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by Liz Jackson | February 24, 2014

Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines last November, and I was confirmed for an assignment on location in less than two weeks. Immediately my family, friends and colleagues began urging me to cancel. Everyone saw Anderson Cooper on CNN standing in the midst of storm debris and thought I was headed toward a disaster zone.  

The reality is the Philippines is a big country of more than 7,000 inhabited islands stretching north to south, and the typhoon struck hundreds of miles south of the capital of Manila, far from the resort areas of beautiful beaches, golf courses and green-covered mountains used by the event industry.  When Hurricane Sandy struck in New Jersey, did anyone cancel a meeting in Washington, D.C.? Of course not, at least not those who were able to make an informed decision based on the facts.   

One of my early part-time jobs was in a travel agency, where my first customer asked for a ticket to Portuguese East Timor. My first ticket-counter passenger at Eastern Airlines, where I was getting "on the ground experience," wanted to go to Tegucigalpa. Who knew where these places were? Where had I been during grade-school geography? We are in the international meetings business, but do we know the globe? Not well, unfortunately. But the world is shrinking as we increasingly move across latitudes and longitudes, and fortunately all of us are in the process of learning fast. Strolling down the aisles at IMEX or keeping abreast of international trade publications are eye-openers in this vast world of opportunities.

Business and leisure tourism are a major part of national economies in countries all over the world, including the United States and the Philippines. By needlessly avoiding a particular destination, we deprive it of tourism dollars, increase its legions of unemployed and help stymie its overall development. When Magellan discovered the Philippines in 1521, he named them for his benefactor, King Philip II of Spain, and began 300+ years of Spanish domination, bringing Spanish names and a culture of fiestas and Catholicism to this part of Asia. The U.S. governed the country from 1898 to the end of World War II, leaving citizens speaking English like Americans and with an appreciation for the West.  

With a robust infrastructure of hotels, convention centers and incentive destinations, the most exceptional benefit the Philippines offer is a very warm and friendly people. Everywhere I went people stopped me with thanks for the speedy U.S. and global efforts to help the typhoon survivors.

Remember how we tried to book meetings in New Orleans after Katrina to help with their recovery? Let's do the same for the Philippines. Staggeringly beautiful sunsets on Manila Bay will help you step further into the exciting arena of global meetings, and your attendees will be rewarded with memorable experiences far beyond the event and its positive impact on a nation's recovery.

Liz Jackson is the president of Washington, D.C.-based Jackson Consulting Inc. And FYI, Tegucigalpa is the capital of Honduras.