The following is a guest blog entry written by MPI Chicago Area Chapter member Kyle Hillman, CMP, who recently participated in the U.S. Travel Association advocacy fly-in to Washington, D.C.
Since the bailout event backlash and the government meeting scandals that include the now legendary US$16 muffin, our industry has been scrambling to put together a cohesive advocacy message to mixed results. So it was with great interest that I found the most recent U.S. Travel Association advocacy fly-in to Washington, D.C., April 10-11.
I am probably not like most MPI member planners in that half of my job consists of legislative tracking and organizing advocacy/educational event efforts for the social work association I work for. I see first-hand every day the power of a vocal and active membership, and it is likely why our industry’s timid approach to advocacy irks me so much.
While I have my own reservations about U.S. Travel steering our advocacy message, give credit where credit is due in that they are at least trying to organize this beast that is a collection of loosely associated associations that make up the meeting and event industry.
The fly-in was very much like other advocacy efforts I have attended in the past—speakers updating you on important issues, a review of talking points and a quick tutorial on advocating on Capitol Hill. U.S. Travel organized the attendee meetings with legislators (or more often their staff) and prepared leave-behind packets on issues U.S. Travel is most eager to push. All you had to do was show up on Capitol Hill and tell your story—an easy enough task.
Surprisingly, my group (who visited the Illinois delegation) really didn’t run into opposition to U.S. Travel priorities such as the JOLT Act or modernizing air travel, although I can’t imagine having these talks now that the Boston tragedy has thrust immigration and visa access to the front of the political rhetoric line.
While the event was successful, I couldn’t help but think, "Why isn’t the meeting industry here in larger numbers?" Why are we not as organized or as proactive as the U.S. Travel Association?
It isn’t a lack of industry awareness, as I haven’t been to a major industry conference or event that hasn’t had at least one panel pontificating about why the industry should be involved in advocacy efforts. In fact, it seems an entire profession—telling the industry why they should be advocating—has been born from this movement. What we are missing is the concrete plan to make it happen and the will to get it started.
That is what I learned most from U.S. Travel Association’s event. We need to stop speaking out about why we should be in advocacy and start speaking to our legislators about what we do and why certain policies are hurting business growth here and abroad.
In Chicago, the city recently passed a new ordinance that results in increased fees on hotel parking. This is yet another fee that will directly affect the hotel’s ability to be competitive with cheaper options outside city limits and will become yet another factor for planners or event producers to take into consideration when looking to produce their shows in the city. Tax/fee policies like these are occurring in every city and every U.S. state, and, without a cohesive response and mobilization of the industry, will continue to happen. If the squeaky wheel gets the grease, than the quiet one will have to carry the unfair load.
While I appreciated the experience with the U.S. Travel Association Fly-In, my next trip to D.C. should be under the banner of MPI or the Convention Industry Council carrying talking points important to our industry. My next call for action should come from my chapter legislative committee asking us to speak out about proposed local legislation that may help or hinder our industry and the businesses that we support.
We need to stop talking about advocacy and do it.