Where have all the international attendees gone?

Us border signby John Folks

It wasn’t that long ago that those of us in the business travel and convention industries were cringing at comments from our government officials and negative press around meetings and incentives. “Boondoggles,” “unnecessary extravagances,” and “shameful wasted spending” were common adjectives, and our industry felt the pressure as organizations pulled back on meetings.

However, over the last several years, President Obama has changed his position, at least in part due to the meetings industry economic impact study that was released a year ago. The Travel Promotion Act was enacted this past year, and last week, at Walt Disney World, President Obama announced the need for a national travel strategy that would include making the visa process easier for international visitors.

Why is this important? Estimates are that our cumbersome visa process kept over 70 million international visitors from entering the US over the last 10 years, which translated into over $600 billion in lost revenue. Yes, we all want to stay safe, but most western countries have an easier visa process and requirements than we do, and we need to be more competitive to show the international business community they are welcome at conventions on American soil. A travel strategy is a good start, but a strategy is merely a roadmap until someone takes the wheel and drives. Help spread the word that more needs to be done, and let’s hope there’s plenty of gas in the car.

C-h-i- What?

smart phoneby Mark Adamski

Being that this is my very first contribution to the venerable Heads Up blog, I figured it would be appropriate to talk about finding my way in marketing.

Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with a flowery narrative about my career path. Rather, I want to talk about the nearly microscopic GPS receiver in your smartphone that has the potential to revolutionize the world of marketing and meetings.

Last week I when I landed in Seattle, I opened up my Safari browser while the plane was still taxiing to the gate (yes, the flight attendant said it was okay to use cell phones at that point, and yes, I have an iPhone; Steve Jobs is “the man”…or rather was). As I started to type the name of the restaurant I intended to visit that evening, it only took three fingerprint smudges to jump to a recommendation for “Chisou Seattle.” Ta-da! That’s where I had planned to eat. At the moment I didn’t think this was anything unusual, but then it occurred to me that my domicile is a city that begins with the same letters, c-h-i, and there was not one mention of a place with 3 million+ people! (Perhaps you can guess the city.)

That Chicago-something didn’t appear under the recommendations, or “c-h-i-anything else” for that matter, was somewhat shocking because Chisou is a tiny little restaurant in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, not a sprawling metropolis, or even the world’s most populated country, which also happens to begin with “c-h-i.” Of course, it was no mistake that happened. As soon as I powered up my iPhone, it launched a relentless search for its whereabouts on planet Earth, unbeknownst to me.

The need to satiate my belly’s craving for mediocre Japanese food is just the tip of this iceberg.  GPS technology now offers a new world (loose pun intended) of possibilities when a meeting or conference comes to town:  there are thousands of new people who roam the host city (some might even call them tourists), exploring a place that’s to them mostly unknown.  Applications abound for GPS to be used to enhance the event for attendees, pre, during, and post, and even as ways to drive new sponsorship revenue.

Of course the gaming industry has been leading the charge for a while now with location based smart-phone games like Four Square and others, but it’s time to look into how GPS technology can add to your meetings.  “C-h-i-me” in with your thoughts on how to best use it by commenting below!

It’s a Small World After All

International dolls

By John Folks

As I flew back from IMEX America last week (http://www.imexamerica.com), I was reminded of what a great industry we work in – not only because of the community of outgoing and fun people we get to work with every day, but because we also get to meet so many interesting people from around the world at events like IMEX. I couldn’t help but be energized by the variety of languages I heard, regional costumes I saw, and interesting snacks I sampled as I made my way though the bevy of booths and international pavilions in the Sands Expo Center. Certainly it’s a vibrant trade show experience, but what makes it truly successful is that business is getting done there. The “hosted buyer” model of IMEX requires us (the buyers) to make (and keep) a minimum number of appointments with our choice of exhibitors over the course of the 3 day show. In exchange for that one-on-one time, the exhibitors bear the cost for our travel to and accommodations in Las Vegas. The benefit to the buyer is the opportunity to learn about new places and spaces, as well as to expand our Rolodex of reliable destination experts, global partners that are critical to planning and executing successful events outside the US.  

Over the years, attending shows like IMEX, I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of wonderful people from many different countries and destinations. Cultivating and growing this network has become a passion, and rarely do I travel somewhere and not know someone there. What I find that binds us all together in this industry is our love of travel and discovery, and the joy we get from bringing the world and the people in it a little bit closer, face to face.  And with so many global issues effecting all of us these days, a little face to face time with new international friends helps remind us that despite the news, there are a lot of good things going on in the world, too!  

So, if you haven’t attended (or planned) an international meeting, make a point of doing so soon. But I will warn you, your world will get a little bit smaller.

Mexico: Fact or Fiction?

by Katie Callahan-Giobbi

Woman hitting pinata in Mexico

Fun in Mexico

In preparation for my recent trip to Mexico, I asked several meeting planner friends of mine what their impression was of Mexico as a meetings destination. I was organizing my thoughts for a speech I was to give to the Mexican tourism and destination marketing community. Not surprising, I heard many positive comments about what a beautiful, hospitable country Mexico is. I heard all about the great food, rich history and outstanding hotels and meeting facilities. At the same time, I heard loud and clear that Mexico’s biggest problem is safety and security.

