“PSA for conference planners,” began a tweet posted earlier this summer, which then ticked off a list of selling points for Vancouver as a meeting destination — including its “excellent” international airport, moderate climate, easy public transit, and venues with the capacity to accommodate more than 10,000 people.
The marketing message was created, not by the city’s CVB or a meeting venue, but by a scientist: Mika McKinnon, a Vancouver-based geophysicist, researcher, and science communicator. McKinnon was promoting her city, she told her 25,000-plus followers on Twitter, as “a workable alternative to not subjecting attendees to the #travelban.”
PSA for conference organizers: Vancouver is a workable alternative to not subjecting attendees to the #travelban.
– Excellent international airport (or short drive from US border)
– Venues with capacity of >10k
– Moderate climate
– Easy public transit infrastructure
— Mika McKinnon (@mikamckinnon) June 26, 2018
McKinnon posted the message on June 26, the day the Supreme Court announced that it had voted to uphold a 2017 executive order banning certain travelers from eight countries from entering the U.S. McKinnon is just one of thousands of scientists around the world who, over the last 18 months, have taken to social media or signed petitions objecting to federal policies that they say will have a detrimental effect on scientific collaboration. Many, like McKinnon, have suggested — or demanded — that meeting organizers find alternatives to the U.S. for international meetings.
In response to the Supreme Court announcement, the U.S. Travel Association (USTA) issued its own recommendation: “The White House should make it clear that legitimate business and leisure travelers are as welcome and desired as ever in the United States,” a USTA press release said. “The economic stakes around strong and healthy international travel are too high … for the welcome message not to become a featured part of the administration’s calculus.”
For some destinations — particularly those who have a high number and percentage of international visitors — making an effort to communicate to the world that their cities welcome them is nothing new. Convene spoke to leaders representing two destinations, on the East and West coasts, about how their messages to prospective international visitors have evolved over the last months.
New York City
When Fred Dixon, president and CEO of NYC & Company, joined the travel and tourism marketing organization in 2005, it already was emphasizing that the welcome mat was out. “We were touting to the world that one of the reasons New York is so special is because it is such a diverse melting pot of people and cultures and religions — and therefore is one of the most inclusive places on the planet.”
But when the country’s politics changed, “people began to wonder if the United States is as inclusive as they have always thought it was,” Dixon said. “That’s when we felt the need — certainly here in New York — to double down on the messaging — to remind the world that New York is and has always been a welcoming destination.”
Last year, NYC & Company launched its “Welcoming the World” campaign in multiple languages, with a message that reverberates from partnerships with destinations around the globe to the recording that plays on NYC & Company phone lines when callers are on hold. “We want to reaffirm to the world that talk of exclusion and walls and banning certain people is not representative of how we feel in New York,” Dixon said. “I think people have a different expectation of us than other places. And they have looked to us over the last couple of years to reaffirm that inclusivity.”
In the U.S., New York City is the top destination for international travelers. Of the 63 million visitors who came to the city last year, more than 13 million of them were international business travelers. Of those, almost half were meeting delegates.
International visitors are “essential to our future success,” Dixon said. “We look at this purely through the eyes of business. That said, we feel that you can have secure borders and open doors at the same time.
It is on all of us to make the world feel welcome.
“The topic of inclusivity is on everyone’s mind for all the right reasons,” Dixon added. “Whether you are looking at delegates or at the planning community, [the meetings community is] as diverse as it’s ever been. I think that is symbolic of the public in general. I think we have to remember that we are in the hospitality business and that means being welcoming. I think we need to make sure that we, as a country and as individuals, do all we can to make folks feel welcome in our destinations. No matter what the policies are that come out of Washington, I think it is on all of us to make the world feel welcome.”
“Being welcoming has always been part of our DNA,” said Joe D’Alessandro, the president and CEO of San Francisco Travel. Like New York City, San Francisco also has a large stake in international visitors, but on a smaller scale. Of the 10 million visitors who are projected to visit San Francisco in 2018, almost 30 percent will come from out of the country.
And like New York, his organization has been “very concerned” about the negative impact that the changes to federal policies would have on perceptions about traveling to his destination, D’Alessandro said. Last year, as publicity about the federal travel bans and people being stopped at U.S. customs began to dominate global news cycles, “we said we have to immediately get to our customers and the greater traveling population out there to say, ‘No matter what you read, there are places in the world like San Francisco that are very welcoming and always have been,’” D’Alessandro said. “We wanted to make sure that people knew that we’re not changing.”
SF Travel initiated the campaign #AlwaysWelcome to let visitors know that, no matter where they come from or how they live, “they are always welcome here,” D’Alessandro said. “We wanted to distance ourselves from the rhetoric coming out of the capital.” The second phase, launched this summer, takes the perspective of locals. “I Am San Francisco,” is an online video series sharing diverse stories of both natives and immigrants who call San Francisco home.
Travel and tourism transcends politics.
“The more we can tell the positive story about the welcoming nature of Americans and who we are, the better,” D’Alessandro said. “The message that we want to send out is that travel and tourism transcends politics. It doesn’t matter where you stand on the political scale. You should always feel welcome coming to the United States. And in the case of San Francisco, we’ve always welcomed people — whether they agree with us or not. It’s part of who we are. “Sometimes it’s not clear to the international media whether Americans are welcoming,” he added. “We want to set the record straight. San Franciscans are welcoming.”