Meetings

Hospitality Industry Urges Congressional Action on Zika

By / Sep 9, 2016 (iStock/Thinkstock)

After Congress failed to fund Zika-related prevention measures this week, major players in the travel industry got together to ask for quick action. But even with a lack of federal funds and with new cases of the virus emerging, meetings continue to go on as planned in Miami.

When Congress returned from its seven-week recess on Tuesday, it once again failed to move forward a bill that would pay for a federal Zika response.

That lack of funding for prevention and research efforts, along with seven new cases of the virus confirmed in South Florida earlier this week, led major players in the hospitality industry to take a stand.

On Wednesday, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) and U.S. Travel Association sent a letter to congressional leadership “urging swift action to help halt the virus’ spread and assist the agencies dealing with its impact.”

The letter was signed by 127 hotels, state tourism offices, and other travel-related organizations and associations.

The letter [PDF] states: “The number of individuals with the Zika virus has grown, and there have been multiple instances of local transmission. The impact to the travel industry will have adverse and widespread economic ramifications. Our nation’s travel industry generates $2.1 trillion in economic output, is an economic engine driving job creation across the United States, and is a top-10 employer in 49 states and the District of Columbia. That economic activity, as well as the millions of jobs supported by travel, could be put at very significant risk as a result of the virus, and quick action by Congress can help prevent this.”

AH&LA president and CEO Katherine Lugar added that the health and safety of guests and hotel employees should be a priority to members of Congress. “As the threat of the Zika virus grows, petty politics and congressional gridlock shouldn’t get in the way of approving the necessary funding to support new research, vaccines, and advanced solutions to mosquito control,” she said.

Meetings Go On in Miami

Yet, despite Centers for Disease Control and Prevention travel advisories and a lack of government funding to fight the virus, conferences and meetings—association-related and otherwise—continue to go on as planned in Miami.

For example, the Association of College and University Auditors’ 2016 Annual Conference takes place later this month in the city. On the conference webpage, ACUA provides attendees with information about the Zika warning, as well as details about how the venue that will host the meeting’s only outdoor event handles mosquito spraying and repellent.

In addition, the group states it conference cancellation policy:

“ACUA management will continue to monitor and report any other advisories in preparation for your travels. Cancellation of Annual Conference registrations will be subject to ACUA’s standard cancellation policy as stated in the registration brochure.  Cancellations received prior to August 19th will be refunded minus a $100 processing fee. Please be sure to note if your cancellation is due to a medical condition as the cancellation fee will be waived in those instances. Cancellations received after August 19 will be considered on a case-by-case basis.”

Outside of the association space, Meetings & Conventions reported last month that organizers for upcoming events, like Art Basel Miami Beach, had “cautiously expressed confidence in the region’s mosquito control efforts.”

According to the article, officials from Americas Food and Beverage Show, taking place at the Miami Beach Convention Center later this month, will add mosquito repellent to goody bags.

“We’re taking extra precautions,” Yendi Alvarez, the show’s media coordinator, told the website. “This wasn’t even a thought last year. We put this in place once the news started getting crazy.”

In addition, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau is in close contact with the Florida Department of Health and Miami-Dade County to communicate updates and recommendations to residents, employees, and visitors concerning mosquito-borne illnesses. “The safety and well-being of the 2.7 million residents and 15.5 million visitors to Greater Miami and the beaches is a top priority,” GMCVB said.

The Zika Virus is just one of many challenges that the association meetings industry has had to stay in front of. Others include extreme weather, civil unrest, and terrorist attacks.

How do you keep your attendees informed about the potential impact of an unexpected development in your conference city, such as a public-health or weather-related emergency? Please let us know in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now. More »

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