• The Empty Suitcase Campaign Helps Implement Meaning Into Planners' Agenda

    FROM THE Spring 2016 ISSUE

The idea for the Empty Suitcase Campaign began in 2013 when Shawna Suckow, CMP, founder and chairwoman of SPiN: Senior Planners Industry Network, and her friend, Colleen Abernethy of Platinum DMC Collection, went on a trip to Nepal. “We heard of a doctor in Nepal who offers an annual eye clinic in a remote area and needed used prescription eyeglasses. Through Colleen’s connection with the Lion’s Club in Minnesota, we brought a suitcase filled with over 200 pairs with us,” says Suckow. “The feeling that overcame us after we met him and left with that empty suitcase was so gratifying—we wanted to expand on it. It was the first time I’d ever gone on a trip and come home with an empty suitcase! We decided coming home with an empty suitcase feels better than coming home with a full one. Thus, the idea was born.”

The Empty Suitcase Campaign is meant to offer meeting planners inspiration to add a painless charitable act to their meetings and incentive programs. Empty Suitcase’s website informs planners of different locations around the world and everyday items that are needed there. Meeting planners can find ideas on the site and send requests to their attendees asking them to bring particular items with them, in their existing suitcases, to the event. Or, planners can send empty bags of any kind to their attendees before the event and ask them to fill the bags with the needed items and bring them to the event. Once those bags have been emptied, they can be left behind so an organization in need can use them, or they can be repurposed as totes.

“Planners don’t realize the amount of power they have to affect change all over the world, or right in their own neighborhood, through simple acts like this,” Suckow says. “The Empty Suitcase Campaign seeks to inspire planners to harness that power and encourage their attendees to perform simple acts of kindness that leave a lasting impact all over the world.” Empty Suitcase is free for the event planner unless the planner wants to provide bags for attendees in advance. Other than that, the only cost is purchasing the items in need.

The CDC defines close contact as within six feet or less, for 15 minutes or more with someone who tests positive for COVID-19. At gatherings of many kinds, contact tracing is used to trace the people that someone has come into contact with, before they learn that they have tested positive. This allows the people that the sick person came into contact with to be aware of the situation, and to make health-informed choices. 


In 2020, Houston First Corp. (HFC) reported that the city was slated to host 252 meetings and 611,000 room nights. By March 14, the Bayou City had already hosted 115 conventions and 137,400 room nights. Then the pandemic hit, and meetings and events across the country came to a screeching halt.

We asked Michael Heckman, acting president and CEO of Houston First Corp. (HFC) how the health crisis has influenced the organization’s business model moving forward.


Chances are, you won’t know you’re living through history until it’s too late. It’s already happening. A chain reaction has been set in motion and the ground has begun to slide beneath your feet.

This past year has been a whirlwind to say the least. As a global pandemic sent the world reeling, planners were left grasping for footholds as the event industry was brought to a standstill, and many of the most fundamental elements of live meetings and events were cast in a new light.