Dealing with legislative disaster


In Canada, the former Prime Minister Trudeau, father of the current prime minister, famously said, “The State has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.”

And now we find ourselves in a situation where legislators dabble in washroom usage. This may appeal to one small, vocal corner of their support, but it’s not good for business.

Here’s a link to a current update on the situation:

Meeting planners and the hospitality sector, which is one of the largest and fastest growing industries in the world, are not helped by such intrusive legislation. Planners already live by the maxim: plan for the best, but expect the worst.

Traditionally, disruptors came from Mother Nature who visited hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and raging blizzards on business. Then came the disruption of terrorism.

Now a new disaster category has been created by politicians whose local laws conflict with the values and beliefs of non-partisan organizations and businesses.

Someone with first-hand experience is Dr. Barbara Risman. A professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago, Risman was president of the Virginia-based Southern Sociological Society (SSS) when she cancelled her 1,200-person meeting scheduled for 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Her group’s cancellation was in direct response to the North Carolina’s passage and signing

Under neutral washrooms at the Rogers Centre in Vancouver for the TEDx Talks.

Under neutral washrooms at the Rogers Centre in Vancouver for the TEDx Talks.

into law of HB2, the so-called “bathroom bill”. The bill passed on March 23, Risman send a note on the 24th and formal letter on the 25th. She says the SSS were able to act as swiftly as they did because, “We have faced this before. There was a discriminatory bill in the Louisiana legislature the year before.” It came before the legislature while the SSS were meeting in New Orleans. “That governor did not sign the bill. But when that came up, we as an organization, and the executive committee voted, not to meet in a state that passes discriminatory laws against LGBT people. So the moment HB2 passed in North Carolina I contacted the hotel. We had, because of our experiences with Louisiana’s almost law, put a discrimination clause in our contract with The Westin, which says we have the right to cancel without penalty if the state passes a law that discriminated against LGBT people or same-sex marriage. So I was ready to go.”

The Westin’s sales manager told The Charlotte Observer the cancellation was a $180,000 loss to the hotel.

Georgia, a state the SSS meets in every four years, had considered similar discriminatory legislation. The frustration for Risman is that “We are the Southern Sociological Society. That means we meet in the South. That’s where all these backlash laws are happening. So if it (legislation) is going to be a problem for anybody, it’s going to be a problem for groups that are Southerners.”

Legislators, who are normally deeply in the “pro business” column, seem oblivious to the real, measurable negative economic impact of their decisions. In addition to the professional groups who opt out of doing business in such states, sporting events have been moved out of state and private sector businesses cancelled announced expansions and moved their investments elsewhere.

Given the frequency and range of disruptors taking place the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) developed a Travel Risk Management Assessment Tool for the industry.

Monica Sanchez, GTBA’s Director of Research, says risk management “is a pretty broad term. When we ask about the travel management programs some have a very sophisticated program where they have a third party company manage the program. Others say they have some sort of program in place because they have policies or processes (but no one to manage it). We found that a good 20 percent don’t (have a plan) and they still send people out to travel and don’t really have a clear vision of risk management. That’s why our traveler’s program is for them.”

The GBTA’s assessment tools, says Sanchez, “go through everything from the risk assessment itself, risk mitigation, risk disclosure to how to communicate everything in the program, to data management for how data is gathered. So all in all there are 10 key performance areas that we’re gathering information about.”

The purpose of the tool is to pinpoint gaps in plans and procedures and guide planners to solutions. One thing the tool doesn’t do is rate destinations on the basis of risk. Sanchez says, “There’s no information or questions in the assessment that are specific to a region. What the assessment is going to do is identify the things they already have in place and gaps that they have. So when they have gaps there are a set of recommendations where we tell them maybe you don’t have x in place, you should contact this sort of person in order to find out what the next steps are. With those recommendations they can determine the risk there could be for a destination, but nowhere would we recommend or not recommend going to a destination.”

