Florida Travel Advisories: What Planners Need to Know

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What does the NAACP’s Florida travel advisory mean for meetings? In today’s political and legislative climate, it’s all about proactive risk management, says industry expert Joan Eisenstodt.

Joan Eisenstodt has been a leading hospitality consultant, educator and voice for inclusive meetings since launching Washington, D.C.-based Eisenstodt Associates, LLC in 1981. We recently caught up with her to ask what planners should know about the Florida travel advisories issued by the NAACPEquality Florida, The Human Rights Campaign, and League of United Latin American Citizens among them. The advisories cite policies that are openly hostile toward African Americans, immigrants, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals. “This is where all those who say meeting planning isn’t brain surgery or rocket science are wrong,” says Eisenstodt. “We must be far more aware of legislation and its implications and help others be aware. We need to consistently relook at what we do and where we do it.”

Discussions within corporations and associations about how state and local laws affect inclusivity need to be ongoing to ensure the safety of all attendees, says Eisenstodt. “We need to be aware of our “duty of care” responsibility,” she emphasizes. “Where a meeting is held may cause angst or danger for those attending, cause attrition that impacts the bottom line and become a public relations nightmare if an organization doesn’t act in line with their policies, including their DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] statements.”

In the following interview with Prevue, Eisenstodt takes a deep dive into the implications of the Florida travel advisories and shares strategies on how to deal with them. All opinions expressed are strictly her own.

Prevue: Why is no one in our industry talking about the Florida travel advisories?

Eisenstodt:  Many of us, as individuals and with our employers or clients, are discussing the Florida (and other states’) laws and the advisories. It’s especially complicated for industry groups and associations such as the Events Industry Council (EIC) member groups in particular, because they are often dependent on supplier sponsorships for funding or underwriting of programs. I’m sure it’s difficult to speak about duty of care issues relative to the very entities that ensure your operations. However, it’s important to understand that thus far the travel advisories are not calling for boycotts.

One industry association that has issued a statement in response to the NAACP advisory is the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals (NCBMP). “We will educate and support our members who believe in the aligned mission points of both NCBMP and the NAACP which focus on equity, economics, empowerment and advocacy,” says the NCBMP statement. “To be clear, the NAACP’s Travel Advisory is not a ban or a boycott of the State of Florida. It is an advisory that implores visitors to be aware of their surroundings and to be purposeful in how they engage while traveling.” The NCBMP statement includes recommendations for planning Florida meetings and links to destination management organizations (DMOs) and host hotels in Florida who are active NCBMP members.

I’ve dealt with meeting inclusivity issues since my first job in DC in 1978. I think planners too often say nothing because they believe they should not ‘go there’ to talk about issues that could conflict with their company’s or association’s mission beyond their scope of work on meetings’ logistics. However, we now have greater and easier access to information and these issues are on the radar of many. Josh Grimes, Esq. and I discussed inclusivity in a program for the New Jersey chapter of MPI in April, delving into the implications of such laws being enacted in US states.

Prevue: How can planners prepare their attendees for any discomfort they might experience on an upcoming trip to Florida? 

Eisenstodt: Before planners can prepare attendees, they must know the laws and understand their implications. How could attendees be targeted by these laws? Bathroom-use laws in Florida and other states, for example, include who can use which bathrooms in airports, convention centers and venues. By ‘targeted’ I mean literally: in these states there are protections for those who report or suspect someone is using a restroom unlawfully.  Planners, hotels, convention centers, other venue partners and DMOs have to ensure that attendees will be safe.

Prevue: Are you aware of any meeting sponsors who are reaching out to their attendees when holding a meeting in any of the states that have laws in place regarding bathroom usage, including Texas and Kansas? Should they be?

Eisenstodt: I have not heard that meeting sponsors are reaching out. Clients who I have worked with since the first “bathroom bill” in North Carolina, have negotiated provisions in their convention center contracts for accessible bathrooms for all. Those provisions will be tested for groups in states with the newer, more restrictive bathroom usage laws.

Reaching out to inform attendees is always a good idea. Recently a major  DC-based medical association made provisions for their participants so that their annual meeting could go forward after their destination city passed restrictive reproductive laws. It was unclear if someone with a pregnancy emergency could be treated at the meeting. In another example, the American Immigration Lawyers Association is offering a slate of advocacy activities during their 2023 Annual Conference this month in Orlando.

Prevue: Do you think the preferred way for meeting planners to deal with controversial/politically charged situations is to just wait it out until there is a lawsuit?

Eisenstodt:  Lawsuits arising from controversial and politically charged situations are inevitable. And being a proactive meeting professional is always a better choice than waiting to react or being forced to react. These are duty of care issues. It’s not ‘just’ bathroom use; it’s reproductive issues, LGBTQ+ and overall safety—and increasingly, racial and immigrant-targeting.

Prevue: Any tips for planners on how to stay informed and proactive?

Eisenstodt: Groups need more fully developed RFPs to address these issues and discuss them early in the planning process. Revise your RFPs to reflect your mission and DEI statements. Include details on what is expected in terms of caring for attendees and the public relations strategy for your organization.  Social Offset is an option for those who want to feel better about spending money in a state that has laws and policies that are believed to be harmful or restrictive. It works like a carbon offset. Featured social offset campaigns on the site include meetings in Florida and other states and planners can create new social offset campaigns for upcoming meetings. I also recommend the City Health Dashboard and the  HRC Municipal Equality Index (with useful revisions expected this year) as research guides when investigating destinations and sites.

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