What's on Your Ballot?* VOTE Nov. 8 – Our Industry Matters!

What's on Your Ballot?* VOTE Nov. 8 – Our Industry Matters!

“Within the last decade, the travel industry has experienced tremendous change and has been dealt various struggles and challenges. Many of these have played out in the political realm. As another election approaches, we all need to be informed as to where the candidates stand on issues important to our industry and how referendums on the ballot may affect us—whether positive or negative. This is also an important time to engage in the civic conversations. Members of our industry need to engage candidates before the election and inform them of the powerful economic impact and job creation our industry provides to thousands of communities throughout the U.S., and equally as important, the effects of various policy proposals. They need to know the travel industry constituency is one they cannot ignore.

Waiting until someone wins an election is often too late. Their priorities may already be set, their views already formed. I would encourage everyone to participate to the level they can starting with voting. Nothing is more important!”  ~~ Don Welsh, president and CEO, Destination Marketing Association, Intl. (DMAI).

My first vote was on my birthday during the 1968 Ohio Primary (It’s OK to do the math!). Before that, as a child, accompanying my parents when they voted, the magic of the voting booth—then a booth with a curtain and levers, something I miss—was a remarkable experience. In a family where, if you read my Sept. 26, 2016 blog you know news and reading were a daily part of our lives, politics and elections were always discussed.

Voting, my parents instilled in me, was the most sacred right we had which was especially stressed by my Dad (of blessed memory), who’d fought in WWII, and both parents fought block-busting and worked for civil rights. Knowing the issues and candidates was a subject of dinner and other conversations. Political conventions—when they were more than "made-for-TV" events—were looked forward to and watched well into many summer nights.   

This year, the U.S. faces a contentious presidential election, the outcomes of which will impact our lives and our industry for years. I read and hear many people say they won’t vote at all because they don’t like either of the two major U.S. Parties’ candidates or the two third party candidates. More, I hear Millennials are not as concerned about voting. My friend and colleague, Charles Chan Massey said:

I’ve been registered to vote since I turned 18 and have never missed an election yet. This year more than ever it’s important to vote AND to elect progressive leadership at the national, state and local level. Politicians in conservative states (or in some cases, in states that are not necessarily conservative, but have been made so by voter suppression laws and gerrymandering of voting districts) have begun enacting laws that are beginning to directly impact the meetings and events industry. If we allow the pattern to continue who knows what will happen not only to our industry but to our very way of life? I for one don’t want to find out and encourage everyone to vote AND to vote for progressive candidates and issues.” ~~ Charles Chan Massey, founder and CEO, SYNAXIS Meetings & Events, Inc.

Not voting? To me it’s not an option. This letter, written in 1962 to President John F. Kennedy about voting rights, is indicative of why we should cherish and exercise our right to vote. For African Americans and women in this country, the right to vote was hard fought and though we thought it was won, there are still many states where voting rights are far from secure (Suggested: Google or other alerts for "voting rights" to become more aware of voting issues around the United States).

"Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, 'Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.' Elections matter! I get frustrated and disappointed when I hear people say that they are not going to vote because they 'don’t like either candidate.' Throughout their young lives I’ve discussed with my five children the electoral process and reinforced that voting is not only a privilege, it is an obligation that we have as citizens of a free democratic state—a right that our forefathers gave us and many Americans have sacrificed to protect. And as important as the selection of our next president is, a general election has implications on so many other offices and propositions at the federal, state and local level that we need to educate ourselves on those issues and vote on them. I encourage you to exercise your right to vote and help shape the future of our great country.” ~~ Paul M. Van Deventer, president and CEO, Meeting Professionals International (MPI).

I’m with Paul on this; I hope you, readers, are too.

To prepare for writing this blog and newsletter, I began collecting "down ballot" (non-Presidential) issues that impact our industry. It’s not been an easy task! When I asked a number of industry associations if they collected ballot issues for the U.S., I got unequivocal "nos"—they did not have lists. That became (more) surprising when I learned that one CIC member, in particular, is working to influence an initiative in Seattle (I-124) about which you can read at the links in the second part of this October 2016 Friday With Joan newsletter.

