"Meetings Mean Business" Launches Aggressive Education Campaign

A coalition of industry leaders is developing a grassroots effort to promote the benefits of meetings, conferences, incentive travel, and trade shows.

By Mitra Sorrells June 12, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT

"Meetings Mean Business" panel members at A.I.B.T.M. were (left to right) Paul Van Deventer of Meeting Professionals International; Deborah Sexton of Professional Convention Management Association; Kevin Hinton of Site Global; John Graham of the American Society of Association Executives; David DuBois of the International Association of Events and Exhibitions; and Roger Dow of the U.S. Travel Association.

Photo: Courtesy of AIBTM

With more than $500,000 already raised, the “Meetings Mean Business” coalition is embarking upon a strategic campaign to educate both the public and private sectors on the value of meetings and events. During a panel presentation Wednesday at the Americas Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings Exhibition (AIBTM) at the Orange County Convention Center, leaders from several participating organizations shared details of the plan that is intended to put the industry in an offensive, rather than defensive, mode.

“We have to be aggressive,” says Roger Dow, president and C.E.O. of the U.S. Travel Association. “You can’t plan for what the disaster is going to be, but you sure can plan to have the resources ready to get into action fast.” Dow’s association initiated the coalition in 2009 in response to media reports questioning the value of meetings and events during the economic crisis, most notably the luxury retreat hosted by insurance giant A.I.G. just days after the company received an $85 billion government bailout. What became known as the “A.I.G. effect” resulted in the cancellation of $2 billion in meetings and events, according to Dow.

Coalition members include executives from Meeting Professionals International, the Professional Convention Management Association, the International Association of Events and Exhibitions, Site Global, the American Society of Association Executives, and several large hotel corporations and convention and visitors bureaus. As the economy has rebounded, the group’s strategy has transitioned from defending the industry to advocating for it.

“We know for every $1 spent on travel and meetings, there’s a $9.50 return. We need to continue to trumpet the fact that personal, face-to-face interaction has extremely positive business outcomes, and it’s the number one marketing vehicle of anything a company does to help generate revenues,” says Larry Luteran, senior vice president for group sales and industry relations for Hilton Worldwide and co-chairman of the coalition.

The coalition announced its relaunch in January at P.C.M.A.’s Convening Leaders conference. Since that time it has raised more than $500,000 from hotel companies, convention and visitors bureaus, and other industry organizations. Initial projects include the creation of the Meetings Mean Business website and mobile app, which both include fact sheets, talking points, research, and videos. In addition to encouraging member organizations to use the materials to educate their own staff members and constituents, the coalition now will focus on gathering stories about the value of meetings and events and sharing those with national media outlets to educate the public. David DuBois, president and C.E.O. of I.A.E.E., says the coalition also wants to partner with universities to incorporate education about the meetings industry into their business curricula. “We need to build the base of knowledge for those 18- to 23-year-olds who are going to be the future decision makers,” he says. DuBois also says the coalition intends to expand the marketing campaign outside the United States in the next two years.

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