For the first time in four years, we spent the day not on Zoom – walking the halls of Congress for the 2023 ECA Legislative Action Day. We crisscrossed from the Senate and House sides, advocating lawmakers and policy influencers on the economic impact of the events and trade show industries as well as some of the challenges we face. As a Maryland resident and long-time participant, I was appointed head of our delegation. I was joined by clients, partners, and industry friends working to influence policy at our state level. Many of us have done this together previously, so it was great knowing each other and how to make our meetings very productive. 

The Capitol Hill Experience 

Each time I participate, I reflect on the “issues of the day” and the political tone in our country. This year’s event was in the middle of the highly contentious, last-minute debt ceiling debate occurring around us. For the house side, they had passed their portion of the bill just hours before in the evening before arrival, so the tone was far more relaxed. On the Senate side, staff, senators and news crews were often on phones, running out of offices and being stopped by the press for interviews. It added a heightened sense to the day that Washington, DC, is at the heart of our political democracy.   

For us, the issues were far less controversial as they primarily dealt with growth engines for small businesses across every sector of the economy. They also drive demand for restaurants, hotels, travel, and Main Street commerce. In addition, 99% of organizations in our industry are small businesses, and 80% of all exhibitors at our business events are small businesses. 

Each meeting was typically an introduction of ourselves, a reminder of the issues important to ECA (us) and to understand the representatives’ knowledge of the events industry and the legislation. It is always encouraging when the legislators or their staffers comprehend the business, co-sponsored past or present legislation, or review the bills of interest to us on some level in advance. You could tell they enjoyed meeting back in person again as much as we did. In addition, our team members brought our perspectives on each issue. 

So, what’s Important to Event Professionals? (The below was provided by ECA) 

Visa Delays – Despite the lifting of international travel restrictions in November 2021, we are still unable to fully bring back international exhibitors, attendees, and buyers to U.S. business events. 

  • Visitors from 150+ countries require a visa to come to the U.S. for business, and visa delays in some countries are between 1-2 years. 
  • In India, the average wait time for a B-1/B-2 visa interview appointment is 416 days. 
  • In Brazil, it’s 498 days, while in Mexico, it’s 601 days. 

These delays will cost the U.S. 2.6 million visitors and $7 billion in spending in 2023. With international exhibitors, attendees, and buyers often needing at least 6-9 months of lead time in order to attend a U.S. event, visa appointment wait time reduction is critical! This particularly hurts our U.S. small business exhibitors looking to export, which is already quite difficult due to the strong dollar and inflation. 

Next-generation Workforce – Hard-working men and women are the backbone of the business events industry. There are 9.6 million open jobs in the U.S., including many great middle-class jobs that are unfilled in our sector. There are many pathways into a great business events career from 2-year and 4-year colleges to trade schools, apprenticeships, skill-based training programs and more. We need Congress’ help to attract, train, and retain our industry’s (and our country’s!) next-generation skilled workforce that will help our small businesses grow. 

Business Impersonation Fraud – Since 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has received more than 2.5 million business impersonation fraud reports. In our industry, business impersonation fraud impacts us in two ways: hotel booking cams and attendee list sale scams that primarily target individuals and small businesses. The FTC is finally taking action: last fall, the FTC proposed a Trade Regulation Rule on Impersonation of Government and Businesses (16 CFR Part 461). Last month, ECA testified in support of this regulation at an FTC administrative hearing. While some other FTC work has been in the news lately, this non-controversial draft rule is right in line with the FTC’s Congressionally approved rulemaking authority. 

The “Ask” 

 Before we left each meeting, asking for their support or co-sponsorship of any of the bills presented was essential. Many will assure you they will investigate it further, while others will clarify that they will support it. This year we certainly heard more about the upcoming election cycle that impacted the near term. Regardless of their intentions, it is what we can do to help the industry. We also follow up on our meetings by sharing additional information and providing answers to any outstanding questions to further stay in front. 

How Can You Get Involved? 

Advocating for your industry is EVERYONE’S job. Don’t worry if you have no experience. I certainly didn’t during my first Legislative Week. Even all these years later, I still get nervously excited about making our case. I remind myself that the efforts we have worked on in the past do make a difference in our industry. 

So, it is time to get involved – yes, today. A colleague and now industry friend Tommy Goodwin, Vice President of Government Affairs at ECA, taught me we must approach lobbying as a yearlong activity. It is much harder to ask for help when you aren’t top of mind in the myriad of thousands of priorities that cross our legislators’ minds. Learn more here or contact me and I will get you connected!