Are More Conferences Choosing Canada Over the U.S.?

Author: David McMillin       

Three attempts to implement a travel ban, repeated calls to build a wall between the U.S./Mexico border, and an announcement to end the DACA program have tarnished America’s global reputation as a welcoming destination, according to numerous surveys and experts. A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that only 49 percent of respondents have a favorable view of America — a 15-percent decline from the period at the end of the Obama Administration. Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson believes that the decline in favorable perception is also leading to a drop in group business. According to a Bloomberg article, Sorenson discussed the convention landscape earlier this week in an interview in Toronto, noting that organizers are taking their attendees outside the U.S.

“You’re going to have people coming in from everywhere, and they’re going to be looking at ‘Can we get our people in? Are they going to want to go to that place?’” Sorenson said in the story. “At the moment, there’s a perception around the world that the U.S. is a little less welcoming than it was in the past.”

The U.S.’s loss may be Canada’s gain. Sorenson said that decision-makers are changing their plans to book events in cities like Toronto “with the view that bringing in an international group would be more hassle-free in Canada and maybe a little bit riskier in the U.S.”

Others in the travel industry share Sorenson’s concerns. Global Business Travel Association Executive Director Mike McCormick speculated in a Convene interview earlier this year that the convention industry may not truly feel the true impact of the current administration’s policy decisions for a few years. “Decisions are being made right now on where to host meetings and conferences in three or four years,” McCormick told me. “I’m sure it’s challenging to think about the U.S. the way you did a year ago.”

It appears that those challenges have already affected leisure travel. The U.S. Department of Commerce released data in September that showed nearly 700,000 fewer international visitors came to the U.S. in a year-over-year comparison of the first quarter of the year. Will the convention industry feel a similar drop? Have you noticed a decline in registration numbers from your non-U.S. audience? Go to Catalyst to share your thoughts on how today’s travel climate is having an effect on your meetings and events.

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