Tourism industry conferences produce interesting facts, news items, contacts and ideas for future stories, most of the time.
However, as a reporter who has covered many conferences over the years, I've witnessed several annoying areas that I feel could use improvement. Event planners might want to check out my rants and raves.
Thumbs down to seminars that run too long and speakers who do the same; meals that are overcooked and bear no resemblance to local dishes or ones that don't reflect the cuisine of the country; schedules that begin at 7 a.m. following a late-night event the evening before; thermostats set to Arctic temperatures inside conference centers; so many hotel site inspections that the rainshower heads at one property blur with the towel art at another; press conferences with no name placards to identify who is who on the podium; "free time" that translates into a long bus ride to view a hotel that doesn't pay commission and is in need of a paint job; accommodations that are miles from the conference center with shuttle transportation that rarely departs on time; tight itineraries and no distribution of the conference schedule well in advance of the event.
And what's up with those tourism officials and hoteliers who forget to bring their business cards or run out with no backup supply in their briefcases? They will miss out on quotes and coverage, and I'll waste time trying to get their correct titles and the spelling of their names.
Thanks to the conferences I've covered, my drawers and desk are bursting with a lifetime supply of pens, plastic water bottles, ballcaps, visors and XXL-size t-shirts, in addition to copious amounts of paper wasted on press kits when a USB thumb-drive would do the trick. Key chains and luggage tags usually round out the swag.
And every island or conference packages these goodies in a tote bag imprinted with the destination's logo or slogan and the name and date of the event.
And here is my biggest pet peeve. Guess where these bags are made? Seeing the "Made in China" label on just about every bag at every conference bothers me.
When I ask why these giveaway bags aren't locally sourced so that the island economy can benefit, the answer is always the same: It's cheaper in China. Same answer from the conference planners, whose budgets rival the GDP of some of the smaller Caribbean islands.
It made my heart sing when I was given a bag in Turks and Caicos that was actually made there. I brought that one home.
And kudos to the Haiti Ministry of Tourism for its made-in-Haiti giveaway bag that I received during the Caribbean Tourism Organization's Caribbean Week event last month in New York.
Several years ago I complained about this recurring Made in China labeling to Frank Comito, CEO and director general of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA).
Comito listened, jotted something in his notebook and said he would look into it.
I ran into him the following year at another conference.
"How're we doing?" he asked. I showed him that year's bag, different event name and date but the same offending label.
"It takes time, but we are working on this," he said. "It really does come down to cost."
To be fair, the CHTA does a good job at its annual Caribbean Marketplace event, where local vendors display their crafts and wares at the conference center and attendees have a chance to browse and buy.
And don't get me wrong. I've been to conferences that were seamless in terms of scheduling, speakers and substance, and I'm hopeful regarding the Caribbean Tourism Association's upcoming Sustainable Tourism Conference in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in late August.
Sustainability is a big issue to be covered in three days, with the impact of climate change being at the forefront of discussions, but I'm hoping there will be time allotted to discussions of the measures being set at resorts around the region, starting with the elimination of plastic straws and plastic bags.
"Experts will explore the measures that can be done to enhance local livelihoods through the creation of innovative tourism experiences using the natural and manmade assets of Caribbean society," said Amanda Charles, the Caribbean Tourism Organization's sustainable tourism development specialist.
I hope that includes goody bags made in St. Vincent.