Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

July 31 2014

Advocating for Brand USA and Infrastructure Improvements

Jill Formeister, Chair, Greater Midwest Chapter Communications Committee
“It’s crucial that we continue to advocate for Brand USA….It’s critical that we have a seat at the table.” These were Nan Marchand Beauvois’ opening comments as the keynote speaker at the 3rd Annual Industry Xchange, held on July 9 at Navy Pier. She is the Senior Director, National Council Relations, at U.S. Travel Association.

The event for meetings and hospitality professionals was organized by Meeting Professionals International, Chicago Area Chapter (MPI-CAC), and many industry partners, including GMC-PCMA. Thirty-eight GMC-PCMA members were among the 500 attendees.

Brand USA encourages increased international visitation to the U.S. to grow America’s share of the global travel market. This translates into jobs essential for the American economy. (Note: On July 23, the Travel Promotion, Enhancement, and Modernization Act of 2014, which would reauthorize Brand USA to continue its work, cleared the Senate Commerce Committee.)

Beauvois described the recent meeting between President Barack Obama and U.S. Travel’s CEO Roundtable. The CEOs shared their concerns about the need for infrastructure improvements and the negative impact on international travel to the U.S. without improvements.

“In 10 years, everyday traffic will look like Labor Day,” she said. “This will negatively affect tourism and jobs. It is crucial to improve infrastructure.”

“Some airports will have everyday traffic similar to Thanksgiving in two years,” she continued. The U.S. needs to “modernize airports and improve stagnant infrastructure.” Dubai has the highest-rated airport in the world. The U.S. fell from #1 to #24 in transportation infrastructure. Other nations are investing in their infrastructure while the U.S. lags behind, resulting in the lowered rating. International travelers might opt to visit other countries (and spend their travel dollars) where travel is easier.

Beauvois said that Americans are frustrated by air travel, and that impacts the economy by discouraging travel. Increasing transparency for rate comparison is one targeted improvement.

U.S. Travel is partnering with Building America’s Future to promote a new free app called “I’m Stuck!” Users who are stuck in highway traffic, on a tarmac, or delayed by a train can click on the location where they are stuck, and the app immediately communicates directly to their elected officials. “The more they hear from their constituents, the likelier they are to act” and fund needed improvements, Beauvois said.

Beauvois noted that travel benefits the brain, health, and the economy. She reported that the latest Travel Effects study found that “42% of Americans don’t take their paid time off, leaving 429 million days of paid time off on the table. This amounts to 3.2 days for each employee. If everyone took one more day off a year, this would translate into $30 million in travel spend.”

She also stressed the importance of meetings to the economy and the need for the meetings and hospitality industry to be proactive about broadcasting this message. In 2009, meetings associations joined together in an initiative called Meetings Mean Business (MMB). MMB is an information platform that highlights industry’s role and develops messaging about the impact of meetings on businesses, economies and communities. The group has prepared an MMB Toolkit, available through a downloadable app. “This is about messaging,” Beauvois said.

The program continued with a panel of local industry experts. Katie Callahan-Giobbi from Minding Your Business moderated the session. Panelists were:

Bill Grusich, Senior Vice President, Associated Luxury Hotels International (ALHI)
Julie Larson, McDonald’s Corporation
Patricia Perez, Director of the Dominican Republic Tourism Board in Chicago
Chris Perry, Area Director of Sales & Marketing, Hiltons of Chicago
Alec Rosofsky, Assistant Director, Division of Professional Development, American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE)
Deborah Sexton, President & CEO, PCMA
Sue Tinnish, Ph.D., Dean, Kendall College School of Hospitality
Paul Van Deventer, President & CEO, Meeting Planners International (MPI)

An audience survey identified two of the most pressing issues facing industry professionals: increased expectations and doing more with less. These issues helped frame the panelists’ observations. Here is a sampling:

  • Members lost during the recession aren’t necessarily returning. They’ve found other solutions.
  • Budgets are not increasing, but there must be “newness” and innovation. Three days out of the office must be well spent.
  • Clients are looking for sustainability.
  • Meetings aren’t back yet, partly because the younger generations have different expectations. Engagement is different now.
  • The older generation used to value “expert opinion,” but now the expert might be the person next to you.
  • Content drives everything today.
  • Marketing and branding are critical. Use different marketing methods to convey your message.
The panel had this advice for new hospitality professionals:

  • Join professional organizations.
  • Get involved – serve on a committee.
  • Learn as much as you can. Don’t be in a hurry to impress the company.
  • Develop relationships with suppliers.
  • Relationships expose you to diversity in business.