Editor’s note: Fresh off an overwhelmingly successful World Education Congress in Atlantic City last month, Meeting Professionals International President and CEO Paul Van Deventer reflected on a range of topics from meeting planner certifications and budgets to politics and terrorism.
Q. Explain how and why this year’s World Education Congress (WEC) was different. Why did you select Atlantic City for this event?
A. We took more risks this year with the design and program. In the general session space, we had mixed seating, five stages and a live band — which were all new components. We also introduced the Innovation Showcase to provide a platform for innovative technology solutions, reshaped our hosted buyer program, offered more senior-level education and leveraged social media more.
We were initially planning to hold WEC 2016 in Philadelphia, but were displaced by the Democratic National Convention. Unfortunately, the alternative dates and spaces that were available did not meet the expanding needs of WEC. Given that, we determined Atlantic City stepped up with a very attractive package, featuring the spectacular new Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center, great city infrastructure, world-class facilities, unique venue options, well-priced hotel offerings and easy access to a large portion of our membership on the East Coast.
Q. What are your expectations for the upcoming IMEX America in Las Vegas where you’ll be the premier education provider?
A. IMEX America provides MPI with a great platform to showcase to a broad global community MPI’s educational and networking opportunities and the value of engaging with MPI as a member and volunteer leader. The MPI Global Team is excited to work closely with our strategic partner IMEX on developing an inspirational lineup of keynote speakers and great education for Smart Monday. We are also gearing up for another fantastic Rendezvous event at Drai’s, which raises money for MPI Foundation grants and scholarships.
Q. MPI recently added a new meeting planner designation for the “non-titled corporate meeting planner” segment. This move sparked some criticism from some CMPs and CMMs. How do you respond, and do you think the designation will prove successful?
A. We launched our new Meeting Fundamentals course because there is a need for it within our community. MPI’s role as an association is to raise the overall professionalism, understanding and awareness of the meeting and event industry. The fact is there are many professionals in our industry who have been organizing meetings and events as part of their jobs for years, but do not carry the title of “planner.” It benefits everyone in our industry to provide access to training and networking for those individuals. This course covers the basics of meeting planning, and participants receive a “certificate of completion” afterwards. It is not a certification or designation program.
Q. MPI has more new certifications in health care, etc. Are there any other specific certifications on the drawing board?
A. The MPI Academy is currently developing new educational webinars and online courses, but we do not have any new certificate programs in the pipeline at this time. Also, for clarification, MPI has two certificate programs with designations: the HMCC and CMM programs. We also have several other certificate programs that do not have an associated designation, such as Meeting Fundamentals and Meeting Essentials, and most of our education offers clock hours needed for obtaining or renewing one’s CMP, which is a certification.
Q. Since you became president and CEO of MPI, how has technology most changed the meetings industry?
A. Today the industry is more reliant on technology than ever. Wireless internet access has become a must-have for meetings, and mobile apps have gained significant traction over printed meeting materials. The adoption of virtual and hybrid meetings also has increased over the last several years.
Q. What are the major concerns for planners, and what encouraging signs do you see ahead for the U.S. and global meetings industry?
A. Planners have become more concerned with hotel pricing and availability as we are still currently in a seller’s market with low hotel inventory in certain markets. While this becomes difficult for planners managing tight budgets and resource constraints, it is a good sign for the economy and global meeting and event industry. And sadly, an omnipresent concern is the ever-increasing threat of global terrorism and the obligation planners have in providing for a safe event environment, contingency planning and disaster recovery.
Q. According to your spring Meetings Outlook, meeting costs are outpacing budgets. How do planners cope with this reduction in buying power?
A. Planners have become masters at doing more with less. MPI’s signature live events such as WEC and Smart Monday at IMEX America feature education that speaks to additional ways in which planners can work through these exact challenges.
Q. How is the approach to risk management in the meetings industry changing in the face of increasing threats of terrorism?
A. In today’s environment, the meeting and event industry must be at the forefront of risk management as it relates to global threats of terrorism. MPI is currently in the process of developing resources and education to address the needs of meeting professionals as it relates to security and risk management. In July, we will be taking planners behind the scenes of the Democratic National Convention as part of our Experiential Event Series, for an in-depth look at how the DNC manages their own security elements.
Q. How will the presidential election affect the meetings industry overall?
A. It is always my hope that elected officials will support our industry and through efforts led by the Meetings Mean Business Coalition (MMBC) and U.S. Travel Association. MPI will continue to promote the importance and value of meetings. Recently, the MMBC launched the Worth Meeting About campaign targeting elected officials and policymakers. The coalition will leverage election milestones to remind them about how they, too, use the power of face-to-face to engage with constituents and persuade voters.
Q. As MPI is becoming more global in scope, where do you envision the organization in the next 10 years?
A. I envision expanded reach both globally and across the meeting and event community as we continue to expand our market offerings and enable our platform for special industry groups.
Q. What in your opinion are the biggest areas of change meeting planners and the meetings industry will face in the coming year?
A. Due to the current geopolitical climate, meeting planners will continue to face more unknown variables leading up to the planning of their events. Because of this, planners will have to continue to be flexible and stay abreast of the latest trends and education in the industry. MPI continues to focus on developing the tools and resources needed to help planners address those unexpected challenges. C&IT