What is GMID?!? For starters, the acronym literally means “Global Meetings Industry Day” and I’m sure you’re thinking – it’s not easy to say nor does it roll off the tongue. Maybe you’re wondering “is it Gee-Mid, or G.M.I.D”?… However, getting beyond the letters…. It means a LOT – particularly for us in the event industry. Thankfully, last week there was an incredible outpouring of #GMID18 posts flooding social media to help clear the confusion that is “What is GMID?”.
The proclamation of an annual Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID) was initiated by Meetings Mean Business (MMB), to help spotlight and recognize the real impact meetings and events have in the world. This reporting helps us respond to the overwhelmingly false perception that we are “just a bunch of party planners.” In fact, it’s a gross understatement to what this industry actually does on a global scale!
To help dissolve this misbelief, our industry now has the MMB coalition to study and highlight the significance of our industry, both politically and economically. They reported in 2016, events held 1.9 million meetings with an $845 Billion-dollar impact on the US economy alone. That year, more than 251 million people met face-to-face for business through meetings. Also highlighted, was the multiplier effect: for every $1 spent for face-to-face meetings/events, there is a residual income of $1.60 (a 160% increase) per dollar, creating a $2.60 total economic impact per dollar spent. To add to those numbers, the Convention Industry Council has reported that 15% of the overall travel and tourism income in the US is due to this industry. So, if our “hobby” of being a bunch of “party planners” is true, these must be some REALLY good parties!
GMID became a global event in 2016, and just last week, #GMID18 was celebrated on 6 continents and in hundreds of cities around the world. Here in Chicago, Choose Chicago held their annual meeting; and our local MPI chapter, hosted their annual Industry Xchange event at the Wintrust Arena. MPI-CAC recognized the #GMID18 celebration as an opportunity to bring event industry professionals together and discuss some of the hard-hitting issues challenging the industry’s culture.
Throughout the event, we went beyond defining and empowering our collective voice; we also discussed the impact of travel bans and how they’re influencing the way business meetings are conducted as well as how the #metoo and #timesup movements are prevalent and necessary within the industry. As you might expect, such heavy hitting topics prompted great conversations around how to take actionable steps in evolving our own industry.
Legitimizing the Industry
Christy Lamagna, Founder of Strategic Meetings & Events, brought to light the topic of shaping our story. She helped strategize ways to respond to the dismissive “oh, isn’t it nice that you are a party planner.” She compared it to the response one gets when they say they are a doctor or scientist; one is perceived as being a legitimate career and an influential changemaker while the other as a “fun hobby.” (You can choose which is which.) She challenged us to think about how we respond and react to this dismissive perception.
She referenced what we do as “the only 3-dimensional medium for the marketing message of any company.” If 2-dimensional marketing is recognized as a cut-throat legitimate industry celebrated by shows like “Mad Men,” try adding a third dimension to it; and that third dimension is filled with the unpredictable behavior of human response!
When stakeholders say, “you just want a seat at the table,” her response is “it is because of us, there is a table to sit at, with linen on it, an interesting centerpiece to look at, food to eat, content to discuss and the ease of walking in and out of the meeting knowing everything is in order. We don’t want to sit at the table, we ARE the table!”
Jack Johnson, Chief Advocacy Officer for Destinations International addressed the controversial topic, “Weaponization of Travel.” He reported on Destination International’s findings regarding the impact domestic and international travel bans have on local markets. We often hear the negative impact international travel bans have and how they result in meetings being relocated or members of teams not being able to participate.
His focus then shifted to how domestic travel bans have a similar effect. Highly influenced by political action groups and popularized by celebrity tweets, these bans are usually in response to unpopular political actions. Some companies initiate state-driven travel bans on where their employees are permitted to travel and do business, preventing them from traveling to particular states. For example, this was seen when the NBA canceled plans to hold the 2017 All-Star Games in North Carolina in response to the discriminatory laws the state was passing against the LGBTQ community. For similar political reasons in Indiana, conferences were moved to neighboring states, concerts were canceled and some companies threatened to relocate their offices.
Jack’s presentation made it clear they are using the data from their research to shift political action groups away from the “Weaponization of Travel.” Their stance is, the data indicates travel bans are not as effective as people think, creating more of a stigma against the state than a decrease in revenue. As far as the day’s controversial topics go, this one didn’t seem to settle well for the collective audience. The philosophy of “money talks” still seems to reign true and this presentation, which came across more as a sales pitch, did not provide actionable steps for what we as an industry could do to help encourage social change without using the power of our contracts to do so.
Joan Eisenstodt, Founder of Eisenstodt Associates, a DC-based meetings consultation, facilitation and training company, called attention to the extremely personal and uncomfortable topic of sexual harassment in the event workplace. She turned a spotlight to the fact that nine of the people listed in Time Magazine’s January 2017 Person of the Year article, “The Silence Breakers,” were members of our industry, hotel staff. Another interesting data point highlighted during this Industry Xchange event, a live (anonymous) poll revealed 41% of the audience answered “yes” to having experienced sexual harassment in their workplace. 41%!
Our industry is extremely vulnerable to this issue. As many of us in the industry are quite social and personable, personal space is often disregarded. Where hugging upon greeting someone is common; we are uncomfortable when someone doesn’t respond accordingly. We are often in situations where alcohol is involved, we work very closely with our colleagues in high-stress environments, long-hours, and extreme circumstances that don’t have the luxury of structure or constant mediation. Joan quickly addressed the fact that we do not have standards, regulations or particular protections within our industry to protect ourselves or peers from many of these compromising situations. We give lip-service to the topic, but have not embraced the need to actually create standards and protocol around protecting our own.
That said, she highlighted how we may not be making strides as a collective whole, but individual groups within our industry are taking definitive steps in protecting themselves. The housekeeping union proposed and passed ordinances in Seattle and Chicago requiring hotels to provide their housekeeping staff with panic buttons; initiating an immediate response from hotel security if they are in a jeopardizing situation. Restaurants and bars have begun initiating a color-code system within their establishments so that bartenders and wait staff are able to identify patrons who have a history of inappropriate behavior. This allows security to keep a heightened awareness and to step in before a situation escalates.
As these independent segments of our industry create process and protocol, we collectively have not made much progress nor have we made it a priority for the overall industry. One possibly controversial step in that direction, similar to the philosophy behind travel bans, is to put within our RFP process a requirement for a hotel to disclose if they participate in the panic button ordinance, or what measures they have in place to protect the most vulnerable counterparts of their staff. If they don’t have something in place, they should be made aware that the lack of such measures may count against them in the decision process.
In conclusion, the Industry Xchange program capitalized on the GMID celebration and it’s specific audience to create a platform for important industry dialogue. It was refreshing (and needed) to be amongst colleagues who felt empowered and safe to have real conversations about imminent issues, particularly on such polarizing topics. I hope as professionals, we can continue to have these important conversations and use this dialogue to create standards and best practices towards positive change.
So, what is GMID? It is a celebration that will happen every year on April 12th, where we will continue to come together to celebrate the industry as a whole, the economic impact we have, the diversity of our peers, and the change we are able to enact. Why care? Well, because the celebration will only get bigger, louder, and more fun. After all, we are really good at planning really big parties! #GMID18