In late July, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) introduced legislation designed to prohibit federal agencies and departments from discriminating against destinations known for their resorts or leisure reputations when planning government meetings.
Reid's bill, the Protecting Resort Cities From Discrimination Act of 2009, would prohibit government agencies from implementing internal policies against using such locations for travel, events, meetings or conferences.
"The American people understand that vacation destinations also can be valuable and affordable destinations for business meetings, and they certainly understand that in today's environment, taxpayer funds must be conserved," Reid told M&C. Holding meetings in Nevada cities like Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and Reno "save the American taxpayer money because [those cities'] room rates are some of the lowest in the country," Reid added.
This defense of places like Las Vegas and Orlando, which have suffered considerably from the economic downturn and perception problems, was sparked by a July 22 Wall Street Journal article. It cited an e-mail from an FBI employee saying the Department of Justice had "decided conferences are not to be held in cities that are vacation destinations/spa/resort/gambling." A DOJ spokesperson confirmed that such a policy existed.
The e-mail was obtained by the U.S. Travel Association, a lobbying group whose Meetings Mean Business campaign (meetingsmeanbusiness.com) has sought to demonstrate the financial value of meetings for businesses and U.S. destinations alike.
"While this legislation is critical, nothing is more important than a greater understanding as to why travel matters," said Geoff Freeman, the USTA's senior vice president of public affairs.
Even if the antiblacklisting legislation is passed, however, some government planners might be reluctant to book leisure destinations. Andy Talbert, an Engineering Services Network conference manager based in Arlington, Va., who plans events for the Department of Defense, supports the legislation but is not sure it will achieve its aims.
"People have to be realistic," Talbert said. "If a hotel is giving me a great rate, I am going to consider bringing that back to my client. But no matter what legislation they have, and no matter what the quoted rate, I can't consider a five-star golf resort. That would not look good for my attendees and certainly not for me."