With the recent "demonization" of legitimate business travel and hundreds of thousands of jobs at stake, the nationwide hospitality and tourism industry – an economic juggernaut – is working in a unified lobbying effort to promote business travel in the United States.
In fact, key leaders of the national travel industry met recently with President Barack Obama to discuss the unique role that travel can play in strengthening the American economy. Participants at the meeting discussed the need to maximize the benefits of business meetings and events, which generate more than $100 billion in spending and create more than 1 million jobs that are the lifeblood of local communities, including Milwaukee.
The travel industry employs 7.7 million Americans and generates more than $740 billion in spending annually. Closer to home, tourism in the greater Milwaukee area generates $2.6 billion annually, employs 65,000 people and contributes more than $400 million in state and local taxes.
Important business is still conducted at face-to-face meetings, and useful information is learned and imparted at industry conventions and tradeshows. It’s important that we work as a community to protect beneficial meetings, conventions and incentive travel.
Our message is simple: don’t cancel your meeting or convention because of the recession or concern that your event might become the lead story on the evening news. Meeting in Milwaukee is good for the bottom line! You can get down to business in Milwaukee and still enjoy the many amenities visitors expect in a first-class destination – a safe, walkable downtown, friendly people, first-class hotels, fine restaurants and a vibrant arts and cultural scene.
Milwaukee was, is and always will be a value destination where visitors can convene productively. In fact, Runzheimer International, the national consulting firm specializing in transportation, travel and living costs, ranked Milwaukee the most affordable city for food and lodging when compared with its competitive set of cities it competes with for visitors. Milwaukee ranked 60th-least expensive major city out of 69 cities on the Runzheimer Meal and Lodging index report. Hotwire, the travel website, ranked Milwaukee in its top 10 "2008 Best Places for Value Vacations."
Many of our local community and business leaders have long been champions of keeping their meetings in Milwaukee – they are to be applauded. Let’s work together to keep more of our meetings in Milwaukee and leverage our affiliations with professional and charitable organizations to bring more national and regional meetings and conventions to our city. Taking these steps is an easy way to grow our local economy and keep people working.
And for those cynics that insist on high-end "resort" cities, remind them that Milwaukee has golf, gaming and beaches too!
Doug Neilson is president and chief executive officer of Visit Milwaukee.