Politicians what does Advocacy have to do with Meetings and Events? – Tom Hulton from the IMEX Group explains to Mike McAllen how IMEX America is helping government understand how important live face to face events are for local economies.
Michael McAllen: Welcome to the Meetings Podcast. This is Mike McAllen from Grass Shack Events and Media and today we have Tom Hulton, Director of International Relations from the IMEX Group. Hi, Tom.
Tom Hulton: Hello, Mike.
Michael: I was just saying how great it is this Skype that we’re using to record this. You’re in London and I am in San Francisco. And it sounds like you’re sitting here right in the room with me.
Tom: That’s right, but I guess the only difference is I’m ending towards the – well, towards the end of the day and you’re just starting, so that’s the difference.
Michael: Right. It is. And I’ve only had one cup of coffee so I need about three more to get rolling today. But thank you again for talking with me. You are like I said, the Director of International Relations at the IMEX group. We’re getting geared up to go to Las Vegas very soon. I wanted to know first of all, what is the responsibilities of the director of international relations?
Tom: Well, Mike I think for the last ten years or so, when I left Amsterdam as when I was CEO of ICCA, the International Conference on Convention Association and I worked with IMEX on two things already. One was, developing the awareness and knowledge amongst university students. And we call that the Future Leaders Forum which we still run successfully both in Frankfurt and Las Vegas. But just recently, I’ve given that up because ‘m sort of moving towards the end of my career I guess and I wanted to just focus on the what we call a politicians’ forum. So actually it’s more about international relations developing this whole relationship and advocacy which we’ll be talking about later between politicians and the meetings industry. So that really is the sort of the scope of my job which I fairly enjoy and I’ve been doing it for the last ten years.
Michael: That’s fantastic. So you’re getting the future leaders ready. And then now that you’re ready to step out, you want to make sure it’s OK for them as you’re leaving. So you’re now working with the politicians. That’s your plan, I assume.
Tom: That’s right. And I think just certainly with the university students you know, it’s very much today about social media which I guessed has slightly bypassed me. But I think in terms of the politicians, I think that you know, I hope that I understand them a little more. And there’s so much to be done in this field in terms of developing that really important relationship between the politicians in the industry, so that’s really what I’m focusing on for the next couple of years.
Michael: Fantastic. So tell me what is advocacy and then why is it so important?
Tom: Well, I think what we’ve got to realize is that politicians and what we have done over the last ten and even going further back, we have realized that where the impact and the real difference is made is that at the local level, at the city level and not so much at the national level. Because at the national level, politicians, members of parliament, senators and people like that have enormous things on their agendas. But it’s at that local level where if the local can get it right and encourage enormous meetings, quality meetings to come to their destination, it has an enormous impact on that city economically, socially, educationally, from a legacy point of view.
And that’s where we’ve been really concentrating on the last ten years. But what we’ve got to do, and this is where the advocacy element comes in, what we have to really do is to try and educate the local politicians and they can even be city manager who have that opportunity or potential to make and enormous difference for their city. And if we can educate them that meetings do make an enormous difference to their own city and produce all these benefits, then we would have done a good job.
But we are a long way and it’s a very slow process and we’re a long way of accomplishing that. And so this is a really drip feed situation where we try and educate them into the value of meetings and try and get this message out to the politicians. And we feel if we’re successful at that local level, that will then drive upwards. So it’s very much a bottom up approach rather than coming the reverse way down. And this is where we find and I think we are being successful in terms of reaching out to these people but it is and certainly in the less well developed country, this lack of understanding is critical to us.
As an industry, and the other thing of course is everyone is looking for that slice of the pie. We have to get in there in terms of funding, of the mayor’s time, of the politician’s time to help us. And they have many, many other people and industries going for their support. So we have to make sure that we get in there and really encourage them to support us.
Michael: Yeah, it’s very, very interesting. It comes to thought there’s so much talk especially here – I don’t know especially here but here in America with all the problems that they’re having with these … you know, the bailout money for these and then they say you’re not supposed to actually are bringing that money back into the economies. I guess it’s a lot about also the media.
Tom: It is. And I think what we have to realize is that meetings, conventions, tourism, I believe many politicians actually get it. Some countries are much better than others. I think Americans, Australians and one or two European countries get it and get to understand the value. But I think these politicians have so many other different – not more important – but as important things on their agenda and they’ve got to appeal to their constituents. And Tourism and meetings have that slightly sort of glamorous feel about them, air about them. And of course that is not so attractive to a politician trying to convince their constituents when they’ve got lots of social problems, educational problems. So that’s the challenge in front of us.
Michael: Yeah, yeah. So you’ve run this now for a while so you did the Politicians Forum in Frankfurt for the past ten years. And now you’ve done it one year I’m assuming here at IMEX America?
Tom: No. That’s not true. We started IMEX America’s only last year. And certainly Ray Bloom our chairman and I think absolutely rightly decided that we have to bed down IMEX America; get is settled, get is successful and not focus on not distractions but on things which could be challenging, could take up valuable time. So actually, the last year, we did not have any.
