by Vincent Alonzo | April 14, 2017
Puerto Rico: 120,000 -- Zika: 0

It's no secret that 2016 was a rough year for Puerto Rico, as the Zika scare negatively impacted its tourism efforts. But the low point came when the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) cancelled its 2016 conference due to Zika fears and opted instead to take the group to a "healthier" spot: India. 

"That was a tough one to take, when a group chooses India over your destination for health reasons," said Milton Segarra, president and CEO of Meet Puerto Rico, when he stopped by our offices to give our managing editor, Alex Palmer, an update on the island.

The good news is that ICANN has rebooked Puerto Rico for 2018. It's part of a complete turnaround for the island, and it offers some great lessons for suppliers and planners alike when it comes to dealing with real and perceived threats to meetings at destinations. 

"The best way for destinations to overcome misperceptions is by arming themselves with facts and being totally transparent," said Segarra.

Here are a few facts he imparted that helped fuel the Zika frenzy against Puerto Rico, along with the actual numbers:

In March of 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had initially forecast that 750,000 cases would occur in Puerto Rico in 2016, representing 25 percent of the island's population. The actual number recorded during 2016 was 37,889, representing just over one percent of the population.

In spite of the bad publicity, last year the island was able to host 225 meetings, which brought 120,000 attendees. 

"The number of Zika cases among those attendees was zero," Segarra said.

Not connecting


I couldn't help noticing a kind of embarrassing moment of disconnection at the recent IACC Americas Connect Conference at UCLA's Luskin Conference Center in Los Angeles. During the MPI Meeting Planner panel discussion at the general session, someone from the audience asked the panel if they were familiar with IACC before coming to the event. None of them were. 

"That's on us," said TJ Fimmano, general manager at Dolce Hotels and Resorts. "We need to do a better job of reaching out to the meeting planner community." 

On the plus side, the wheels are in motion to remedy the problem. During that same general session, IACC and MPI announced a global alliance in which the two associations will share event and learning platforms, including education delivered at annual conferences, regional events, and online, as well as research initiatives. This should go a long way towards helping IACC, the only association to certify conference and meetings venues on a global basis, make a better connection with the planner community.

Goodbye trinkets and trash, hello trinkets and high-end branded merchandise

For more than a decade, incentive suppliers and industry associations have been working on getting promotional products reps interested in pitching their clients brand-name merchandise for incentive programs -- items that go beyond the traditional branded pens and apparel -- with little success. Recently, Jeffrey Dalton, president of Red Bank, NJ-based Paramax, an incentive technology solutions firm, told our executive editor Leo Jakobson to expect that to change soon. 

"While promotional product reps have been getting a lot of incentive business quietly for many years -- say a bunch of Bose headphones when an existing client wants to recognize employees -- they have not been pushing incentives in a systematic way," he noted. 

But now that top-five promotional products firm Halo Branded Solutions has bought Michael C. Fina Recognition, a major recognition and rewards firm based in New York, the tipping point may have been reached. 

"Halo buying Fina will have a big impact," Dalton said. "The next group of promotional products companies will have to respond."

What wine goes best with beef sliders? 


Trick question! The answer is a whiskey sour, of course. That's what I learned at Brian Freedman's session at the IACC America's Connect Conference. Freedman, who contributes a regular wine and spirits column to Forbes, is a wine, spirits, food, and beverage consultant, drinks educator, and event host and speaker. Some of the F&B tidbits he imparted to us, which might help in planning your next banquet menu, include the following:

-- Mac & Cheese is reaching the end of its plateau as a hot side dish.
-- Fried Chicken and BBQ is the hottest regional cuisine right now.
-- Mescal is the next up-and-coming liquor for cocktails.

Tale from the crypt


There were about 50 of us at Freedman's aforementioned F&B session. It took place in an offsite venue next to the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, which is best know for being the resting place of Marilyn Monroe. How many of us stopped to visit her mausoleum before boarding the bus back to the Luskin Conference Center? About 50.