By: David McMillin, Staff Writer
Professional Convention Management Association
The Obama Administration has made significant strides toward welcoming international attendees with more convenient documentation processes. From expanding the Visa Waiver Program to include Taiwan to investing in new consulate facilities in China, Brazil and Mexico, the State Department has already announced changes that will positively impact the industry within the next year.
What about President Obama's second term - - and beyond?
From the campaign trail to his acceptance speech at McCormick Place, it's clear that the economy is the number one item on the President's agenda, but it's not just a domestic issue. International visitors and overseas attendees can play a pivotal role in getting the economy back on track for success. The White House Travel and Tourism Progress Report, released in September, projects that more than 1 million American jobs could be created if America aims to bring more overseas visitors here.
Overcoming Border Barriers
While overseas attendees will be good for the economy as a whole, US planners have traditionally faced challenges in welcoming international meeting participants.
"In the past, part of the challenge has been reciprocity," Michelle Stoddard Crowley, manager, global development, PCMA, says. "If America made it difficult or cost-prohibitive for residents of certain countries to come here, that country would do the same for Americans."
Now, America is beginning to stand out as a more welcoming country.
"The changes that the Obama Administration has already made are helping to simplify the process for international attendees," Stoddard Crowley says.
Some planners are already seeing the benefits of those changes. For example, Fun Lee, director, meeting planning, Cardiovascular Research Foundation, says that a whopping 60 percent of the CRF Annual Meeting's 11,000 attendees are not from the United States.
As more attendees in emerging markets uncover the resources to travel, the CRF is taking a proactive approach to reaching that prospective audience. Lee says that the foundation has already translated one of its meeting websites into Chinese and Spanish.
In addition to creating customized marketing materials for before the meeting, Lee says that the CRF is giving international attendees an even bigger voice once they arrive on-site. The CRF has invited more than 30 international societies to host their own sessions within the Annual Meeting.
Lee looks forward to the potential opportunities as the Visa Waiver Program continues to grow.
"As the VWP expands, we will definitely reach out to new countries," Lee says.
The State Department is already testing the VWP in new markets, too. Since April, more than 4,000 visa applications have been processed in India as part of a two-year pilot program.
Where Should You Look Next?
While the White House has already committed additional resources to Brazil, China, India and Mexico, the meetings and events industry will continue to expand well beyond these select markets.
"Wherever business growth is occurring, that's where meetings are going to follow," Stoddard Crowley says.
She predicts that the next place on the map where meeting planners will need to navigate some unknowns is Africa.
"Investment is growing in Africa," Stoddard Crowley says. "Just as planners recognized that India and Brazil would play major roles in our industry a few years ago, many countries in Africa are catching up now."
Africa may be next in line, but there are plenty of additional countries where economic development is paving the way toward business opportunities for meeting planners.
"Global travel isn't going to stop," Stoddard Crowley says. "It's only going to increase, and organizations will need to work to recognize how business functions locally in each country in addition to understanding the dynamics of the US relationship with the national government."
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