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[CIC CEO] Meetings Mean Business: the Significance of the Meetings Industry to the US Economy

Meetings Mean Business: the Significance of the Meetings Industry to the US Economy


The Convention Industry Council (CIC) launched a nationwide marketing campaign “Meetings Mean Business” in 2009. A wide range of key stakeholders in the meetings industry was heavily involved in the course of planning and implementing the campaign, and the primary purpose of initiating such extensive campaign was to demonstrate the economic value of the industry to the government as well as the general public. The Global MICE Insight conducted an interview with Karen Kotowski, the CEO of the CIC, to find out the core strategies behind the initiative and the key achievements since its inception.


GMI: Could you tell our readers about the CIC’s new campaign, Meetings Mean Business, including the background, vision and objectives of the campaign?


In 2009, with enhanced scrutiny on the meetings sector, the Convention Industry Council (CIC) initiated a plan to demonstrate the economic value of face-to-face meetings by commissioning a study on the economic significance of the meetings to the United States economy. We were in a fight for the future of our industry as a result of both the economic downturn and a political and media-made crisis which portrayed meetings as a waste of money without regard to the beneficial outcomes derived from either meetings or the economic ones which build communities.

The value of meetings was misunderstood by many legislators, regulators, economists, as well as the general public. It was vital that we quantified the economic significance to protect our industry and communicate the economic and social engine of meetings to avoid future comments and actions that negatively impact our industry.

The study outcomes will assist the nation’s political and business leaders in better understanding the economic weight of the meetings, conferences, trade shows, incentive events and exhibitions industry to the U.S. The study also helps our industry develop common data and language that stakeholders can use when discussing meetings and events and provides data that can be used to articulate the economic contribution that meetings and events represent to the overall economy.


GMI: What kind of strategies and/or tactics did the CIC employ to ensure the success of the campaign?


The results of the study were released at a news conference at the National Press Club in early 2011. Under the theme “Meetings Mean Business,” CIC develop[ed] a toolkit of resources which our members could use to get the message out about the economic significance of the meetings sector.

The toolkit includes the key findings from the study, sample articles and press releases, research background, social media guidelines and frequently asked questions. In addition, resources meeting professionals can use to advocating on behalf of the meetings sector to elected officials are also included.

The toolkit items can be found at the following link:



GMI: What were the challenges and opportunities that the organization faced in growing through the project?


The study conducted spanned more than a year in research and analysis and is the first-ever study of the size and scope of its kind. It [w]as a challenge to wait for those results but now that we have them, future updates to the numbers should be much easier to obtain. We followed the same model as the MPI Canadian study which was based on the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) definition of meetings, which provides guidelines for methodology to quantify meetings activity. This will ensure that we can compare data with Canada utilizing the same set of standards. Mexico has also recently completed a study, and they too used the UNWTO model.

While it took more than a year to develop the model and complete the study and analysis, it was worth it to ensure a clear and credible statistical base on which to gain recognition for the industry as a vital economic force in our country.

Our continuing challenge will be to keep the data updated. The current data is still relevant, but we will likely need to update it after 3-5 years.


GMI: How did the CIC finance the campaign? Did your organization work with any sort of sponsors or financing partners to carry out the campaign?


Fourteen leading meetings industry membership organizations came together under the umbrella of the Convention Industry Council to demonstrate the value of face-to-face meetings and study the economic significance of the meetings in the U.S.

Primary funding organizations include American Hotel & Lodging Association, ASAE, Convention Industry Council, Destination Marketing Association, International/Destination & Travel Foundation, Meeting Professionals International Foundation, Professional Convention Management Association & Education Foundation, and U.S. Travel Association.

Other allied industry partners include Association of Destination Management Executives, Exhibition Industry Foundation/Center for Exhibition Industry Research, Financial and Insurance Conference Planners, International Association of Conference Centers, International Special Events Society, National Speakers Association and Site.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers conducted the research and Ogilvy PR was our partner for developing the key messages delivered during the news conference as well as the information contained in the toolkit which the industry has used to tell our story.


GMI: What were the intended outcomes and the actual results of the campaign?


The impacts were much more than we anticipated. The data was for the calendar year 2009 which was likely the worst for the U.S. Meetings market due to the recession and cancellation of meetings. Despite that, the results were much greater than we expected. The data point showing the meetings sector contribution to the GDP as $28 billion more than the auto industry was surprising and gratifying.


GMI: What will the CIC’s(or the industry’s) next approach be?


To continue to tell the story about the meetings sector and its importance to the U.S. economy, jobs, taxes and spending. Measuring innovation and idea generation are far more challenging and qualitative. As part of this study outreach, we have been sharing how face-to-face meetings create dynamic environments that lead to business success, yet eventually, we will want quantitative data to support the value of knowledge transfer.



Karen Kotowski is the Chief Executive Officer of the Convention Industry Council. CIC is a federation of 34 organizations in the meetings, exhibition and travel space and maintains several signature programs, including the CMP Designation, Accepted Practices Exchange (APEX ), and the CIC Hall of Leaders.

Prior to joining CIC, Ms. Kotowski was Vice President, Member Education with the National Association of Home Builders for 16 years. During her tenure with NAHB, she focused on providing education and services for the organization. Ms. Kotowski has more than 20 years of meeting planning, education and program management experience for non-profit associations and private sector companies. She has a proven record of strategic and entrepreneurial vision.

Ms. Kotowski graduated from the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in Public Service and holds both the industry’s illustrious designations, the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) and the Certified Association Executive (CAE). 

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