Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) has managed to rescue Orlando and Las Vegas from a federal travel blacklist which prohibits government meetings and conferences in liesure oriented cities.
An exchange of letters between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel clarifies the White House position on the subject, and will from now on serve as a guideline for any federal agency scouting for a meeting or conference destination.
In his letter to Rahm Emanuel, Senator Reid said that “Over last few months, several Las Vegas businesses have been told that Las Vegas facilities would not be considered as a travel destination for government meeting or convention travel because Las Vegas is also vacation and leisure destination. For example, in one case, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conference was relocated from Las Vegas to another city on the order of the FBI Director on this basis. We are aware of similar action being taken by the General Services Agency and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”
In response, Emanuel wrote back that he agrees “federal policy should not dictate the location where such government events are held.” Emanuel also clarified that the White House view of government travel is not focused on specific destinations, but on the justification for and the cost/benefit ratio of the individual exercise.
This means that from now on, meeting planners for federal agencies will no longer be able to cite federal policy and White House instructions as an excuse for cutting out hot leisure destinations from consideration.
But it won’t be easy to convince hide-bound bureaucrats at federal agencies that the White House really means it. According to Geoff Freeman, Senior VP, U.S. Travel Association, this travel blacklist of prominent leisure destinations by federal agencies including Justice, Agriculture and Homeland Security is fueled by directives coming from “the highest levels within these agencies.”
It’s one thing to overturn a written policy memo with another one. It’s a completely different matter trying to change the mindsets of dozens of federal officials. One thing that would do the trick is if President Obama would himself say something about it, which would help nullify the impact of his statement earlier this year when he said “you can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer’s dime.”
That statement was made when people were mad about excessive spending by top executives of bailed out banks, and resulted in a virtual meltdown in the meetings industry, and hotels in Orlando and Las Vegas have been in free-fall since then.
The situation now is very much different and some political cover is needed to repair the damage, but don’t hold your breath for any more help on this matter from the White House. Sen. Harry Reid, though, needs to be commended for trying to help resuscitate his state’s travel industry.