The tool also doesn’t differentiate between the type of disruption. Whether a natural disaster, terrorism, health concern or other, it’s about preparedness.

“I think the risks have always been there and sometimes they are more in evidence because obviously of the news and the social media,” says Colleen Gallagher, the GBTA’s Communications Director. “It’s not only terrorism, there is also other issues that we have to be aware of, like environmental issues to political instability in other regions. Our industry is a global industry. We’re not just sending travelers around the corner, but to places they may have never been. We’re sending someone across borders, so we should make sure where the travellers are, make sure we give them the right information so they don’t get into trouble, and if they do they know how to contact us.”

To understand the impact of these disruptions Roger Dow, CEO and President of the U.S. Travel Association, says, “We commissioned a study quite a while ago to look at what was the loss from something like Katrina. So Oxford Economics found it literally took New Orleans five years to recover from Katrina. And we found most of the times, if there is a big-scale disruption – a monstrous fire, flood, major hurricane, something like that – it’s 26 months to five years for recovery. Business doesn’t just snap right back. It has to do with several things. One is the infrastructure damage, but much more important is perceptual damage.”

The gulf oil spill was another prompt for the study. Dow says, “We were trying to demonstrate to BP that you just don’t have a hurricane Katrina and after the wind and rain stops the next week everything is back to normal. What ends up happening is people start changing their travel patterns. They go to different places for vacation” and business rotation is altered. People will remember the event, but not know of the recovery. “So any time you have a disaster, whether it’s political or nature, it takes a long time for the travel industry to come back.”

Beyond the immediate impact of events to local populations and places, Dow believes reputation damage or concern is fed and amplified by the proliferation of social media as well as the 24-hour news cycle. Events that were once local stories have become national and international stories that play on a type of continuous loop.

Dow’s advice for dealing with potential disaster is common sense. “The lesson is very simple: listen to the experts, rely on the data and be very balanced in your approach because again, the fear of it can create a panic that’s not founded. The lesson learned is communicate, communicate, communicate, facts, facts, facts, data, data, data.”

His bottom line: “Balance, communication and facts.”

And when the disaster is politically motivated, legislators must ask themselves if it is truly worth the dollar, job and reputational loss.










Questioning President Trump’s impact on travel and the meetings industry

In the movie Elizabeth, about the first Queen Elizabeth, not the current one, The Queen is facing war with France and Spain. It’s on the eve of the sailing of the Spanish Armada. The Queen says, “I dislike war. The outcome is so unpredictable.”

So it is with elections.

The new administration has the world’s travel trade in turmoil.

A Travelzoo poll done before Donald Trump’s win was announced found that 31% of Brits would reconsider travel to the US. 20% said they definitely would not go. The Travelzoo poll predicted an unstable 2017 for the US, but a good year for Canadian tourism. Cheapflights said that as the election campaign progressed they saw a decline in preference for the US as a destination and in the last week bookings declined 52%.

Cheapflights also said that overnight searches for one-way flights from the US to Canada were 133% more than a month ago.

On election night the website for Canadian immigration crashed under the weight of searches.

A Travelmole poll says 58% of UK travel professionals thought a Trump presidency would be bad for business. US travel professionals were slightly more optimistic, with just 52% thinking it would be bad.

In the week before the election, Euromonitor published a paper which said Trump’s promise to ban Muslim travel to the US could cost up to $71 billion a year and cost 132,000 jobs. They also said AirBnB and Expedia could be hurt, given their property listings and courting of business to and from Mexico and South America. The Euromonitor report also wondered about the impact of a Trump/Pence administration on the fast-growing female and gay markets. (In office Governor Pence has adhered to his fundamentalist beliefs to take anti-gay and anti-choice positions.)

In the spring of 2016 we saw how a string of discriminatory state laws negatively impacted the meetings sector. For example, when North Carolina passed a “bathroom bill” which discriminated against LGBT people, a number of business and professional groups pulled their business from the state.