I also solicited from a number of Convention Industry Council (CIC) member CEOs, and others who influence our industry, statements about why people should vote. My deep appreciation to those who provided the statements you can read interspersed throughout and at the end of this blog as well as that from Don Welsh, CEO of DMAI, with which this blog leads.   

Consider that without exercising the right (and privilege) to vote—if you’ve not registered and missed 9/27/16 Voter Registration Daycheck here to see if your state or territory, or if you are an American living abroad, allows registration when you read this or same day as voting registration—you are missing an opportunity to influence the laws that impact you and our industry. 

Our industry has been hit hard because of misperceptions about meetings (remember the “AIG effect”? “Muffingate”? The stress on government planners during the Congressional hearings? HB-2 in North Carolina and other like bills?). We can do more!

Throughout the years, the meetings industry has been vocal in its complaints about laws which make communities inhospitable. As members of the hospitality community, we have a duty to vote, to prevent the adoption of such laws and to ensure those who advocate them are not elected to positions of power. As an example, the State of North Carolina is now suffering the devastating economic consequences of its adoption of laws which would further discriminate against the LGBT community. In all of the many states in which similar legislation is being considered, and in the many states in which discrimination against members of the LGBT community – in employment, housing and access to service in restaurants and stores – remains legal, we must vote to make our voices heard. Little is changed by complaining. Everything can be changed by voting.”  ~~ Steve Rudner, managing partner of Rudner Law Offices, exclusively representing hotels and resorts.

Voting in national and local elections is one of the greatest responsibilities we have as citizens. SGMP's hope for any election results is that there will be continued support and understanding of the importance of education and conferences in the government sector. We encourage members to be aware of legislative or ballot issues that may affect their meetings.” ~~ Michelle Milligan, CGMP, Society of Government Meeting Professionals (SGMP) national president.

If you think that every vote doesn’t count, it does. Thanks to Mental Floss for this great information.

This year, each and every vote is essential. I think people acknowledge this on some level, but it’s hard to say whether that will make people actually get out and be part of the turnout we so desperately need to see. The way I see it, it’s not just about who will be the next president (although that is a really BIG deal!)  Our choice in November also has the power to impact many state and local decisions to follow. Among the ones that concern me is legislation that adversely impacts how people are treated in our own back yards. I am deeply and personally opposed to the creation of laws that permit or even give the appearance of tolerating discrimination. With my association “hat” on, these types of laws could also cause serious harm to our meetings and conventions business by creating an unwelcome environment for convention sponsors and attendees. I hope that people who support and are passionate about diversity and inclusion will use their votes this November in ways that not only move our country forward, but also encourage fair practices and discourage discrimination in any form.”  ~~ Susan Robertson, CAE, EVP, American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and president, ASAE Foundation, and CIC chair-elect**.

As a fourth-generation Washingtonian [the DC Washington], and one whose family had incredible debates about all political issues (any opinion was allowed), the importance of being informed and involved was always stressed in my family. In fact, my uncle ran for Congress a few years ago.  

My parents instilled a strong sense of citizenship and always stressed that we are responsible for our leaders and their results (or lack thereof). I received a degree in government and politics from the University of Maryland and interned for a political organization, then worked on Capitol Hill. I began my work in government relations and soon learned the value of organizations and the expertise they lend to our political process. We know that by being engaged, we can affect great outcomes and help design the future of our country. I am able to help my NACE members because of my government experience and am excited to see the work we accomplish within the Convention Industry Council as well.”  ~~  Bonnie Fedchock, CAE, executive director, National Association for Catering and Events - One Industry. One Association (NACE), and chair, Convention Industry Council**.

Here’s what you can do:

1. Register to vote if you’ve not done so, and ensure your co-workers, family and neighbors do too. Take our poll so we can see the power of the hospitality community.

2. Learn the issues and positions of local, state, and federal candidates. Share those issues in the comments section. If you are a voter from another country, in the comments to the blog add to the issues I’ve provided and tell us with what you are contending politically that could impact our industry (I hope everyone is keeping up with Brexit and the implications).

