Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

March 22 2016

Confronting The Realities Of Travel In The Terrorism Era

David McMillin

Mali, Paris, Tunisia, The Ivory Coast, Boston, Istanbul, Brussels — the list of beautiful places around the world marred by horrific violence seems to grow longer each week. I’ve never written about terrorism and its impact on the convention community. The topic is overwhelming, tragic and at times, controversial. But after watching the news unfold in Belgium and Turkey over the past week, it’s time for us to start having a real dialogue about what the state of international security means for our organizations and our attendees.

At the most basic level, there is one element that unites everyone who comes to our meetings: they’re travelers. They all make their way to our conferences and events by spending time in airports, riding on subway trains and staying in hotels. The journey comes with all kinds of perks — the opportunity to experience new cultures, the chance to meet new people and the simple joy of being able to add a new stamp to a passport. But headlines of rising terror threats and tragedies are casting a shadow over the positive pieces of being a traveler, and they’re taking a psychological toll on many scheduled to leave home. According to a recent Business Travel News survey, 49 percent of travelers feel less safe on business trips than they did 12 months ago. 

There is no easy way to address security risks with our attendees. The business events industry is built on being able to control factors that impact our attendees’ well-being, and regardless of the strength of your organization’s risk management, terrorism lies outside the boundaries of logical thinking. So, terror threats have become the elephant-in-the-room topic. Last month, I sat through a press conference hosted by a destination with a reputation that has faced serious problems due to the refugee crisis Europe and growing security threats. When asked about the issue, the response was indirect, citing that “no organizations had cancelled their scheduled events.” This ignores the realities of the situation. We need to start being direct about the challenges we’re facing.

We have entered a new era for the business events industry. In the past, we have faced two key challenges that stand in the way of registration: time and money. But today’s international climate introduces another reason that may prevent people from going from there to there. A recent YouGov survey of more than 1,000 US adults revealed that 10 percent have cancelled a booked trip in response to terrorist attacks.

I’m not writing this to play into the fear game. I don’t plan on changing my personal approach to exploring the world because of risks that I can’t control or ideologies that I can’t understand. But there are people who will adjust their travel plans, and there are people who will watch the news and think they need to stay home. As business event professionals, hoteliers, convention centers and destinations, we should be transparent and straightforward in our communications with them. Let them know that safety is the number one concern. Acknowledge that risks do exist. Make sure they know that your organization is taking every step possible to keep them safe so they can continue to feel the benefits of being a traveler.

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