I wonder what impact a Trump presidency will have on AirBnB? Given that Trump is a hotelier, how open will his administration be to this type of competition? I realize he will be expected to put his business affairs in a blind trust, but will a Republican-dominated Congress ignore this type of business and not try to regulate it more? Will companies, which now allow their people to use AirBnB, feel comfortable continuing their corporate policy?

And what does this presidency mean to foreign groups? Obviously, some nationalities aren’t going to feel comfortable coming to the US for business. In 2011 Boston Economics determined that slow VISA approvals for delegates hoping to attend US-based trade shows were costing the US industry over $2.6 billion a year. That broke down to $1.5 billion in lost business-to-business trade; $540 million in lost registration fees and exhibition space spending; and $295 million in visitor spending. Reversing this lost business would translate into 43,000 new jobs and $750 million dollars in state and federal taxes.

The VISA process has improved, but will the new administration’s positions impact attendance by certain ethnic groups, gay delegates and their supporters?

The other question is how the new administration will impact sun destinations. Are US businesses going to feel comfortable hosting events in Mexico? Will Mexican businesses and representatives feel comfortable participating in events in the US? Could the new Washington, with it’s America-centric position, take a dim view towards those groups who don’t use a US-based destination for their event?

Then we turn to the Caribbean. The Obama Administration has been opening doors to Cuba. American Airlines have started flying there. Marriott has opened a Havana hotel and announced plans for others. Several cruise lines are negotiating to include it in their itineraries. If President Trump rolls back all of President Obama’s legacy, what does that do to the future of Cuba-US relations? That impacts not just Cuba, but the rest of the Caribbean as individuals and groups have to rethink reservations or future plans.

There’s a lot to consider about the impact of this administration on the travel and meetings sector.


Canadian volunteer 9/11 remembrance

“I saw the flight attendants in the galley crying. Then the pilot came on the intercom and said, ‘New York and Washington are under attack. All hell has broken loose, we’re going to Canada’.”

This is how a passenger on a Continental flight from London said she learned about the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Two hours later this flight landed at Halifax Stanfield International Airport

42 aircraft parked on the runway at Halifax Stansfield International Airport on 9/11. (Photo courtesy of HSIAA.)

42 aircraft parked on the runway at Halifax Stanfield International Airport on 9/11. (Photo courtesy of HSIAA.)

(YHZ) and was immediately surrounded by armed police with dogs. For the next nine hours passengers sat cut off from the world on the runway at a place they didn’t know. In this pre-digital era, mobile service to much of the Northeast was cut off by the collapse of the towers, leaving diverted travellers unable to access news or reach family or friends.

When North American airspace suddenly closed, 17 airports across Canada became the fallback destination for 255 US-bound flights and their 44,000 passengers and crew. That time of day is when most European flights are approaching North American airspace. The flights closest to North America landed at Charlottetown, Halifax, Gander, St. John’s, Saint John, Sydney and Moncton. Halifax received 42 aircraft, carrying 7,558 passengers and crew.
Early in the evening of September 11th, my then 77-year-old mother, who was a long-time Red Cross volunteer received a call asking her to help with Operation Grounded. I went with her to make sure she didn’t kill herself volunteering. That evening, we were part of a six-person team which drove across Nova Scotia from our homes in the Annapolis Valley to the Red Cross Citadel in Halifax. The building was pandemonium. The hallways were filled with people and boxes of office supplies and personal care items ready to rush and be rushed to wherever needed. Every desk seemed encircled by people, like dozens of mini-command centres. It was movement and voices and ringing telephones and hands waiving papers at whoever would snatch it and run. It was the type of the scenario I imagine took place when the stock market crashed in 1929.

