Northstar's SMU International Celebrates the Return of Cross-Border Travel

Presenters Doug Lansky and Emma Lovewell shared their passion, experiences and insights during the 19th edition of the show.

Fitness expert Emma Lovewell (left) discussed her travels and more with Northstar's vice president and content director, Loren Edelstein.
Fitness expert Emma Lovewell (left) discussed her travels and more with Northstar's vice president and content director, Loren Edelstein.

The 19th edition of  Northstar Meetings Group's SMU International, held March 13-15 at the New York Marriott Marquis, drew a record 350 buyers and suppliers of cross-border events to the Big Apple. SMU showcased the return of such gatherings, as noted in Northstar/Cvent’s recent PULSE survey, and the power of international travel.

Highlighting the three-day program were insightful presentations from global travel expert Doug Lansky and Peloton senior instructor Emma Lovewell, as well as networking and one-on-one appointments that fostered face-to-face opportunities for attendees to renew relationships and make new contacts.

What's ahead for group travel

Lansky kicked off the first morning with a dynamic presentation that highlighted current trends and his recommendations for improving the industry. He encouraged tourism boards to redefine how they measure success, by switching from counting numbers of visitors to encouraging greater visitor spend on local attractions and in local shops, and by offering incentives to groups. Lansky pointed to a tried-and-true Walt Disney World tactic of issuing arm bands to guests, who use them in place of cash in the parks. “It disconnects spend from money,” he said.

Lansky didn’t sugarcoat his take on tourism's current sustainable practices: “No amount of hotel towels you leave on the floor can possibly make up for the CO2 you put into the atmosphere. We all want to walk in the direction of doing better [for the environment],” he said. “It’s a work in progress forever, and we should be making small steps all the time, every week, every year, as we go.”

Fitness on the go

On the following day, wellness and fitness expert Lovewell shared her inspiring take on the power of travel and positivity. The Peloton instructor, who motivates her devoted fans to reach for their goals, revealed that her overseas travels and living experiences gave her new outlooks on her relationships with her family and provided a stronger sense of her own biracial identity.

Lovewell told the audience her priorities when traveling now: being active every day, indulging in local fare (just add veggies), and packing little luxuries, such her favorite skincare or lavender oil to sprinkle on linens. 

“To me, travel is really about enjoying and taking in the culture of where you are; it allows us to connect with each other and ourselves in a deep way.”

She expressed her appreciation for planners’ roles during the second part of her presentation, when Northstar Meetings Group’s Loren Edelstein interviewed Lovewell about her own experiences organizing events, including flash mobs during her days as a dancer. “You have to be able to organize a million different aspects all at once,” Lovewell mused. “And then, inevitably, something goes wrong every time. What's your quickness to react? I realized I am not super quick.”

The event closed on a high note with a spectacular Broadway performance by former American Idol winner Nick Fradiani, currently appearing in the Neil Diamond tribute, A Beautiful Noise. An enthusiastic crowd joined him in singing  "Sweet Caroline."

SMU International was supported by the following generous sponsors: the Italian National Tourism Board, the Roma & Lazio Convention Bureau, the Greek National Tourism Board, Meetings & Events Hong Kong, Taiwan Tourism Bureau, Meet in Ireland, ProColombia, Costa Rica Convention Bureau, NYC & Company, The Shackman Group, Sip n’ Clip, pc nametag, Madison Avenue and Stova.

Northstar Meetings Group offers a full roster of events in 2023; please view our events page for details and registration information.

Following are some photo highlights of the 2023 SMU International:

Thank you to the SITE Northeast chapter and attendees who created cheerful superhero capes for sick children.

Attendees networked over Italian wine, pasta and hors d'oeuvres during the opening reception.

Travel expert Doug Lansky's high-energy opening keynote focused on travel trends, sustainability and ideas for improving the customer experience.

Hosted buyers met with international meeting suppliers during the one-on-one appointments.

New connections were made and old acquaintances were renewed throughout the numerous networking opportunities.

The Taiwan Tourism Bureau team hosted a delicious lunch of authentic Taiwanese cuisine.

Members of Meet in Ireland led attendees in some pre-Saint Patrick's Day songs.

Attendees enjoyed an Irish pub night, featuring glasses of Guinness, Irish music and plenty of craic, at Papillion Bistro and Bar.

Broadway star Nick Fradiani, who portrays Neil Diamond on Wednesday evenings for the Broadway musical "A Beautiful Noise," led a sing-along of "Sweet Caroline."