The seventh annual Exhibitions Day may have been the most important one ever. With meetings at a standstill around the world, exhibition-industry executives gathered online for a virtual event and spoke out on Twitter and other social-media platforms. Their goal: to raise awareness of the importance of exhibitions to the economy and to urge lawmakers to support trade associations, destination marketing organizations, and other travel industry sectors feeling the pain of the pandemic shutdown
“We’re asking you to take action,” said Roger Rickard, founder of Voices in Advocacy, in a legal-issues briefing for the June 3 event organized by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events. He urged participants to find an advocacy route that they were comfortable with—email, phone, social media—"to tell your story of how this pandemic has affected you, your business, your organization, and your livelihood.”
The issues for the day of advocacy were focused on getting the industry back to business, with five major priorities:
- Incentivizing a restart of the meetings and events industry. Tactics include creating a temporary travel tax credit, allowing businesses to fully deduct food and entertainment expenses, and providing tax breaks for personal protective equipment and sterilization of facilities.
- Extending the CARES Act. This would mean including destination marketing organizations in the Paycheck Protection Program, increasing the program’s borrowing limits, and extending the period for loan forgiveness.
- Providing $10 billion in Economic Development Administration grants. These would fund efforts by destination marketing organizations and small businesses to encourage travel and promote healthy travel practices.
- Passing liability protection. Businesses that follow proper health and safety guidelines against COVID-19 would have targeted, temporary relief from claims.
- Expanding COVID-19 testing and its funding. The White House “testing blueprint” could better position testing to support travel, convention centers, and other venues.
Interestingly, enhancements to the Paycheck Protection Program happened to advance on June 3 with the Senate’s passage of H.R. 7010. “The modification to the portion of funds that can be used for non-payroll expenses is especially crucial to travel-related small businesses, which have comparatively high overhead but virtually zero incoming revenue because of the necessary measures in place to stem the spread of the pandemic,” said Tori Emerson Barnes, U.S. Travel Association executive vice president of public affairs and policy. However, he said, the changes don’t go far enough. The program still needs to extend “eligibility to non-profit and quasi-governmental entities that are vital drivers of local and regional economic development. Like the businesses they serve, the finances of these non-profits have been devastated by the standstill in travel and tourism, and the moment of recovery will be moot unless they can keep their lights on to take advantage of the return in travel demand.”
Among the advocacy tools IAEE shared with participants were national and state-by-state infographics that highlight the economic contributions of the exhibitions industry. The national statistics are below. Find your state’s information here.