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Meetings Mean Business Telling Stories That Matter

Co-chairs reach beyond industry to protect what is important

Pop Quiz: What industry generated more than $1.07 trillion globally in direct spending in 2017? Not the consumer electronics or automotive industries. The economic engine that powers the world is the meetings industry. Yes, revenue from planning, producing, traveling to, attending and hosting meetings, conferences, conventions, exhibitions and incentive travel for some 1.5 billion people from 180 counties was one of the major drivers of economic, business, scientific and social growth over the last few years.

According to a study by Oxford Economics, sponsored by Events Industry Council with support from Meetings Mean Business (MMB), gathering for the purpose of doing business, sharing medical research and rewarding top performers supported 10.3 million direct jobs and generated another $26 million indirectly.

Does That Surprise You?

If the two determined women leading this year’s MMB coalition are successful, the answer to that question will soon be top of mind for people inside and outside the meetings industry—including at the highest levels of government policy-makers. Last August, the organization that brings together event and meeting professionals from all over the world to speak with one voice about the importance of the industry tapped Trina Camacho-London, vice president of Global Group Sales with Hyatt Hotels Corporation, to co-chair awareness efforts alongside a Hyatt alum, Julie Coker Graham, president and CEO of Philadelphia Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, who started her two-year term in 2018.

A Crisis Averted

The 2019 chairs had some pretty big shoes to fill. MMB was born in 2009 as an arm of U.S. Travel Association in the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s comment heard around the world about the boondoggle of meeting in resorts after the government loaned AIG $173 billion as part of the Troubled Assets Relief Program.

The entire industry felt the hit from those remarks, recalls MMB founding co-chair Richard Harper, who now is executive vice president at HelmsBriscoe in Scottsdale, Arizona, but was executive vice president of sales and marketing at MGM Resorts International at the time. “We needed to act, and act quickly, to defend the face-to-face meetings industry,” he says of the first meeting the nascent coalition held in January 2009 in Washington, D.C., with a dozen industry leaders. “We would not be where we are today, with one of the healthiest meetings economy in history, without the efforts of MMB.”

Another co-chair, Larry Luteran, chief sales officer for Encore Event Technologies, who was with Hilton Worldwide when MMB was born, recalls vividly the discussion at an MPI conference in Atlanta in January 2009. “The meetings industry had endured four months of unprecedented attacks, characterizing all meetings as junkets and boondoggles, by people in influential positions that really didn’t understand our business. We were experiencing cancellations of meetings at record levels and the negative rhetoric was out of control,” he says.

Leaders from planning and hospitality organizations took the stage. They proudly declared the meetings and events industry as “the most crucial marketing vehicle available to business, communities and charities.” Armed with data points about the impact on taxes and jobs, they made a rally cry out of the fact that every dollar spent on a meeting or an event had a $12.50 return “That has taught us a valuable lesson—to sustain our energy in communicating the vital role of face to face in the very fabric of our society,” he says.

“The creation of Meetings Mean Business Coalition was quite a feat,” said David Peckinpaugh, president of Maritz Travel, who was part of the effort to organize and later served as co-chair. “It was the first time a true industry coalition was built by bringing together key players with one voice on behalf of the industry.”

Today, MMB is supported by more than 60 member organizations—CVBs, DMOs, international hotel chains, meeting professional associations and event facilitation services—and on one day each April, they all work together to plan a major show of support for the work they do the other 364 days of the year. “Our members may compete away from the table, but they come together to speak with one voice on this topic,” Coker Graham said.

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