Industry insiders agree that the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has changed meetings and conventions forever and when asked if he ever thought he would experience something like this crisis, Roger Dow, president and CEO, U.S. Travel Association, the Washington, D.C.-based organization representing all segments of travel in America, remarks, “Not in a million years. I thought September 11 was the worst thing ever, followed by the economic crisis. We put this on a factor of nine times the impact of September 11.”
But the industry is resilient, says Roger Dow. Similar to how the industry united in 2009 after President Barack Obama called a meeting a boondoggle, all key players must join together with one voice, he exerts. “The industry must come together and say these are the practices we are putting into place,” says Dow. Then the collaboration must expand outside the industry.“States, cities, and feds working together will make the major difference.”
Here is what else Roger Dow had to say during our far-reaching interview:
Andrea Doyle (AD): How does the industry come back?
(RD): We are going to get out of this slowly and gradually. It is not going to be by July 1st when everything is forgotten, and people are on planes, hotels are at 100 percent, and everybody goes to every meeting, that’s just not going to happen. It’s going to take a combination of people feeling safe and protocols on behalf of the industry.
(AD): How will COVID-19 impact the MICE industry?
(RD): A concern I have with the MICE industry is are there going to be measures that are going to be put in place that totally changes it. Will chairs no longer be permitted to be hooked together? Must they be six feet apart? Will only so many people be able to visit a trade show aisle at a certain time? Are we going to be told that restaurants can only have tables at 50 percent capacity? We’re going to have to take a hard look at all these things and find out what the procedures will be. I’m a big proponent of the industry leading the way.
(AD): Short term, do you think meetings will be more regional?
(RD): Yes, I think meetings will be more U.S.-based in the short-term. I predict it will be 2021 before we start seeing the international audiences coming back to meetings. After September 11th, people said no one will travel or meet internationally, and that didn’t happen. It was a fact for about a year-and-a-half, two years, but it quickly came back bigger than it has ever come back.
(AD): If there’s a silver lining to all this, what do you think it is?
(RD): The silver lining is the industry coming together and speaking with a more unified voice. I also believe it is going to be cleaner and healthier for people to travel. We have also had half a dozen organizations, including a global meetings company that had no interest in being part of US Travel in the past, reach out to say they want to be in the mix. More are starting to realize we’re in this together.
(AD): In general, what does the future hold for the MICE industry?
People are so frustrated with being cooped up and sheltering in place. People want to get together. It will come back slowly, but I’m very optimistic about the future.
This story originally appeared in sister publication Recommend.