That has been the question in 2022.
To boycott or not to boycott has made the headlines in the business events industry throughout 2022. We have seen global industry associations declare they do not support boycotting destinations and argue that this is against the very meaning of meeting face to face - to create societal change. How can we create change when we do not meet, we do not understand and therefore advocate for what is right? On one hand, this is correct; on the other hand, a much deeper, global conversation must happen. This comes down to two things. Are your delegates welcome? Are your delegates safe? When we talk about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within business events, the conversation tends to focus on how diverse speaker panels are; how different demographics and cultures are included on boards and in workforces, and what we collectively need to do to provide equity to those underrepresented. Dig deeper and DEI has an even greater role to play. Does your event destination reflect your organisations values and that of your members/delegates? Will your delegates/members be safe in the event destination, and will you be able to advocate for their rights?
In the United States, there are excellent examples of how events have advocated for change. In 2019, Destinations International’s annual conference was due to take place in St. Louis, Missouri at a time when the abortion bill was to be debated. Delegates who were uneasy about spending their money in a state that was acting against their values were connected with Planned Parenthood and given a list of organisations who supported their work, such as local restaurants, so that they were assured their money was being spent with organisations that represented them. Read the full article on Skift here. However, this conversation needs to be taken global and we only need to look at recent sporting events where DEI has failed to be considered and both the event owner and the destinations reputation has been significantly damaged. We cannot continue to ignore human rights abuses, human trafficking, women's rights, and LGBTQI+ oppression (to name but a few) when we host events. How can you create societal change in destinations where it is illegal to discuss the issues? How can you guarantee your delegates safety, especially where they identify as one of the demographics who are at risk of arrest, torture, and in the worst cases, death? Careful conversations need to be had between events and destinations to create frameworks to ensure delegate safety when destinations are being considered. A dialogue needs to be established between the event organiser and their delegates to evaluate their feelings and provide information on remaining safe. If these conversations do not work, then the real questions must be asked. Is this the right destination for my attendees? Is this the right destination for my organisation’s values? Is this the right destination for my organisation’s brand? Are my delegates welcome? Are my delegates safe?
We are not saying that boycotting is the answer, but we must be prepared to use this to take a stance against injustice. It is not appropriate in every circumstance, and it is equally not appropriate to rule this out.
To start your framework discussion, contact New Intent: firstname.lastname@example.org