A Solution To Combat Inequality Is A Gamechanger for Business Events Industry

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<span>A Solution To Combat Inequality Is A Gamechanger for Business Events Industry</span>
Bottom Line:

No destination is without social or political challenges, but they shouldn’t prevent prospective convention delegates from considering whether or not to participate in a conference. Social offset programs provide a short-term solution to event planners and attendees while waiting for long-term change. 

It’s nothing painfully new. Most of us have traveled for a vacation and experienced something uncomfortable, some confrontation with inequality or injustice.

Then you check out of your hotel and leave it behind, wondering if the money you thoughtfully spent while in the destination will somehow trickle down to help those people you know are suffering.

I’m speaking broadly here, but I could easily be talking about any destination in the world. No place is perfect. Many places, however, make it exceedingly difficult to balance a desire to explore with a desire to heed our inner voice that’s reminding us of our values and identity.

Racial, religious, and gender minorities—among countless others— feel a sting when booking a trip to somewhere that poses a moral dilemma.

But it’s not just leisure travel. Consider this: meeting planners reported more focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion than on environmental sustainability according to a 2022 study by Northstar Meeting Group. Attendees and delegates have repeatedly refused to attend work trips, leading to event boycotts, when they disagree with political stances of certain destinations.

As travel writer Leon McCarron wrote, “If we’re thinking of traveling to destinations that challenge our ethics, it’s useful to reflect on why exactly we want to go. We travel for fun, of course, but also do it to learn, and to share knowledge.” On a business trip, however, we have less choice in the destination, less fun to focus on, and are less inclined to rationalize away any guilt in the name of a work event. There isn’t really a counterweight refueling us as the ethical dilemma drains us.

It’s a serious concern. Cities that support thousands of jobs based on the economic investment made by meeting planners and the convention delegates that attend are dramatically impacted when a destination’s local government positions or social policies spark outrage and eventual boycotts.

SocialOffset, an organization founded in 2022 by Elena Gerstsmann and Beth Surmont has fielded a solution that addresses this complex issue. Like carbon offsets that attempt to decrease our environmental impact when we travel, social offsets combat social inequality we may confront during our travels.

SocialOffset provides a platform for meeting planners to add a layer of social responsibility to their event. Planners hosting an event in any destination create a campaign on Social Offset to give back to that local community. Social Offset’s team vets and partners with different charities in the host destination, connecting them to the event organizer and participants through the platform where they can contribute.

More than just soothing guilt, programs like Social Offset are needed in the U.S. and around the world to help communities suffering because of decisions made by those in power. Donating to causes that support communities impacted by those decisions will not change everything, but it provides glimmers of hope rather than a destination boycott that snuffs out any hope at all.

Visit Orlando is a recent example of a DMO that has taken it upon themselves to offer business travelers the chance to give back, if they choose, creating a constructive solution to political issues that risk hurting tourism, and subsequently local communities. 

Visit Dallas also worked with a recent Global Security Exchange event to create a bespoke campaign using SocialOffset to support local LGBTQ+ and housing security endeavors. And with events planned already, Visit Seattle is yet another DMO engaged on the platform, having partnered with the 2024 Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference.

DMOs that consider these programs need to think critically about why and how a social offset program can keep tourism and events afloat, even if geopolitical factors are less than ideal. The following are some important aspects that are helpful to keep in mind:

1. Conference attendees often experience inequality firsthand

They see it firsthand, walking around convention centers where pockets of people are experiencing homelessness or suffering from addiction. Rather than ignoring it, SocialOffset and programs like it provide event planners and DMOs the chance to empower attendees to help do something about it. It’s a strategic way to provide business travelers with a way to put their frustration into positive action.

2. Business travelers want to leave positive impacts

Recent reports make it clear that travelers want to leave smaller carbon footprints when they travel, and they are willing to pay more for it. So, it’s safe to assume they are more than willing to leave a larger positive impact if possible.

Volunteerism, like these programs in Barbados, is one avenue, and can be joined by social offset programs to keep the positive change going when travelers leave. Business travelers won’t necessarily have time for a beach clean-up, but an offset program provides them a potential recourse.

3. Conference attendees don’t have a platform to speak out

It’s not always easy—or legal—to challenge inequality. Speaking out as an LGBTQ+ individual in some countries could land travelers in jail. It’s just one example of many that underscores how travelers, even if financially privileged, don’t always have the ability to take a stance while in a destination. Or, if they do, they’re likely only doing it within the safety bubble of a meeting room.

Providing social offsets empowers travelers to give back and support those who share their values or identities in a destination, in a safe and impactful way.

4. Travelers seek connections to local communities

In destinations where certain policies might clash with certain worldviews (do you sense my diplomatic tone?), travelers holding those worldviews will be eager to support local communities all the more.

Social offset programs are a DMO’s opportunity to hold up a looking glass to the people living there and to show travelers that, despite what they might think, there are people just like them in the destination.

5. Event planners don’t always know there’s inequality

In many destinations, it’s easy to travel to an event carefree, unaware that inequality exists at all. But behind beautiful resorts, flashy convention centers, and pristine hotels, communities may be facing hardships that do not always make headlines.

DMOs know the help their communities need. A social offset program can help bridge the gap between unaware meeting planners and the pressing social and economic needs in a community.

It’s easy to suggest building channels between DMOs and their local communities who are suffering. But organizations like Social Offset are going beyond suggesting it. They are doing it.

If destinations want to continue attracting business and event travelers, providing concrete, constructive ways to support local communities is an important step. When lobbying for and enacting policy change is far off on some dim horizon, a social offset program provides hope in the moment.

Real change is slow, but actions can be quick. Other nations and regions around the world would be wise to join a program like SocialOffset. There’s no reason to wait.

About The Author

Karyl Leigh Barnes, CDME

President | Tourism
Development Counsellors International

Karyl Leigh Barnes is the President of Development Counsellors International’s Tourism Practice. She’s helped destinations leverage the DNC, the RNC and caucuses to ensure that locals and travelers alike understand what makes each destination tick. Following two years as the co-chair of Destinations International’s Communications Committee, she’s now stepped into the role of crafting educational content for communications professionals within the destination organization industry.

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