Tag Archives: Keep America Meeting

Federal Travel Restrictions Loosened

President Obama has released a memorandum lifting many of the restrictions in place surrounding federal employee attendance at conferences and events.

Since 2012, the process and conditions required for federal employees to gain approval to attend conferences prevented many from attending and properly doing their jobs. The reduction of 25 percent equated to a savings of $30 million.

While regulations will still be in place, the focus will be on federally sponsored or hosted events. Government agencies will now be held to accountability standards, which include publishing information on their public websites about conference attendance with an overall cost greater than $100,000. They must also include the  date and location of the conference, the number of staffers attending, total expenditures, and an explanation of how the event advanced the mission of the agency.

Agencies will now be able to pre-approve attendance at reoccurring events, allowing for the cost savings bonus of early registration discounts and advance travel arrangements. If a conference will cost more than $500,000 for an agency to attend, an agency official must document in writing why the event is the most cost-effective way to achieve the organization’s purpose.

The memorandum says government officials must continue to root out wasteful spending, but it hints at a lesson learned by agencies while they were subjected to such tight controls on conferences. “These changes incorporate the lessons learned over the past several years and recognize the resulting actions that agencies have taken during that time,” the memorandum says, though it also acknowledges that it has impeded the ability of employees to do their jobs to some extent. “These changes also respond to challenges agencies faced as a result of OMB Memorandum M-12-12, including reduced opportunities to perform useful agency functions, present scientific findings and innovations, train, recruit, and retain employees, or share best practices,” the document says.

MIC of Colorado Educational Conference & Tradeshow Recap

Your intrepid ConventionPlanit.com Blogger came out of her winter hibernation to attend the 13th Annual Meetings Industry Council (MIC) of Colorado Educational Conference and Trade Show in Denver last week.


Held at the Colorado Convention Center, the event attracted a combined audience of 900+ planners and suppliers for education and networking. General Sessions produced varied  presentations ranging from one acrobatic speaker tumbling across the stage in order to exhibit “how to be your best when it matters most” to a more “staid” panel discussion  on “The Changing Space of Meetings.”

Even Denver Mayor, Michael Hancock, dropped by to address the attendees. He’s totally committed to supporting the role that meetings and events play to our economy. We just have to hope that his beliefs make their way east to Washington!”

Speaking of which…next stop on my itinerary – Springtime in DC! See you there…

GSA Per Diem Rates Remain Unchanged for 2013

The following post is a letter to the travel industry from Roger Dow, President and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.

Dear Travel Colleague:

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder in defending the value of government travel, our industry successfully avoided a potentially devastating policy change when the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) announced it would not alter its method for calculating lodging per diems, which could have cost the industry $885 million in revenue and thousands of American jobs.

Thanks to the joint advocacy efforts of travel industry associations, local hotel owners, national lodging chains, destination marketing organizations and many others, we were able to defend against a policy proposal that would have cut federal lodging per diem rates by roughly 30 percent.  The GSA was considering this drastic change as part of a government-wide initiative to reduce federal conference and travel spending.  Instead, the GSA decided to freeze lodging per diem rates at current levels for the upcoming fiscal year.

This decision was reached because so many industry leaders sent a clear message that travel is an essential tool for the government and critical to local economies.  Working with the American Hotel & Lodging Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others, we successfully generated dozens of letters from leaders on Capitol Hill and met repeatedly on this issue with members of the Administration to support this issue.  State travel associations and destination marketing organizations from across the nation hosted roundtables with government officials to discuss the importance of federal travel.  In the end, our message was heard loud and clear.

We should be thankful to the GSA, travel leaders in Congress and the Obama Administration for continuing to work collaboratively with our industry, and for their recognition of the importance of travel.  Given the negative media attention surrounding federal conferences, a contentious political environment and a shrinking federal budget, a freeze in the per diem rates is a sensible policy decision that minimizes economic impact on the travel industry and protects taxpayer dollars during these tight fiscal times.

There are still difficult challenges ahead.  Federal agencies face 30 percent cuts to their travel budgets and government conferences remain under intense scrutiny.  But the per diem debate provides a valuable lesson on what we can accomplish when we speak with one voice.  From streamlined visa policies, to improvements in aviation, to developing smart and responsible government travel practices, the unified voice of our industry is being heard as never before in Washington, D.C.

I will keep you informed of further developments.


Roger J. Dow

Springtime Expo 2011

Yesterday many of your favorite ConventionPlanit.com staff members attended the ASAE Springtime Expo at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

If the judging is up to us…we rule the event a total success!

The educational sessions were chock full of information (more on these later), and the General Session was pretty motivating, thanks to Bert Jacobs, Co-Founder of the popular clothing brand Life is Good.

Then it was onto the Expo Hall, which was filled with more vendors than ever!  We are, of course, partial to the ConventionPlanit.com Booth!

Springtime Expo

Katherine Markham, CHME and Maureen Pickell, CTC at the CP Booth

We saw some familiar faces and many new ones at our booth.  Much of the day was spent dancing to our catchy meeting planning music video, which was on display at the booth.  Meeting planners can share in the fun of the video by entering a predict the future contest!

