100-plus Trade Show Professionals Take to Capitol Hill for Inaugural Exhibitions Day

June 18, 2014

Earlier this week, more than 100 trade show professionals, including suppliers, organizers and associations representing the industry, went to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress for the inaugural “Exhibitions Day”.

Topics at hand during the 100-plus meetings were the value of the overall trade show industry, as well as asking for support of the JOLT Act - Jobs Originated through Travel Act; allowing government employees to attend events; the impact of the Visa Waiver Program; the importance of the International Buyers Program; and support of the Travel Promotion Act.

Seven industry organizations, such as the Center for Exhibtion Industry Research and Society of Independent Show Organizers, took part in the two-day event, held June 16-17, spearheaded by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events.

"Exhibitions Day 2014 exceeded our expectations,” said David DuBois, IAEE president and CEO.

He added, “Over 100 legislative office visits took place and we accomplished our primary goal of educating members of Congress about the economic value and overall positive impacts of the exhibitions and events industry.”

“Exhibitions Day” co-chairs were Chris Brown, executive vice president, conventions and business operations, National Association of Broadcasters, and Megan Tanel, vice president of exhibitions and events, Association of Equipment Manufacturers.

Besides the congressional visits, the event also included a meeting between industry leaders and several government officials at the Department of Commerce to discuss the International Buyers Program and the Trade Fair Certification Program and  an Educators Forum that brought together industry leaders, organizers and professors from area universities who were specifically interested in learning more about integrating exhibitions into their curriculum and communicating the viability of trade shows as a career path of choice with their students.

Here are several of the participants’ experiences in their own words:

Mark Sussman, director of trade show sales, Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, visited with Sen. (Ga.) Saxby Chambliss, Sen. (Ga.) Johnny Isakson, Rep. (Ga.) Rob Woodall and Rep. (Ga.) John Lewis.

“As home to the fourth largest convention center in the U.S., we see the impact that the exhibitions and events industry has on Atlanta each day. This industry creates jobs and economic impact, not only for our city, but for the entire U.S. IAEE’s Exhibitions Day provided an opportunity for ACVB to be part of a unified and impactful message to our elected officials on the value and importance of exhibitions and events to the global economy.”

Aaron Bludworth, president and CEO of Fern Exposition & Event Services, visited with nine congressional offices, including Rep. (Ohio) Steve Chabot and Sen. (Utah) Mike Lee.

“Though we don’t have a tremendous volume of Federal issues as an industry, those we do have are very significant to our strength and growth. Our primary objective was to secure support for the JOLT Act in the House and to encourage a comparable standalone bill in the Senate. JOLT is non-partisan legislation designed to modernize and ease the process for foreign visitors to the United States, a process which is currently cumbersome and prohibitive for many potential trade show attendees. If we can make it easier for a larger portion of the world to attend U.S. shows there is a threefold benefit; the tourism impact of their stay and likely return, the enhanced commerce resulting from their interaction with U.S. companies on the show floor and afterwards, and as a bulwark against foreign shows being easier and more accessible creating a competitive advantage. We successfully discussed the issue with dozens of senators or their staff and nearly one hundred members of the House.  I believe we also helped them better understand the exhibitions industry as a whole, its national impact, and impact in their states and districts. For a first time effort, I think Exhibitions Day was a huge success.”

Mark Bogdansky, vice president of exhibit operations, National Retail Federation, met with representatives from Rep. (N.Y.) Carolyn Maloney, Sen. (N.Y.) Kirsten Gillibrand and Sen. (N.Y.) Charles Schumer’s offices.

“If we want to continue to grow our shows’ international attendance, we need the government’s assistance in making it easier for people to come to, and spend their money, in the US. The JOLT Act is an easy, self-sufficient way for Congress to get behind tradeshows and tourism, which will benefit everyone. Taking a day to ask for their support was a no-brainer. It was great to see over 100 tradeshow executives get together and support a cause. Competing shows, companies, etc. sat together in these meetings and talked about the importance and value of face to face meetings. I look forward to participating again next year.”

Mary Higham, manager of exhibits for ASIS International, visited with Rep. (Va.) Jim Moran’s office.

“I had volunteered to be part of Exhibitions Day when IAEE asked, because I like to give back whenever I can to my industry. As a young professional, I like to try new experiences, and lend a sometimes different perspective where I can. My own organization’s show has felt some of the government restrictions on travel regarding our attendees, so I was eager to lend a hand however I could, even if it was just to show up and add an additional person. What an incredible day! I got to hear some of my industry colleagues like Amy Fisher from NTP explain about how the federal budget cuts and international visa restrictions have an effect on not only our industry, but the overall U.S. economy to a Virginia Congressmen’s staff. The Congressman, though out of town, called in to address us from his location! Our presentations were very collaborative, and it was great to sit amongst other industry members and work together to show each political figure not only why supporting the bills was so important, but also why supporting the exhibitions and events industry is necessary. Though nerve wracking, I was able to share how many not for profit associations depend on the revenue from their meetings and exhibitions to fund their mission and initiatives for the industries that they represent.  I felt very humbled to be a small part of it.”

This year’s Exhibitions Day was just the beginning. "An attendee survey is being sent that will assist our efforts as we evaluate this year's program and then begin to plan the 2015 goals and objectives,” Dubois said.

Some next steps will be that IAEE will continue to partner with industry organizations that  place substantial value on face-to-face events to provide a platform to address the legislative issues under review by Congress and therefore has refined its brand to include the tagline "Exhibitions and Events Mean Business."

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