Tom: This year there is with USTA there is an educational session and the mayor of Las Vegas will be speaking at that. And that to me is that’s just a two hour educational session. That is the way to start it. IF that is successful, can take it one step further and gradually build on that. And that’s very much what happened in Frankfurt ten years ago. We gradually built on it and as it’s become thankfully successfully and it’s increased its awareness, so more industry leaders are encouraged to attend, more politicians are encouraged to attend. And so it just perpetuates itself.
Michael: Ah, OK. So that was like one of my questions was like how do we get our own politicians there to start to get involved in this. And if we are going to do it on a local level, you know, start it on a local level, do you have any tips for even the local for like where I live in San Francisco, how could I get politicians to start to understand why the meetings are important.
Tom: Yes, well, there again, I think it is more difficult and I think especially in the United States, this perception of what has happened historically just recently as well of politicians and companies going on these extravaganzas. And of course that is not the case. And I remember very well a few years ago the man from Victoria in Canada, he was asked to attend a conference where he was bidding. And this is when I was with the International Congress and Convention Association. And when he left to come and a company, his Canadian colleagues, the media really gave him a very hard time saying he was going to across the pond on a junket, etcetera.
When he came back with this really valuable conference, of course that all turned around. So it’s the perception. And I think until politicians do come, understand it and go back and inform their people that there is tremendous value and if they can attract these valuable meetings, then of course, that is very good for the city and it’s legacy and everything else.
Michael: Yeah, they do need to be educated so they can come back and talk about it. You know –
Michael: Education, the jobs, the taxes, everything that’s going to come in and make their city better.
Tom: I mean, just for example, last year or this year, I beg your pardon. We had invited and up to quite short time before the politicians forum in Frankfurt, we had invited Mayor Jerry Saunders from San Diego to present a case study in Frankfurt to other politicians how he and San Diego had turned the city into a biotech city of the United States and that was tremendous success story. We wanted and we sought other politicians would really want to hear that other story. But then, for all sort of reasons, he was unable to attend to come out of United States.
So these are the sort of challenges we face. Whereas, the Minister of Tourism from Mexico who came literally all the way from Mexico, 11-hour flight to be in Frankfurt to deliver the keynote address, said, “This is how I value this sort of opportunity to talk to my colleagues, my political colleagues, inform them of what Mexico is doing.” It was incredibly well received. And we thought that was tremendous thing to do, to come all the way over just for that.
Michael: Of course. And how much time did they really spend there? Like two days and then came back for such a powerful –
Michael: That’s, yeah –
Tom: That’s right.
Michael: Amazing. Amazing. There is a lot of information on the IMEX too to go and look at if someone is interested about a lot of things like I was going thru it this morning look at the –
Michael: There is a cool little video about the San Diego situation on there. So I encourage people to go take a look at that. I guess the other thing I wanted to ask, how does that work? How does the Politicians Forum work? Is it just a A session or is it? What is it? I’m sorry. I don’t know.
Tom: What it is, is it’s basically a day and a bit of conference. And what we’re trying to do is to we invite primarily local politicians, again mostly from Europe, but quite a number come from Asia Pacific, Australia were delighted when we have any American or North American or even South American politicians, but that’s infrequent. We invite them to attend a number of sessions where we present case studies to them. Typically that’s San Diego case study. And then we allow them to go around the IMEX tradeshow which is probably the biggest and I guess one of the most successful tradeshows in our industry to enable them to see the industry at work and to see their own national stand against the competition there and realize that what is happening and how important it is to be there and have good exposure there.
Then there is the typical sort of reception where it’s very important for them to network with their own peers and exchange information. And at the same time, it’s not just the politicians of whom of what we get about 35 or 36 politicians but we also get about 70, 65, 70 of the leading industry or industry leaders coming. They like to be there because that gives them also an opportunity to network among themselves but also to meet and discuss issues of mutual interest with the politicians. And it’s all about this engaging with the politicians trying to understand them and for them to understand the industry so that we can work together much better and much more productively.
Michael: I think it’s a fantastic idea and I do think we Americans need to get more involved worldwide because as you said, with the internet, social media, everything’s so much more interconnected now that the politicians need to kind of get on board here with what’s going on. So is Roger Dow going to be there or Geoff Freeman at this year’s?
Tom: Yes, I think I certainly hope they will be. I personally won’t be there because I’ve got other things on the plan, but I think it will be – I hope it will be successful, I’m sure it will be. And again, as I said before, I think it’s just a – it’s a start. And if from that, sort of the vibes go out and we can start to attract more people. And I think what goes on in that session in the United States, we have got so much to learn. And vice versa; from American politicians on how they do the business, how they engage with the industry. And the American Convention Industries, thru CIC and all of that, that vey proactive. And we can learn so much from them, but equally these guys can learn a lot from for example Australia who are extremely proactive and very successful in their building up this relationship between politicians and industry.
Michael: Fantastic. All right. Well, Tom, thank you so much for speaking with me.
Tom: No, delighted.
Michael: And I hope to get you back on the program later on to talk a little bit more about this because I think it is really important we should like you said, I think you said it’s bottom up and baby steps here getting this stuff out where it’s a constant got to keep hitting people with this information.
Tom: No, delighted to talk anytime, Michael.
Michael: OK. Thank you very much. I’m sorry I’m not going to see you at IMEX but I will be there and I will be running around and talking about this stuff with as many people as I can.
Tom: Good. Thank you for that.
Michael: All right. Well, thank you so much and see you next time.