Right now, it means polarization, little conversation, and a lot of anxiety.
When Michael Hart attended International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) Expo! Expo! in December and the Professional Convention Management Association’s (PCMA) Convening Leaders conference in January, he noticed something missing from conversations: President Trump. “No one is talking about it,” said Hart.
Hart, a former editor of Trade Show Week and Expo Magazine who now works as a consultant for trade shows and meetings, added that politics aren’t usually big topic of conversation at industry events: “It’s not relevant for what they’re there for, and my personal experience is, there is a real mix of political beliefs. They’re worried about antagonizing clients or saying the wrong thing.”
Fair enough. However, with President Trump’s agenda including a number of issues that could significantly impact the industry, not talking about the elephant in the room has created questions and tension.
So far, President Trump has signed four executive orders, including one that orders the “immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border,” and another making it easier for law enforcement to detain or deport unauthorized immigrants. To help fund the wall, President Trump announced a 20-percent tax would be levied on all imports from Mexico. Note that, in 2015, the U.S. imported $21 billion of agricultural products from Mexico, making it the country’s second largest supplier of agricultural imports. That begs the question: how will those extra costs affect the food-and-beverage bill at the next meeting?
On January 27, Trump signed an executive order titled “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals,” which temporarily bans entry of travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries — Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, and Somalia. The Council on Foreign Relations has estimated that a travel ban on Muslims to the U.S. could cost up to $71 billion per year and up to 132,000 jobs.
“Are people not going to travel? Are exhibitors going to draw back because they’re worried about investing money into new products? It’s an anxious time but it’s anxious in a weird way because I don’t think anybody wants to talk about it,” said Hart. He pointed out that if Trump continues to crack down on international trade, he could see exporters not wanting to come to the U.S. for industry exhibitions and trade shows.
What about the corporate meetings and incentives market? For now, it’s wait and see — “with a heavy dose of nervousness,” said Janet Traphagen, president of Creative Group and chair of the Incentive Research Foundation. “This administration seems to be quite reactionary. I think that’s a concern that we’ve heard from our customers.”
However, with relations with Mexico changing hour-by-hour, we may not have to wait every long. “We’ve done business in Mexico for many, many years,” said Traphagen. Creative Group’s clients include Fortune 500 companies within the life sciences, insurances, and automotive sectors. “We have heard some pretty significant concerns from our partners [in Mexico]. I think it could have different layers of impact. I think it has the potential to impact business going to Mexico as an incentive destination based on rising costs and government strain.”
Traphagen hasn’t heard specific concerns voiced from her clients just yet, but added, “I’ve heard some say, ‘You know, I never was really much of a news junkie and now I read every day because I’m just so nervous what’s going to happen next.'”
Prior to publication of this article, Meetings Mean Business, a meetings industry coalition, would not respond to Skift’s questions regarding potential impact of the aforementioned executive orders.
Prior to the most recent executive order issued regarding a travel ban, U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow, however, had expressed optimism about working with the new administration.
In a press statement dated January 20, Dow said, “President Trump emphasized a number of issues for which the American travel community shares his enthusiasm: infrastructure, domestic jobs and the U.S. trade balance. As it happens, all of our longstanding policy priorities align perfectly with that agenda.”
Signed on January 24, President Trump’s executive order “Expediting Environmental Reviews and Approvals For High Priority Infrastructure Projects” stated it would expedite “infrastructure projects, especially projects that are a high priority for the nation, such as improving the U.S. electric grid and telecommunications systems and repairing and upgrading critical port facilities, airports, pipelines, bridges, and highways.”
Most recently, on January 28, Dow and the U.S. Travel Association issued a statement about the travel ban, saying “it is imperative we find the right balance between security and facilitation, and we stand ready to support the administration and Congress to achieve this goal.”
Before the travel ban was announced, signs of some positivity with regard to business travel were beginning to show. The U.S. Travel Association and Oxford Economics suggested a post-election “Trump Bump” in U.S. business travel numbers and various travel industry CEOs, including Hilton’s Christopher Nassetta, expressed optimism in corporate travel for 2017. That positivity and a loosening of travel budgets could translate to bigger budgets for meetings and events.
Other CEOs, including Marriott’s Arne Sorenson, however, have said it’s still too early to tell if there’s powerful evidence of a so-called Trump Bump in business travel.
From Traphagen’s perspective, the future remains a mixed bag. “There are some pros,” she said. “[Trump] seems to be sort of down on regulation which, in certain segments and verticals that we work in, like insurance and healthcare, I think that could be a bit of a positive. He certainly seems to be big on [investing in] infrastructure, which might help incoming travel. Those might be, depending on how things shake out, positive.”
[Editor’s Note: On January 31, Meetings Mean Business issued the following statement regarding Trump’s executive order restricting travel from seven majority-Muslim countries: “The administration’s executive order on immigration and refugees has led to concern and confusion across the meetings industry. Our industry is all about bringing people together, fostering relationships, driving positive outcomes and supporting communities. We are continuing to monitor the issue and will be reaching out to our members to understand how the executive order is affecting them. At the same time, Meetings Mean Business joins with industry partners in reaffirming that it’s critical to strike the right balance between enhanced security and travel facilitation. Together, we urge the administration to conduct its review of the visa issuance protocols quickly, and trust that it will yield an even more secure travel security system that protects international travelers and welcomes them into our country whether traveling for a meeting or leisure.”]
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Photo credit: Will Trump's protectionist, pro-business policies help or hurt the meetings and events industry in 2017? Evan Vucci / Associated Press