IMPACT OF U.S. IMMIGRATION POLICIES ON MEETINGS AND EVENTS
Travel hitches for attendees are one potential contingency for which more meeting professionals are planning, given the on-again, off-again U.S. travel bans. Two federal judges recently blocked the most recent version of the ban, issued on March 6, which affects travelers from six Muslim-majority countries.
Although most meeting and event professionals believe current immigration policy in the U.S. does not have a negative influence on their business, 42 percent of respondents believe it is either bad for business in some ways or bad for business in every way, given the uncertainty it has caused.
“This federal regime is so different from anything we’ve had before—no one is quite sure what is going to happen next,” says Tyra Hilliard, CMP, Ph.D., JD (MPI North Florida Chapter), an attorney
who serves the meeting industry, as well as a professor who teaches courses in hospitality, meetings and events and business for the College of Coastal Georgia. Jhoanna Belfer (MPI Orange County Chapter), director of sales at Ayres Hotels, says she has seen some cancellations by groups and vendors from Mexico bound for Disneyland since the travel ban who are “not sure the U.S. is open for people from other countries to come and visit.”
“We’re working with them to adjust room blocks in advance if we can be more flexible with their cancellations,” Belfer says. Giselle Carson, an immigration attorney with Marks Gray PA in Jacksonville, Fla., says clients in all industries have sought her advice on how to cope with the travel ban.
“What I have suggested is [for] some of those clients to use Skype or teleconference,” Carson says. However, that approach has economic repercussions, she notes. “Those are flights that are not booked, hotels that are not booked.” She has also urged clients who are planning meetings to make sure attendees budget time for delays during travel. “Allowing more time for questioning and secondary inspections is something people need to do more when they’re traveling,” she says. “We all need to be more conscientious about travel documents and identification documents, to keep them up to date.” Given the new realities of U.S. immigration policy, Carson has been hearing from meeting organizers who are looking elsewhere for meetings. “Canada has been [getting] higher consideration for meetings,” she says. “Western European countries are another preference. It is that fear, that uncertainty. Sometimes things settle down. We hope they will.”