I was also told at least one other association canceled their Texas meeting because of the anti-sanctuary city law. A full account of this was unable to be obtained after contacting multiple Texas DMOs (aka CVBs). You can follow ongoing industry issues at Texas Competes.
From the Houston Chronicle, concern was expressed about boycotts of Texas over a variety of laws, including the sanctuary cities ban.
PCMA pulled out of Houston while in “pre-contract phase” in anticipation of the special session called by Texas Governor Greg Abbott in which he and others hope the state will enact an anti-transgender law (aka “bathroom bill”) similar to North Carolina’s. Follow along at Equality Texas for updates. Texas did pass this law that limits adoption by LGBTQ persons, which is causing groups to reconsider Texas as a destination for meetings.)
Another group has stated they may leave Houston if a “bathroom bill” is passed in Texas.
Beyond social and other like issues that impact who can travel and from where and how, many states and political subdivisions are attempting to enact laws to raise taxes to fund convention center expansions or built stadiums or fund other needed infrastructure or housing in their communities. In addition to reading tweets at @meetingstoday where we post links to tax laws, subscribe to the local or regional business journals or, if they exist, digital newspapers or alerts on “hotel” or “tourism” taxes to keep up to date. An increase of even 1% in room or sales taxes can have an impact on your budget.
So what is this all building up to? I wanted to provide Meetings Today and Friday With Joan readers with a list of eight actions planners—and our supplier partners in asking for and providing information—can take to help them navigate the destination and site selection process in modern times.
1. Know the mission, bylaws, policies and stands on social and economic issues of your company, organization and clients. If you don’t already know, make sure you research this information. It will help in your planning!
2. Know your audience. And that’s not just who will attend your meeting. Also know their families and traveling companions who want to feel safe and included.
3. Question management about the impact the passage of laws (federal, municipal or state) would have on your meetings, its participants and vendors, including potential boycotts or travel restrictions impacting attendance and image in the public square.
4. Revise your RFP to include the issues that are most important to your group, the ones that influence where and why you book and don’t.
5. After revising your RFP, also update it to include questions about the following:
- Pending laws on raising taxes or ones that may impact individuals coming to the state or city, or from or to other countries.
- Contractual provisions for “impossibility” in stopping the meeting if a law is passed that is in direct opposition to your organization’s mission and on attrition if the meeting moves forward and is boycotted by a percentage of persons impacting attendance, room pick up and other provisions (See the sidebar for more on this language and how and why it was developed by one major EIC (formerly CIC) member, the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE)). This may also impact some professions such as medical, journalism, or legal who may be called into service in case of critical situations.
6. Work with an industry attorney on crafting language to negotiate and explain provisions in your RFP upfront to any destination and venue you are considering and to vendors with whom you may contract (See the Academy of Hospitality Industry Attorneys (AHIA) for a list of its members).
7. Stay on top of the news and bring issues to management and/or your board of directors—before they bring them to you—that may impact your in-place contracts, the meeting or event attendance, image and sales or membership.
8. Develop a strategic plan for communications within your organization to ensure the future planning of meetings is well-informed.
Look, I’ve been there and in fact just spent two months working through issues for a client in trying to manage a cancellation and rebooking because of some of these issues. As early as the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, I was managing meetings and negotiating provisions that impacted groups because of specific laws.
Then it seemed clients thought they would be OK … until they weren’t.
ASAE’s direction and PCMA’s stand are just two industry specific examples. I hear from many who are working with their attorneys and vendors to refine for them and negotiate into contracts or addenda what is now referred to as the “ASAE Clause” (see sidebar).
We have an obligation to be smart about and up to date on the issues that affect us. We also have an obligation to work with our business partners upfront on all the issues that may impact our meetings, no matter how difficult it may seem. To not do so can be costly in dollars and reputation.
Disclaimers: for this and all editions of Friday With Joan and other periodic blogs written by the author, the information is not intended as legal advice. Should you need the services of a lawyer (or other professional) you should contract for the services. And, as always, the views expressed by contributing bloggers and respondents are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.