POST-KATRINA: “The meetings industry played an absolutely criti- cal role, symbolically and economi- cally, in rebuilding New Orleans,” Perry said. “It was clear to every single citizen in the city how vast- ly dependent this city truly is on its convention and meeting busi- ness and on its leisure tourists.”
You have said that the first priority for DMAI under your leadership is for the industryto speak with a unified voice. How would you rate progress on that goal?
I think it’s coming along extremely well. A lot of that credit goes to Roger Dow and [the] U.S. Travel [Association].We’ve gotten ourselves positioned to where we finally have a unified voice inWashington. But the important thing is that the other organizations have come together on research projects, on foundation work, that now the goal, more properly said, would be to have a unified voice in terms of messages—a choir of a million voices going around the country. And what’s important for us in the DMAI role is that we bring a deeper vertical and broader horizontal integration to the industry, because we exist in virtually every county and city in America. Tourism is a three-quarters-of-a-trillion-dollar industry, and
the meetings industry is clearly worth between $100–$150 bil- lion a year.We have got to have uniform strategies for commu- nication [about their importance] that is articulated not only in Washington to our political stakeholders, but that resonate down to the state level with governors, and to the local level with mayors, county, and parish officials. I think we are just beginning to scratch the surface right now. The advocacy efforts atDMAI, in partnering with other organizations like U.S. Travel and others for National Travel&TourismWeek [May 7–15] and U.S. Travel Rally Day [May 10] all over the United States, are starting to make a difference in penetrating the consciousness of stakeholders to understand that though they may have perceived of us as a soft—or potentially amor- phous—industry, we are clearly one of the greatest economic drivers and employers in the United States.
What effect do you think the Economic Significance Study will have on the industry? It gives us the kind of high-quality, objective data that is often missing.We know intuitively the value of our business in the roles that we play, but more and more now in times of very lean budgets across the United States at state and local levels, and with tremendous deficits at the federal level, any expenditure has got to have strong ROI and strong data and research to validate it.
As a member of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, how would you characterize the profile of the meetings industry within the larger context of the travel and tourism industry? I think the meetings and conventions business is clearly get- ting healthier.We went through a very difficult period during the economic downturn and the post–AIG Effect. I think we are positioned better than we ever have been because the PR and communications and the economic information that we have provided nationally has truly helped gain a foothold in the psyche of our national political leaders. All of this is built around the base of having true research and strong advocacy —because neither can be successful without the other. We’re focusing tremendously on visa-related issues for the
huge number of associations who rely on very large percent- ages of international attendance.We have many shows that have anywhere from 35 to 45 percent–plus of their attendees from international origin. You have three of the largest coun- tries in the world—Brazil, China, and India—with visa issues. Our goal still is to get the VisaWaiver Program expanded, but more than that, to really change the culture of how we welcome people into the United States—whether it’s the Known Traveler Program or Global Entry Program, or whether it’s a different attitude with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or having technology that makes that airport experience a lot cleaner and faster.We’re in the hospitality business, and we’ve created the most inhospitable barriers.
What have been some other achievements that DMAI has made this year? From the advocacy point of view, it’s the issue of relevance. It is very important that we from the world of destination mar- keting organizations show the value and the expertise we bring, which of course comes at no charge to every [meeting planner] customer, whether it’s a 10-person meeting or a 50,000-person show. It has been a year of connecting CEOs of DMOs with the continued on page 56