With financial constraints on the minds of meetings industry pundits and politicians alike, the burning topic at the seventh IMEX Politicians’ Forum was the role meetings play in stimulating economic recovery. But the meetings professionals also understood they could do better to improve public perception of their activities.
The rapidly-changing global economy combined with a misinformed backlash against the meetings and incentive travel industry in the US were two issues that dominated the debate at the last Politicians’ Forum, a report published today shows.
Looking back at the forum, which took place during IMEX 2009 on May 26, moderator, Michael Hirst, OBE, chairman of the UK Business Visits and Events Partnership explained, “Both events vividly demonstrated why the forum is – and has been for the last six years – so important, and why we must all continue to communicate loudly, clearly, and consistently about the true value and importance of the meetings industry.” He said: “There should be no gap between perception and reality. This industry is a proven vehicle for economic recovery and growth, as well as a long-term, viable platform for job and skills creation – that was the nub of our discussion on the day, and the reason why so many political representatives were keen to learn more about this somewhat ‘hidden’ industry. In fact, we all agreed that the combined economic and media storms actually represented a great opportunity for the industry to be heard and understood at the very highest levels and gave us a consumer-facing public platform for the very first time.”
The report shows that Brenda Anderson, CEO of Site (Society of Incentive and Travel Executives) shared some salutary lessons from her recent experience in the media spotlight in the USA as a result of what became known there as the ‘AIG effect.’ “We were caught off guard by not being able to articulate our economic spend and impact,” she told the forum audience. She went on to praise IMEX for “being ahead of the curve” in founding the Politicians’ Forum and recognizing the importance of encouraging mutual understanding between government representatives and the meetings and events industry.
COMMUNITY AND ENVIRONMENTAL TARGETS
Attending politicians were invited to ask questions of the panel in advance. These ranged from how to develop their arguments to secure long-term funding for conventions centers, to how to galvanize public opinion to support and understand what the industry contributes at a local level. There was also a great deal of interest in learning how the industry can contribute positively to local environmental and community relations targets, as well as helping politicians understand more about how to attract greater numbers of events and business visitors to their destinations. Much of the day’s discussion centered on how to offset misconceptions about the industry and ensure that, once aligned, public and political opinion remain consistently well-informed about the true economic impact of the meetings industry and its potential for further progress and development.
On this year’s speakers’ panel were: John Greenway, MP, UK; Katarzyna Sobierajska, Under Secretary of State, Ministry of Sport and Tourism, Warsaw, Poland; Helena Nyhus, Deputy Mayor Göteborg, Sweden; and Geoffrey Lipman, Deputy Secretary General, UNWTO. The forum, which is held under the auspices of the Joint Meetings Industry Council and in collaboration with European Cities Marketing (ECM) and AIPC (International Association of Conference Centres), welcomed 25 politicians and civic leaders from 11 European countries together with 50 meetings industry representatives.
SIX CITY CASE STUDIES
Apart from the panel discussion, politicians were each presented with six different city case studies designed to bring the issues of developing a city as a viable international meetings industry destination to life. These explained in detail how Göteborg, Malaga