Meetings & Travel in Times of Crisis

By Roger Dow • May 10, 2016

Roger Dow, U.S. Travel Association
Roger Dow, U.S. Travel Association

If you’re reading this, you already know the value of face-to-face business meetings, conferences, conventions, tradeshows, exhibitions and every gathering like them. While virtual meetings and electronic communication are a wonderful addition to how we do business, they simply cannot build relationships, drive collaboration and spark ideas like the unplanned interactions that so often take place at in-person events. As I’ve said before, there’s no technology that can replace a handshake.

However, we live in a complicated world, and anxiety around travel and large gatherings is currently running high. The terror attacks last year in Paris and San Bernardino were serious events that warranted an equally serious reaction, though some proposed responses, including crippling the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), threatened to derail legitimate travel. The Zika virus, like Ebola before it, has made some people uneasy about traveling or meeting in large groups of people. Compounding this is the shaky state of global financial markets, which is understandably making companies skittish, and slowing down business travel.

These combined sentiments, especially the latter, pose a challenge to meeting planners, especially when added to the controversies around government meetings and travel – and how they’re funded – in recent years. However, we at the U.S. Travel Association believe that it’s not just possible, but incumbent upon the U.S. government to prevent waste while preserving travel and the culture of productivity and collaboration meetings inspire – after all, 92 percent of all federal employees say that in-person meetings improve their ability to do their jobs effectively.

The power of meetings is felt even more deeply in the private sector – for every dollar invested in business travel, U.S. companies have experienced a $9.50 return in terms of revenue. The ROI on face-to-face meetings for both productivity and profit is clear, and we work every day to drive this message home in Washington on behalf of the meetings industry.

Meetings Mean BusinessAs you may know, U.S. Travel believes so strongly in the value of meetings and business travel that during the recent financial crisis we launched the Meetings Mean Business Coalition (MMBC), in order to gather and showcase resources that unequivocally prove the impact that business travel and the meetings industry have on businesses, economies and communities. MMBC above all emphasizes the power of meetings to create personal connections, build strong communities and drive positive business outcomes. U.S. Travel’s efforts in Washington are fueled by these sentiments – and we’ve garnered enough victories to indicate that lawmakers have heard our message loud and clear.

U.S. Travel has continually fought off legislation that restricts meetings, and worked actively to promote and facilitate business travel. Most recently, in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, our industry weathered misguided attacks on the VWP, which allows pre-screened, pre-approved travelers from partner countries to bypass the standard visa process when entering the U.S. Derailing the VWP would cost billions in lost economic activity, a good portion of which is generated by international business travelers and conference-goers. We waged a concentrated campaign to educate members of Congress about the program’s security and economic benefits, emphasizing above all that freedom must prevail over fear when responding to terrorist attacks and other security events. Our efforts paid off in the passage of VWP enhancements backed by the travel community.

When our nation is responding to a crisis, it’s vital to remind our leaders of the power of meetings and business travel at every rung of America’s economic ladder. Travel and meetings are often unfortunately caught in the crosshairs during quick responses to security, health and natural crises. Our industry benefits the economy of every state and every congressional
district, and we must constantly remind lawmakers of that fact—and of the impact that their quick decisions have on their constituents’ livelihoods for years to come.

The meetings industry is a strong, resilient community of people dedicated to fostering collaborative, productive and creative interactions. As such, our work in Washington cannot be as strong
as it is without support from you. You can do your part to support the meetings industry and promote travel by joining the Power of Travel Coalition. When we need you to take action on an issue or piece of legislation that affects our industry, we will call on you—and only when it’s truly important. Learn more about the coalition at

Meetings are critical for the U.S. economy, and with your help, we can make sure that our industry stands strong, no matter what crises the world throws our way.

Roger Dow is president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. This piece originally ran in MPI Greater New York’s @MPIGNY magazine