As the debate over federal conference spending wages on, the meetings industry made headlines in some not-so-positive recent coverage in The Washington Post. In an article titled “The government should spend tons of money on travel, says travel industry”, Lydia DePillis questions figures from a new U.S. Travel Association report that showcases the economic impact of government meetings.
“Clearly there is some utility to bureaucrats getting out of the office, eating from buffets together and sitting on panels,” DePillis writes. “The U.S. Travel Association’s definition of valuable government spending, though, covers pretty much anything that pumps money into the economy...File under: one man’s stimulus is another man’s waste.”
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The article references the notorious Muffin-gate incident and gives a nod to the reality that the public does not understand the ins and outs of planning, producing and attending conferences and meetings. While government officials never actually paid $16 for muffins, the media is always on the lookout for an attention-grabbing headline that will stir up emotions among taxpaying readers. With this in mind, it’s clear that meeting professionals need to work harder than ever to clearly articulate the real value of face-to-face idea exchanges.
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Studies and statistics can help support that value, but the industry must continue to take proactive steps toward highlighting concrete examples of what really happens at meetings and events. That means educating the public on how conferences create an environment that paves the way to new solutions for pressing scientific challenges. That also means aggressive public relations campaigns that promote all of the volunteer hours that make a difference in communities that host conferences.
However, meeting professionals cannot tell this story alone. The meetings industry needs to continue to look for advocates on Capitol Hill who can represent the interests of meeting planners and suppliers - - lawmakers who are willing to lend personal support to the facts and figures collected in economic impact research.
Do you have ideas to help the public better understand the real value of meetings and conferences? Share them in the comments section below as PCMA continues to collaborate with industry partners for advocacy efforts.