Another highlight were our friends from the Anchorage CVB, who generously sponsored our Grand Prize…a trip for two to Alaska!  The gals even put together an adorable prize package, with a stuffed brown bear, moose and a gorgeous photo book of Alaska.  We’ll show some photos of the prize early next week!

The Economic Significance of Meetings to the U.S. Economy

Meetings Mean Business, along with the Convention Industry Council and PwC US, has just released a study:

The Economic Significance of Meetings to the U.S. Economy

The study reveals that the meetings industry directly supports:

  • 1.7 million jobs
  • $263 billion in spending
  • a $106 billion contribution to GDP
  • $60 billion in labor revenue
  • $14.3 billion in federal tax revenue
  • $11.3 billion in state and local tax revenue

This is the first study ever to truly measure the economic impact of meetings to help the industry tell the story about the value of meetings to policymakers, the business community, and the public.

Katherine Markham, CHME, our Co-Founder and Principal, attended the press conference today on the study.

She says:

“The best thing about the study is that it shows how critical meetings are at a time when our recovery depends on steadily increasing business activity.

“Fortunately, we are seeing a steady recovery in the meetings industry. The fact that this study measured data for 2009 – one of the toughest years for the meetings industry – shows that meetings are an even greater force in the economy than most people realize. The data for 2010 and beyond are no doubt even stronger.

“As meeting professionals move into the future, they are also depending even more on technology to help them plan meetings, and that’s where ConventionPlanit.com helps them with our online search directory. By connecting meeting planners to hotels and meeting venues as rapidly as possible, we hope we are doing our part to help speed the recovery and book more meetings for the future.”

To learn more, read the full study.  What do you think the survey means for our industry?

International Business Travelers and Tourists to Fund U.S. Marketing Campaign

Guest Blog Post – courtesy of Rob Hard

President Obama signed the U.S. Travel Promotion Act into law (March 4, 2010), creating a nonprofit organization (public-private partnership) that will be overseen by the U.S. Commerce Department to promote the U.S. as a business travel and tourism destination – and help explain security and entry policies into the country. Politicians and many in the U.S. hospitality industry proclaim this as a victory.

The national tourism office will be funded with up to US$200 million to create a marketing campaign to international visitors. Sounds great, right? Not so fast. At least half of this money will come from a new tax scheme.

A US$10 fee will be charged to international visitors from 35 countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to cover up to US$100 million of the budget. The fee would be assessed once every two years, allowing unlimited visits into the U.S. during that time. The legislation also allows the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to charge a separate administrative fee which some say will amount to US$2-3 per transaction to manage the program – costing another US$20-30 million each year. Individuals are likely to incur personal credit card fees as well.

The other US$100 million will be covered by a combination of in-kind and cash investments contributed by third parties in the U.S. tourism industry – most of these organizations already have a financial interest in promoting themselves to international travelers.

While the fees may sound nominal, it’s something that has many people from the impacted countries upset, says Steve Lott, spokesperson for the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Washington, DC.

“Other countries charge their entry/exit fees every time you enter,” a US Travel Association spokesperson explains. “The US$10 fee is far lower than similar fees – ranging from Ireland’s US$14 entry tax to the UK’s whopping US$100 – paid by Americans when they travel abroad. And with a mere 35 countries that would be required to pay the fee, fewer than 30% of foreign travelers will be affected.”

The USTA’s reference to the UK may be appropriate; however, the UK’s Air Passenger Duty (tax) is viewed quite controversially, and some in the UK are concerned that it will negatively impact tourism as the fee continues to increase. The UK introduced a small fee to generate needed revenue in 1993, and the tax has grown significantly since then. And just because someone else charges a fee isn’t enough of a reason for others to follow.

The IATA has taken a position against the U.S. fee, saying that an entry or exit fee charged by other countries is a matter of comparing apples to oranges: none of the 35 countries have a tourism-specific fee.

IATA isn’t the only business travel organization against the fee. The National Business Travel Association (NBTA) doesn’t support it either “because it taxes the traveler to pay for an item that doesn’t tangibly benefit the traveler,” says Shane Downey, director of public policy for the NBTA, Alexandria, Virginia.

Nobody is questioning the importance of creating a U.S. tourism office – or a needed marketing campaign.

But it’s important to know that roughly 47 million international business and leisure travel visits were made to the U.S. in 2009 (excludes Mexico) – a decline of about 6%, and the amount they spent dropped by 15% to about US$122 billion (includes Mexico), according to data from the U.S. Office of Travel & Tourism Industries, Washington, DC. In general, overseas travelers spend about US$4,500 per trip to the U.S., according to the USTA.

Given the amount international visitors already contribute to the U.S. economy, why isn’t the cost of the program being covered from existing taxes?

It seems unfortunate that the fees are tied to visitors from VWP countries – a program initially developed to streamline and encourage international tourism to the U.S. It was chosen because the VWP system already exists and can be easily modified to capture a new fee.