About 10 pm our group was assigned to open the Dartmouth High School as a reception centre. We dashed over the MacDonald Bridge spanning Halifax Harbour and began our work. It was inspiring. It made us proud of our fellow Nova Scotians and the province. There was a need and everyone stepped up. A team from the phone company installed a phone bank so passengers could call anywhere in the world for free. The military arrived with hundreds of cots and quickly converted the gym into a large dorm. Caterers delivered hot, cold and kosher foods. Students came in to open up the computer lab and, working with custodians, move big screen TVs into the cafeteria so when diverted passengers arrived they could watch what had happened. Then residents began showing up demanding to take home stranded passengers. These stranded travellers hadn’t yet arrived, but Nova Scotians were ready. They told us they cleaned their guest rooms or pulled rec room sofa beds open, and/or sent the kids to stay with neighbours, friends or grandparents so they had room for these strangers. Everyone felt it was important that these uninvited guests knew they had a friend.

When the diverted passengers began to arrive our first task was to process them. We had half a dozen tables lined up on the gym’s stage. Passengers filed on stage, not to receive a graduation certificate, but to provide the International Red Cross with basic information: name, address, nationality, any medical conditions, travel details (flight number, departure point, destination) and permission to give their details to anyone searching for them. Somewhere, someone or some group were compiling all this information so frantic family, friends and colleagues around the world could learn the fate of their loved ones.

In the cafeteria I saw one 50-something New Yorker tightly gripping her sides as she rocked back and forth, staring at the TV. She couldn’t stop watching the planes fly into the towers. Eventually we learned she lived five blocks from the Twin Towers and what was on television was basically the view from her living room window.

She was so traumatized by these images she couldn’t be alone. We discretely arranged for another woman to accompany this lady to the washroom and stay at her side.

Members of the clergy – ministers, priests, a rabbi – also came by, walking the walk of the basic tenant of all faiths, ‘do unto others …’

That first night none of us knew anything, we assumed that the next morning the visitors would be back on their planes, continuing their journey. Volunteers were told passengers had to be on-site for an 8:30 am situation update. This deadline discouraged passengers from taking private accommodations too far away.

Just before dawn our group of volunteers handed over the school and visitors to another Red Cross team and returned to the Valley. We arrived home at 6:30 am. At 8:30 am, we learned no one was flying that day and were asked to go to Camp Aldershot, a local militia base pressed into service as a reception centre for 1,500 diverted travellers.

My mother, who was an extraordinarily organized person, worked the office, fielding incoming calls from around the world, coordinating volunteers and keeping in touch with the Red Cross command centre, managing appointments for those with medical issues and dealing with other requests from the diverted. Medical teams were on-site, here and all host communities, to check passengers. Those who didn’t have their meds were provided with free prescriptions. Some were transferred to hospital for more detailed diagnostic tests and treatment, and their doctors informed.

Volunteer firefighters came to the camp offering tours of the area. Local women delivered food, offered laundry services and took people shopping. I overheard one young woman telling a new-found friend among her fellow passengers, “This woman, a complete stranger, took me shopping for underwear!” “Nooooo!” said her suddenly jealous friend. “YES! Can you imagine some stranger at home taking you shopping for panties!?!” “You are so lucky.”

One who wasn’t so lucky was the young mother who suffered a miscarriage due to the stress.

It was only when I saw Michael Moore’s movie, 9/11, I learned people were told not to remove anything larger than a purse from an aircraft. On the ground at the time, volunteers didn’t know this. We didn’t know that officials were checking all luggage on all flights or that the reason it took up to 14 hours to deplane passengers was because every flight manifest had to be checked for more terrorists. Consequently, like all the host communities and reception centres, we had thousands of people without basics like toothbrush, toothpaste and comb.

In response to these needs CFB Greenwood sent truckloads of towels and linens to Aldershot. Local stores, like Sobeys, Lawton’s, Zellers and many small independents donated towels, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, deodorant and personal care items. My role at the school and camp was to act as a type of quartermaster, dispensing these items to our guests. I learned there is a weird practically to disaster. And that people have greater patience and empathy if they can shower and brush their teeth.

