For a few months now, many U.S. politicians, media and others have been labeling some of the work of the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) industry as “boondoggles” and “junkets.”
These terms are used to evoke negative connotations, and really just trivialize the efforts of those who work in the travel industry. It also takes money away from local economies. Unfortunately, the message of boondoggles and junkets has gained momentum.
Allow me to share a few quick definitions for you so that some light may be shed on the controversy being imposed upon the meetings and events industry:
A boondoggle is typically a project or program that is viewed as wasteful or impractical, and its organizers know the effort will never work.
A junket is typically a business related trip that is taken at the public’s expense.
Travel is a $750 billion industry in the U.S., employing 7.7 million jobs directly and 17 million jobs indirectly, according to data from the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), a national, non-profit organization representing all components of the travel industry. USTA identifies that meetings and events are responsible for nearly 15% of all travel in the U.S. - and this doesn't account for the dollars spent and used to employ workers in other related industries that support business events and travel.
Business travel provides significant employment for people – voters – in local communities throughout the U.S. Every time a business event is canceled, it chips away at a local employment base where impacted, and workers and families at all economic levels are the ones who lose the most – not the event attendees. Every dollar canceled is a dollar taken away from the people who work in and benefit from this industry. How can it not?
Last week I attended MPI’s MeetDifferent. Held in Atlanta, about 1,800 professionals in the meetings and events industry throughout North America gathered for this annual conference. I did not attend a boondoggle or a junket.
MPI focused its agenda to explore the criticism waged on this industry and to provide detailed discussions about how the industry needs to respond to the potential impact of congressional mandates on companies receiving emergency government relief funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
To say that the recent censure of events organized by this industry has struck an emotional chord with meeting and event professionals is an understatement.
The position now is that those who work in the meetings, events and business travel industry must use this as an opportunity to educate the benefits of the work provided. And I agree.
However, it may also be interesting to explore more about who has levied these criticisms on the industry and why. Certainly those who have labeled specific meetings and events as boondoggles and junkets were never invited to the actual events that were criticized and/or canceled in the first place.
Let’s think about this a little further and step back from the circumstances of any individual event in question: few people who have attended meetings and events really use such labels as boondoggles and junkets to describe the program attending a business event; at least I’ve never heard that. And those who attend events have some level of fiscal responsibility to their organizations when making the choice to organize or attend events.
This tells me that some of the politicians, media and others who have been vocally critical of business events – where they weren’t invited in the first place – may have themselves attended programs that they felt were a poor use of their time and the money invested by event organizers and/or the organizations/constituents that they represent. After all, how could they have such perceptions unless they maintain such biases from personal experience?
It would be nice if they could own up to the actual events where this may apply, especially if they were stewards of tax exempt dollars or organizational budgets. I hope they didn’t attend or organize such programs more than once themselves…
Of course, we really don’t care to go there.
So the answer is, let's step away from the name calling and personal judgments. These business events are known as meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions. This is an industry that helps organizations grow brand awareness, educate constituents, enhance business development, bring products to market, expand profits and more.
At the end of the day, the responsibility to organize or attend an event should be shouldered by the individual hosts who are qualified to extend invitations and the individual attendees who are qualified to respond to RSVPs: please, kindly decline the invite if you think it’s for a boondoggle or junket.