With thanks to colleague, friend, and former client, Karen Galdamez at COST, for this great resource to track tax and other ballot issues. Remember: where you hold meetings may not be where you vote and knowing—especially if you didn’t contract for a hotel or convention or conference center to tell you about increased taxes after a ballot or city council or state initiative—what you’ll pay is critical to your responsibility as a meeting professional (This does not let hoteliers and other suppliers off the hook! Let your clients know if there is an increase in taxes or service charges or other laws that could impact meetings).

Subscribe to the Business Journals for the cities in which you have contracted or are considering meetings. And get alerts for topics that include “hotel taxes," “tourism taxes" and “infrastructure," all of which impact our meetings. 

3. Contact your member of Congress or a city council member or state legislator who might not know the value—financial and to the health and education of people—of meetings and our industry. On Meetings Mean Business’s Global Meetings Industry Day and at other times, do more than celebrate meetings. Reach out to the U.S. House of Representatives and US Sentate on important issues that affect the industry.

4. Share this newsletter and talk about the issues with co-workers, colleagues, family, neighbors and friends.

5. Vote on November 8. If you know someone who doesn’t have a way to get to the polls, offer to take them and then do so, or help them get an absentee ballot. If you have a meeting on November 8 or it’s a travel day, remind expected participants and exhibitors and sponsors to vote prior to leaving for your meeting. Consider having a viewing room on Election Night for those who want to be with others to watch.

6. Read these closing comments from our industry leaders and take them to heart. They’re voting. You should too.

The election cycle is essentially a series of face-to-face meetings and events that come down to one final in-person experience – casting your ballot. These national, state and local elections will influence regulation and/or legislation that could positively or negatively impact face-to face-meetings and our industry. As a representative of the Meetings Mean Business Coalition, we urge everyone to exercise their right to vote and be heard on November 8th. Because the most important moments and decisions are worth meeting about.” ~~ Michael Dominguez, CHSE, co-chair, Meetings Mean Business Coalition; SVP and chief sales officer, MGM RESORTS INTERNATIONAL.

As a member of the travel industry, you should vote to make your voice heard at the local and national level. The $2.1 trillion travel and tourism industry is truly bipartisan and positively affects every Congressional district in the United States. No matter who wins the White House this fall, one thing is certain: travel works for America. It’s why we will continue our work with policymakers at all levels to ensure that travel is secure, accessible and efficient.” – Roger Dow, president and CEO, U.S. Travel Association.

I encourage everyone to make sure their voice is heard when it comes to any type of election of ballot. I, too, believe that active participation in any democracy is an important right and responsibility that we all have. Thanks to you for continuing to ‘being a vocal conscious and advocate’ of the meetings and events industry.” ~~ Robert A. Gilbert, CHME, CHBA, president & CEO, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI).

As the final countdown to Election Day is upon us, now is the time to take a stand and support candidates at all levels of government—city, state and federal—who will advocate on behalf of hoteliers. The stakes are higher than ever for the hotel and lodging industry as new legislative and regulatory opportunities and challenges continue to emerge. With one unified and powerful voice, we can define our industry and your involvement is critical to these efforts. We encourage all of you to get out the vote and support candidates who will make our industry stronger.” ~~ Vanessa Sinders, senior vice president, government affairs, American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA).

Our constitution gives us the right to participate in our destiny. Yet, bad officials are elected by those with best intentions, but don’t vote. If you want your voice to be heard, use your vote; it is one of your most powerful possessions.” ~~ Deborah Sexton, president & CEO, Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA).

*With apologies to Samuel L. Jackson and the company for whom he does commercials for the title of the blog.

**Susan Robertson and Bonnie Fedechok are not speaking on behalf of the Convention Industry Council. Their CIC positions are there for informational purposes only.

As always, the opinions expressed are mine and those of my colleagues and our industry’s leaders. They may not express the opinions of the publisher and of Meetings Today, although I’m pretty sure we all agree on being informed and voting.

P.S. If you haven't yet done so, click here to check out the October 2016 edition of Friday With Joan!

Posted by Joan L. Eisenstodt

Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt

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