Speaking out about the GSA mess

I've been quiet about the whole rotten GSA conference scandal, mainly because I find the situation so disheartening. After all the hard work that's been done to repair the reputation of the meetings business after AIG lost the perception battle waged against a recognition event it sponsored a few years ago, we still are having to deal with perceptions that the meetings industry is one big excuse to squander and steal.

I thought that, now that we've learned the hard way why it's necessary to tell the story right (though the recent example of Australian bank ANZ’s backing off of defending its incentive programs after a gotcha media sting still kind of, well, stings), people were starting to understand, and promote, the value of meetings.

Then some boondogglers at GSA pop up, and the whole creaky tune begins to play once again. But we have learned from the past. Those responsible for the waste and abuse have been fired, and some in the industry have been quick to point out that this is an outlier, not the norm, for the meetings industry. Among the recent responses I've seen:

Letter to the editor of the Washington Post by Eric Casey, executive director of the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association

GSA’s Vegas extravaganza clouds the good that conferences do

U.S. Travel Urges Measured Response to GSA IG Report

SGMP's Official Response to the IG Report on the GSA WRC

Meeting industry maven Joan Eisenstodt’s response

A rather odd response from PCMA’s chairman Kent E. Allaway, CEM, CMP, who in his defense of the industry seems to me to have missed the point

And, of course, there's been a lot of back and forth on the meeting industry listservs, MeCo and MiForum.

So I don't have a whole lot left to say that hasn't already been said, other than:

* If you are doing something with your meetings you'd be ashamed to see on the front page of your daily newspaper, stop it and make restitution.

* If you know someone who's doing likewise, rat them out. They deserve it. Don't defend the indefensible.

* Find ways to measure the value of your meeting. Then measure that value, and let people (outside of your colleagues in the meetings department) know what that value is.

* Do defend the defensible. Let's not wait for another big media splash to, rightly in this case, or wrongly in the AIG case, take the focus off of what good meetings can accomplish.

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