MMBC Board Meeting: We Need to Speak in a Unified Voice

Gabrielle Weiss
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Washington, D.C. — At a hybrid board meeting, members of the Meetings Industry Advocacy Group of the Meetings Mean Business Coalition gathered to learn the latest status of the coalition’s advocacy efforts on behalf of the events industry. The 35 individuals who gathered in person at the Grand Hyatt Washington were reassured by the hotel’s Global Care & Cleanliness Commitment.

“The MMBC and Hyatt teams in DC did an excellent job of setting up the meeting space, handling F&B,” said David Audrain, Executive Director of SISO and CEO/Partner, ExpoDevCo. “I was very happy to have been able to attend the meeting in person and to especially have been able to connect up with many industry colleagues face-to-face.”

David Dubois, CMP, CAE, FASAE, CTA, President and CEO, International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE), added that, while there is no 100% prevention, Hyatt is a hotel company that is taking most of its hotels through the GBAC STAR program and he felt safe. A few key takeaways from the meeting ultimately emphasized unity: “Stay positive and continue to enhance and support appropriate sanitization and safety procedures and practices and that the U.S. Travel Association is working hard to develop, and ready the “Let’s Go There” promotional campaign,” he said. “It is scheduled to launch when the COVID cases reach a low enough level to appropriately launch that program.”

Another 50 attendees participated via Zoom chat displayed on on-stage screens. “As you would expect, the vast majority of the discussion and interactions came from the in-person attendees,” said Audrain.

Legislative Priorities
While the MMBC board meetings — the last of which was held last September at IMEX in Las Vegas — usually entail a lot of detailed reporting out of recent business, the August meeting took a more top-line approach. “With the current situation being so fluid, we are focusing the work we’re doing on 30, 60 and 90-day increments,” said Nan Marchand Beauvois, Senior Vice President, Membership and Industry Relations; General Manager, ESTO, U.S. Travel.

Tori Barnes, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy at the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), updated the board on the collective legislative priorities of the industry right now, which revolve around ensuring that industry members who need help get it until recovery is possible, including:
• Expanding the Paycheck Protection Program to all small businesses and nonprofits through the end of 2020
• Limited, temporary and immediate safe harbor from litigation for COVID-19–related claims for businesses that follow health and safety guidelines
• Temporary refundable payroll tax credit for businesses and nonprofits to help restore activities for the meetings and events sector
• Restoration of the entertainment business expense deduction for at least three years
• Tax credit that would help businesses of all sizes mitigate the health and safety-related costs of COVID-19, from structural barriers to personal protective equipment.

Dubois said another key takeaway for him was learning about the USTA’s “Let’s Go There” promotional campaign, which is scheduled to launch when COVID-19 cases reach an appropriately low level, hopefully sometime this fall.

Beauvois said the consumer-facing campaign is “designed to give consumers permission to dream again about traveling by letting them know, when they’re ready, the industry will be there.” She says USTA is also working on a similar initiative aimed toward meetings and trade shows called “Let’s Meet There”, which likely won’t launch until 2021, depending on the status of COVID-19 infections.

Speaking in a Unified Voice
MMBC also intends to continue to work with the Go LIVE Together and Live Events Coalitions to strengthen the appeals by providing a unified voice for the industry. “The impact of COVID-19 is industry-wide, and we are communicating beyond our membership to ensure that everyone has the information they need to join in the grassroots campaign,” said Beauvois. “We want to amplify the work these organizations are doing and ensure we all speak with one voice. Our industry has many different focuses and priorities, but we need to be able to show our elected officials that we speak in one voice on behalf of the greater good.”

The meeting also highlighted a series of discussions USTA has been holding with different facets of the industry, including one this summer with The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) to learn about HR policies around corporate travel. In another recent discussion, officials from a hotel chain, an airport and USTA’s Roger Dow gave their perspectives on the new normal. The outcomes of these discussions, which will continue through the fall, will be used to shape engagements with the media, engage stakeholders and inform long-term strategic planning.

Reach David Audrain at (404) 334-4585 or David@SISO.org; David Dubois at (972) 687-9204 or ddubois@iaee.com; and Nan Marchand Beauvois at (202) 408-2147 or nbeauvois@ustravel.org.