Because of the irresponsible actions of a few Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) recipient companies, there’s recently been a movement to prevent TARP recipients from hosting, sponsoring or paying for any conferences, holiday parties or entertainment events during the year in which they receive funds. Because I have built my career on promoting many aspects of sound public policy for the Golden State, I applaud efforts by the federal government to stop abuse of TARP funds. However, the ill-informed, anti-meetings rhetoric that is a popular bandwagon these days is seriously harming a legitimate and relevant industry. Now is not the time to stop holding meetings and events, as they can actually help spur more economic growth.

As the chair of the U.S. Travel Association, I would like to set the record straight about meetings and why they’re still an important component for business – especially in today’s economy. Meetings and events are valuable business tools for companies seeking to reward and develop their hardest-working employees, including professional development and networking opportunities that keep them growing, productive and motivated. Over the years, we’ve all heard about technology making meetings obsolete, but the truth is that nothing can replace the interpersonal connection of face-to-face meetings and events. And, for the destinations hosting these meetings and events, canceling costs millions in needed revenues and job support. For example, Las Vegas relies heavily on meetings and conventions; in December 2008, Las Vegas’ unemployment reached a 25-year high of 9.1 percent, and last month, McCarran International Airport experienced a 15.7 percent drop in traffic. This is the worst monthly decline since the days after 9-11.

Because of this anti-meeting rhetoric, companies that have received emergency government support – and many more that have not – have canceled thousands of meetings and events. In a recent USA Today report, meetings, events and incentive travel planners said their business was down by about 35 percent. While I agree that companies receiving taxpayer dollars need to be accountable, the answer is not to discourage people from meeting. The solution is to create a responsible meetings and events policy that companies can adopt. The U.S. Travel Association, along with other organizations in the travel industry, has developed a recommended clear meetings and events policy, which supports legitimate business. Without this policy, 2.4 million business travel related jobs in the U.S. are at stake. Without the 1 million jobs created by meetings and events travel nationally, unemployment in the United States would jump from 7.6 to 8.2 percent. In addition, business travel generates $39 billion in tax revenue nationwide, which help funds public schools, police and fire departments, and other essential services in every community across the country.

If we want to support economic recovery and growth, we must support the travel industry, which is responsible for one in eight American jobs and impacts every region of the country. A decline in meetings and events will – quite simply – cost people their livelihoods and negatively impact companies, including hotels, restaurants, florists and thousands of others.

Since California has the largest economy in the U.S., with $36 billion in business travel revenues, we could be one of the most impacted states if our meetings and events industry declines over the long term. To date, economy-related cancellations of meetings and conventions in Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Francisco alone have accounted for an estimated $80 to $100 million loss in potential revenue for the state in 2009 and beyond. For this reason, we need to support meetings not only on a national public policy level, but on the local level. California companies who for economic or PR reason are considering cancelling their meetings outside of the state can instead support California’s economy by hosting their meetings locally or in another region of California, thereby saving on travel and supporting jobs at home.

Informed people who are as concerned as I am can halt dangerous political rhetoric and take action quickly to keep the meetings industry healthy. Just log on to the U.S. Travel Association’s site, where you can write your officials, sign the travel industry’s petition and utilize a variety of resources to educate others about the value of meetings and events to communities around the country.