Roger Dow, President and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, was excited when we met recently in the Successful Meetings
offices. Dow had just released a statement regarding the news that the United States and China will honor each other's visas
for up to ten years. (The current visa limit is one year.)
"This policy move will harness the colossal and growing Chinese travel market for the direct benefit of U.S. job creation, exports, and economic growth," said Dow. "The effects will be both strong and immediate." He noted that overseas visitors spend an average of $4,500 per trip, but for Chinese visitors the figure is $7,200--the largest of any country.
Although the purpose of our meeting with Dow was to discuss the Meetings Mean Business Coalition (MMBC), the U.S.-China news took up a good bit of the conversation, as the visa pact is predicted to help boost tourism and strengthen the economy.
Also present at the meeting was Fred Dixon, president and CEO of NYC & Company, New York City's official marketing, tourism, and partnership organization, and one of MMBC's newest members. Dixon said the visa pact is good news for New York City, already a favorite amongst Chinese tourists.
"New York City is breaking visitation records year over year, and we are on track to receive more than 55 million visitors to the five boroughs during 2014," said Dixon. "China is one of New York City's most promising emerging inbound markets, a trend we expect to continue with the recent announcement of extended ten-year-visas for Chinese visitors."
Dow and Dixon were joined by Christopher Heywood, NYC & Company's senior vice president of global communications, and Jerry Cito, NYC & Company's senior vice president of convention development, speaking with one unified voice about the importance of meetings.
"Nowhere is the importance of meetings more true than in New York City," explained Dixon. "In 2014, New York City is expected to receive an estimated 6.1 million meeting and convention delegates, up from 5.9 million delegates who spent approximately $5 billion in 2013."
Specific stats like the one Dixon cited are what the meetings industry were missing when it came under attack in 2009, said Dow.
"I called MPI to get the numbers of meetings being held and was told lots of people have meetings," said Dow. "We can't use that. We decided not to get caught flat footed again."
The stats are impressive. According to the Convention Industry Council, the U.S. meetings industry contributed over $115 billion to the GDP in 2012, while directly and indirectly supporting jobs for more than 1.7 million Americans.
According to Dow, connecting business leaders is now a focus of the MMBC. In that spirit, Dow announced that Bill McDermott, global CEO of SAP SE, the world's largest business software company, and author of the book, Winners Dream, has agreed to be a MMBC ambassador and recruit other CEOs. McDermott was interviewed live via satellite during last month's IMEX America, proclaiming, "Your industry is at the forefront of driving growth in the global economy."
Another MMBC initiative underway will see members of congress visit hotels in their districts. "We want them to see the hotel or convention center as a small business gathering place and to witness all the people it takes to pull off a meeting," explained Dow.
"I've been in this business 40 years and this is the first time I've seen the alphabet soup in the same room, talking about the same subject, with the same voice," enthused Dow. "Meetings are adult education and we have to get people to understand that this is how Americans learn once they get out of college and get their degree. If they don't go to a meeting or convention, they stop learning."