by Alex Palmer | February 26, 2018
An event is not just a time to get people together to discuss business and to network -- it's an opportunity to inspire and make an impact. That was one of the messages emphasized at this year's SMU International, held Feb. 25-27 in Brooklyn, NY. The gathering, taking place this year at the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, brought together about 250 meeting planners and representatives of hotels, DMCs, and destinations, for one-on-one meetings, networking events, and speakers sessions, making bigger-picture considerations a central part of the gatherings.
"Create experiences that are so useful and delightful that people invite you into their lives," said Afdhel Aziz, chief creative officer of marketing consultancy Conspiracy of Love and co-author of Good Is the New Cool: How to Market Like You Give a Damn, who delivered the opening keynote.

His message emphasized that organizations will find the greatest success by placing their brands at the intersection of "commerce, conscience, and culture." He made the case for why consumers, employees, and investors put a premium on activism and social value -- for example, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink's recent assertion that he expects that the companies his organization invests in "benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate."

Aziz pointed to brands like Nike, Tesla, and Airbnb as examples of brands that have made social impact part of their brand DNA and flourished as a result. He also laid out a seven-step Good Is the New Cool model: Know your purpose; find your allies; think citizens, not consumers; lead with the cool and bake in the good; don't advertise, solve problems; people are the new media; and back up the promise with the proof. 

"This is a golden moment," he concluded. "Your values drive your value; people want you use your hearts, not just your minds."

That message was not limited to the keynote. The session's sponsor, PROCOLOMBIA, Colombia's tourism and marketing organization, emphasized not only the destination's numerous attractions, from the World Heritage Site of Cartagena to the architecture of Bogota -- but also highlighted the country's sustainability efforts and its transformation in the past few years following the peace agreement between its government and FARC guerillas. 

"Holding a meeting has a direct association with legacy," said Maria Abuabara-Brülhart, tourism director of the U.S. market for PROCOLOMBIA. "A peace agreement after 52 years of armed conflict shows the possibilities that can unfold with a feeling that they're contributing to a great cause."

The host hotel itself evoked this idea of doing good. Open for just a little over a year, the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge has made sustainability central to its design and offerings, from using reclaimed materials for the building to placing native greenery in the rooms.

"The greatest example of leading with the cool that I can give you is this hotel right here," said Aziz, during his remarks. "The new generation of consumers want cool first, with good wrapped into it, and this is one of the most environmentally sustainable hotels I've ever stayed in -- but it's aspirational. The new definition of what it means to be cool."

During registration the previous day, attendees could take part in a corporate social responsibility project in partnership with SITE Northeast and End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT) International, giving visitors the opportunity to create care packages for survivors of child trafficking. 

In the evening, SMU International attendees were ferried from lower Manhattan to Ellis Island, with spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty along the way. Attendees were welcomed with strains of bagpipes from the NYPD Emerald Society band, and from there sampled dishes and desserts inspired by the event's European Partners: Visit Flanders, France Tourism Development Agency, German Convention Bureau, London & Partners, Meet in Ireland, Visit Scotland, Switzerland Convention & Incentive Bureau, and Visit Monaco. Discussing events and travel in the main space that once welcomed millions of new arrivals to the United States brought home the theme of travel, the beginning of new chapters, and warm welcomes.