One woman housed at Aldershot told me she woke up that first night to find a man crawling across the floor of her room. He immediately identified himself as a soldier, apologized for startling her and explained she had been given his bed. He was just reaching for his wallet in the nightstand.

On the second and third days a couple of people got a tad ‘shirty’. Mostly in response to stress and having to share things like shampoo and conditioner. An American businessman on a one-day business trip flying from his base in London to New York was surprised that we were all volunteers and that all the personal items, food and entertainment was donated. He said, “You should put up a sign asking for donations. Let them know you’re volunteers, that this is donated stuff. They think the airlines or government are paying for this. They’re not used to kindness of this scale.” Whether or not they were used to it, that’s what they got. We were happy to be useful.


In a way, it was like a delayed returning of the favour for the way Boston and the people of Massachusetts came to our aid after the December 6, 1917 Halifax Explosion.


9/11 remembrance

I have posted a short video of a 9/11 remembrance service held in Appleton, Newfoundland, in 2010. I like that the people of Appleton, which hosted some of the travellers diverted to Canada that day, continue to remember. They hold an annual event even when there is no national and international media attention on them.

To see part of the service and read a few more details click on:



By allanlynch

Successful storytelling starts here

“Storytelling” is the new vogue. We have progressed from “native advertising” (a description I thought slightly racist) and “sponsored content” to “storytelling”.

Okay, but what if you’re not a storyteller? What if you’re telling the wrong story? What if you’re overlooking cool stories within your organization? Not everyone has a story (or news) sense or understands how to present what is important in a lively, compelling way. For some organizations they are happy just to have something on-line and overlook the potential for maximizing their message.

For example, I recently participated in a familiarization trip for meetings professionals. This was an opportunity for a destination to showcase itself, its meeting and event infrastructure, and introduce local professionals and partners to clients from across North America.

One of the partner websites has a page directed to meeting professionals. Curiously, the lead focus is their “second largest ballroom”.

Their second largest ballroom is an attractive space, but I didn’t understand why a supplier would attempt to start a conversation with their second best asset. A member of the sales team explained that it was the city’s most popular ballroom, which is why they lead with it. Bingo!

That makes sense, but not the way it is presented to the world. The website should include the story the sales rep told me about its popularity. That’s where the storytelling starts. You need a professional storyteller to draw out the information and present it in the strongest possible way to stand out in a world of competitive storytelling.

Storytelling is part of the sales function. It shouldn’t be left to the technology team to handle. Their forte is delivering your story to all the places and platforms people congregate in in the digital world. They know their business. They don’t necessarily know yours. Too often busy executives hand sketchy ideas and details to their webmasters to install on-line. Unfortunately, the webmaster doesn’t know which ideas, facts, details and stories are the important ones for your clients. So what is presented to the world, in reality, satisfies only an internal audience and fails to address client needs.

A professional storyteller can solve those challenges and set you up for successfully servicing your clients. Destination Doctor helps you tell stories that sell.

By allanlynch

Is print retro chic?

The beauty and challenge of the digital world is the vast information flow. The challenge is the volume of seductive diversions that lead many of us away from our original search.

A recent study by PEW Research found that 50 percent of Millennials still prefer, and place a high value on, print. The PEW findings support a Huffington Post piece published on February 2, 2015 (Sorry, Ebooks. These 9 studies show why print is better). American University linguist Naomi Baron, in explaining university students’ preference for print, maintains that while digital is convenient and easy to read on-line, it comes with distractions, encourages multi-tasking, skim reading and poor comprehension.

As a result, print, while often pronounced dead, seems to be in a type of resurgence. I see a parallel with vinyl vs digital music among purists.

Yesterday I received a digital copy of a new print magazine launched by the Quebec City Convention Centre. I was staggered by the professionalism of this title.

Earlier in the month I read of the launch of a new print magazine for Silicon Valley! A print magazine – dead tree technology – is seen as the way to stand out in Ground Zero of the digital world. Print, for Silicon Valley residents, stands out and carries a greater weight. Perhaps they find attraction in the retro chic of print.