The verdict is also out as to whether the U.S. has risked alienating individuals and governments from some of these countries who may opt to visit elsewhere and/or establish retaliatory fees upon U.S. international visitors to their countries. If that happens, this legislation should ultimately be viewed as a new tax on U.S. international travelers.

As for the argument that this is needed because the U.S. isn’t promoting itself internationally, this is simply misleading. Many U.S. cities and states advertise and participate at international travel shows around the world.

It has already been reported that the U.S. plans to promote its tourism to emerging markets, including Brazil, China and India. I, of course, want travelers from these and other countries to know that they are welcome in the U.S. But I’m not sure how business travelers and tourists from Australia, Japan, Spain and other countries may feel as they pay an extra fee to cover the cost of that campaign.

So is it only a matter of time before other countries will be asked to pay a U.S. entry fee for tourism?

Based in Chicago, Rob Hard is a freelance business travel writer and publisher of http://BusinessTravelDestinations.com, business travel views to international destinations, and event planning guide for About.com. He is also founder of RH Communications, Inc., a boutique marketing firm that provides creative and printing solutions. Email him at editor@rhcommunications.com or write to him at PO Box 4405, Chicago, IL USA 60605.

Travel Promotion Act Faces Final Vote – Call Your Senators!

The long awaited Travel Promotion Act may face a final Senate vote this week.

Why It Matters: it will attract more visitors to our nation, create new jobs, and increase revenue for lodging businesses and local governments, all at no cost to American taxpayers. This is a bill that can help this nation’s economy during a time when job creation is a top action item for Congress.

How YOU Can Help: reach out to your Senators this week and tell them how import the Travel Promotion Act is to the meetings industry industry-and your state.

Thank them for their earlier support of the bill (the Senate passed an earlier version 79-19 in September) and urge them to again help one of the nation’s largest industry sectors during this tough economic period.

How to Contact Your Senators:
• Call the U.S. Capitol operator at 202-224-3121 and ask for your Senator’s offices, or view this list of Senators and their states.
• Explain you are resident of the Senator’s home state.
• State you are calling to register your strong support for the Travel Promotion Act (S. 1023/H.R. 1299) and urge your Senators to vote “YES” for the bill to support their state’s lodging and travel industries.

If the Senate vote is successful, the bill will then head to President Obama’s desk for his signature into law.

Support the meetings industry and call your Senators!

Tuesday at PCMA Annual 2010

Your intrepid blogger had another busy day. The sessions at the PCMA annual conference continue to be varied and interesting, beginning with “Beyond Borders: Advanced Solutions for International Meetings.” Roundtable discussion topics ranged from Risk Management and Attendance Building to Budgets and Cost Containment as well as Working with Partners. The goal was to help eliminate the trial and error of international planning by sharing information among participants. Specific issues were introduced and solutions discussed using the expertise of both planners and suppliers.

For those of you interested in the results, the notes will be posted on the PCMA website after the conference.

Then on to “Top Industry Leaders on the Future of Meetings.” The meetings industry version of “The Magnificent Seven” including Jonathan Tisch, Roger Dow, John Graham, Bruce MacMillan, Michael Gehrisch, Brenda Anderson and Deborah Sexton addressed the outlook for 2010 and beyond. A lively discussion about the power of collaboration revealed that the prognosis is basically optimistic but more work needs to be done to rebuild and renew our industry.

The standing room only audience seemed more than anxious to take on the challenge by furthering the grass roots movements begun this past year.

And lastly, how many of you know the difference between Free range poultry and Cage free birds? The session entitled “Green Guide: Sustainable Food and Beverage” presented tips on selecting sustainable food choices and staying within budget while implementing a program to manage food and beverage waste.  Again, consult the PCMA website for a glossary of terms relating to this important topic.

Looking forward to Wednesday’s sessions and networking!

Affordable Meetings National Recap

Last Wednesday and Thursday, we attended HSMAI’s Affordable Meetings National Show in Washington, DC.

The show was attended by over 2,000 meeting planners on the first day!

The education sessions throughout both days of the show were of the highest quality. Our personal favorites include Jonathan Tisch and Scott Klososky’s keynote speeches (more on Klososky in our next post).

Jonathan Tisch inspired us to fight for the meetings industry! He shared a video of how far the Keep America Meeting campaign has come and encouraged audience members to contact their Senators in support of the Travel Promotion Act. Ironically, the bill was passed the very next day.

Tisch shared that Loews hotels have adopted the mantra “value is the new luxury.” We think the saying is reflective of the trends across the entire industry – Affordable Meetings National was the perfect place to gather and discuss them!

New Ideas and Partnerships at ASAE Expo 2009

What are planners looking for from the ASAE Expo?

A survey taken on the floor the first two days found planners looking for new ideas and new partnerships. To quote one association planner,

“In order to be successful, we look at our exhibitors not just as exhibitors, but as business partners.”

Face to face interaction with business partners at the expo is an important way to foster connections.

After ASAE has concluded, planners can solidify these new relationships by using ConventionPlanit.com as a web portal to our varied portfolio of suppliers.

Technology, especially social networking, are important components to the meetings industry, but can be made much more successful through new face to face connections!