Is it safety and security? Or is it the perception of safety and security? During my trip I had the good fortune of sitting next to a very smart, accomplished and very successful Mexican hotelier. When we talked about this topic he told me in a very straight-forward way that there are cities in the US that have a higher crime rate per capita than all of Mexico.  Mexicans do not deny there is unrest in certain parts of their country. Even so, it is a mistake to assume the entire country is a battleground. In fact, the most troubled areas are hundreds and hundreds of miles away from almost all of the convention and meeting destinations in the country. It would be like assuming that if the crime rate suddenly went up in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles would be less safe as well.

While doing my homework for this trip, I also learned that 97% of Americans who visit Mexico rate their experience as “extremely satisfied or satisfied.” That’s impressive. I also learned that tourism overall accounts for 9% of Mexico’s GDP compared to 2.7% in the US economy. President Felipe Calderon has declared 2011 as “The Year of Tourism”…and rightfully so. If my economy was that dependent on tourism, I would declare EVERY year the year of tourism. Kudos to President Calderon.

Yes,  Mexico is battling a drug war, but perhaps even more threatening to the livelihood of their people and the meetings industry, they are fighting a bigger war against the public perception of safety and security. This is one battle that can be overcome with facts.

You’ve Come a Long Way……….Baby!

By Max Suzenaar

Can You Guess What year was this photo taken?

Newborn photo

The First Camera Phone Picture

This photo “is credited as the first-ever picture taken and transmitted from a phone, made by technology entrepreneur Phillipe Kahn of his newborn baby daughter Sophie on June 11, 1997, in Santa Cruz, California and sent instantly to 2,000 relations, friends, and associates around the globe. Kahn was a proud papa in more ways than he realized:  not only did the camera phone (and otherwise transmitted digital photography) became an underpinning of the modern phenomenon known as social networking, it became a crucial communication and political tool.”*

It’s hard to believe that it was only 1997! Social Media has taken the business world by storm – ironic in that it is SOCIAL media, not BUSINESS media. Yet, its tentacles have not only crept into corporate America, they have connected the entire world at lightning speed leaving every association and corporation scrambling in its wake feverishly looking for any opportunity to ride the wave.

So how does Social Media pertain to your meetings? Your membership? Yes, Social Media is a necessary channel for your marketing mix – and its future is exciting (albeit difficult to harness with predictability). The bottom line? Social Media does not singularly drive attendance. It can influence and help create a buzz for specific segments of your audience. But with rare exception, it does not drive a call to action to register for your meeting. Yet it is essential to integrate a Social Media Plan into your communications strategy. Learn more about how to link Social Media into your meeting from your friends at MYB.

*Source: “LIFE 100 Photographs That Changed the World” Published by LifeBooks an imprint of Time Home Entertainment, Inc. Copyright 2011

Convention Tension

McCormick Place

Chicago's McCormick Place

by John Folks

When it comes to conventions, Chicago has always been “My Kinda Town.”  Just look at the numbers… the convention industry generates $8 billion in annual spending and supports 66,000 jobs in Chicago. It’s big business and McCormick Place is the primary driver.  But in recent years, there have been more and more complaints about the high costs of hosting trade shows at McCormick Place, due in large part to complex, restrictive union work rules. Last year in the wake of a trade-show exodus, the Legislature and the Governor intervened and adopted reforms.

These reforms expanded exhibitors’ rights to put up their own booths; reduced labor crew size requirements, redefined the rules of “straight” time, overtime and double-time, and changed in-house electrical contractor operations. The labor changes prompted five annual trade shows to recommit and several others to choose Chicago. It repositioned the city as more competitive with other convention destinations and a lot easier to do business with.

But a couple of weeks ago, a federal judge ruled that labor reforms enacted at Chicago’s McCormick Place cannot continue.

Without these reforms, Chicago cannot be competitive, and the city will no longer be an attractive destination for these large events. This not only hurts the convention center and hotels, but the taxi drivers, the restaurants, the retail stores, as well as you and me – because the tens of millions of dollars in tax revenues generated through these conventions support city services and infrastructure.

Let your Congressman know that this is important to you and your livelihood – be heard and get their support.  To make it easy, here are two links – the first for Senators, and the second for Representatives:

http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm?State=IL

http://www.house.gov/representatives/#state_id

It will only take 5 minutes to make a call, and our city and industry will be better for it.

Welcome to Heads Up!

Light bulb 

We’re happy to introduce, “MYBlog … Heads Up,” the new place for you to read about what’s happening in the meeting and event industry.  Moving forward we’ll be posting news, industry trend information, our thoughts on the latest technology, agency happenings, helpful tips, and more from the NEW THINK leaders at Minding Your Business.

Some posts will provide valuable insights that will help you in your job, others will provide our agency viewpoints on controversial topics, and still others will keep you abreast of what’s going on here at the MYB ranch, or just provide an entertaining break for your day.   We hope you find enough to become a regular follower. 

We also hope you’ll take a minute or two to let us know what you think about our posts and/or share them with colleagues and friends.  Simply click on the comment button below to let us know if you agree, disagree, or have other words of wisdom to add to our thoughts.  Click on the email, facebook, or twitter buttons to share a post.

We’re excited to finally be sharing our NEW THINK perspective with our industry colleagues through the power of social media.  It’s just one more way we’re Minding Your Business!