VisitBritain, which last year announced a new social media focus, refocused in March to produce their own print magazine as part of their marketing thrust. Expedia – the on-line booking agency – also produces a print magazine. As does AirBnB.

A conversation with a Vancouver meeting executive amplified the challenge of a purely social media presence. She tried to call up her company’s blog while we spoke. She couldn’t access it. Her company’s software blocked her from opening another link. This executive says she receives over 100 emails a day. The bulk of them are sales pitches, which she deletes without opening. However, when something comes via snail mail, she is more inclined to devote time to read it.

Three weeks ago in London I saw bookstores filled with readers. On the Tubes, out of every four people reading, three were reading print – either a book or newspaper. Those holding print products were younger. It was Baby Boomers who had the electronic readers (maybe drawn by the large print function…). The Saturday I flew back to Canada, The Guardian produced a 20-page book review section! Even in Canada, book sales are up 5%.

Maybe those titles which struggle, struggle because they don’t offer their readers much in the way of information, ideas and entertainment. With so much cannibalization of content there is a lack of originality.

That struggle to provide engaging, useful and the right information and story translates to social media. It’s pointless to be on all social media platforms if your message isn’t the right message for the audience you hope to attract. The competition for attention exists. It’s the destination’s and property’s duty to be pertinent. And if print isn’t part of your marketing mix, the disciplines of print newsgathering and story-telling still stand up.

As one former publisher wrote, “I don’t know where media is going but I think being interesting, credible and seductive will remain important.”

Destination Doctor can help with your story telling and curating the right facts for your audience. Whatever media you employ.

The digital dilemma: cashless clicks

Who hasn’t heard the expression ‘everything old is new again’?

So it is in the world of advertising. Every advertising agency rep and media salesperson has been told of William Wrigley’s observation. He founded the Wrigley Company which manufactures Juicy Fruit gum and other legendary brands. Wrigley famously said, “I know I’m wasting half of my advertising budget. Now, if someone could just tell me which half.”

A new Ad Waste Survey conducted by New York and San Francisco-based Demandbase found “B2B marketers are realizing that while their digital advertising strategy may be reaching a large audience, it’s not necessarily delivering the right results. This ad waste dilemma isn’t new – most companies know that they are wasting a significant part of their digital ad dollars, but the problem is they don’t know which part.”

Demandbase says markers need to adjust their strategies to focus on “solutions that can deliver more effective advertising, personalization and sales programs to the specific accounts that will really deliver business results.” In other words, targeting their marketing.

For those who love statistics the Demandbase study found that 96 percent of digital campaigns reach significant numbers of consumers who aren’t in their targeting mix and 71 percent say their campaigns do not meet expectations.

It’s worth remembering another old-school rule: that 80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your customers. If you’re engaging in digital campaigns are you appealing to real and potential customers or just bored people clicking around the web? The next question is: do your tech people know your business, product, service and understand your customer? They have a talent for technology and getting a brand into multiple digital platforms and spaces, but what about the message? Are places and producers winning the click war, but failing to cash in with actual sales?

Contact Destination Doctor for help with your digital dilemma.

By allanlynch

My new column

I have a new column, The Supply Side, in Meetings & Incentive Travel magazine. The column focuses on the business events supplier issues, concerns and ideas. My first column was just published on February 10th.

I have long specialized in covering the meetings sector. I cover Canada and certain issues for LA-based Association News and contribute to MPI’s The Meeting Professional as well as my 24-year-long relationship with M&IT.

Without sounding immodest, I doubt anyone in North America writes more about the sector that I do.

Traditionally the magazine has been about bringing planner issues to the forefront and news and ideas which are important for them to know. The Supply Side expands the conversation by giving voice to supplier issues, thus making M&IT a truly two-way idea exchange.

The first column is found here:

I’m pleased with the ideas in the column I just filed for the March/April issue of M&IT.


By allanlynch