Editor’s Note: Following this year’s Meeting Professionals International World Education Congress, we asked MPI President and CEO Paul Van Deventer to reflect on a range of industry issues.
Q Explain how and why this year’s WEC was different. Why did you select Las Vegas for this event? What are the key takeaways you hope planners experienced?
A The WEC 2017 program was designed to stimulate the senses and inspire attendees to think beyond the ballroom, with all of the content building on our theme “stop planning meetings and start designing experiences.” It covered timely and relevant issues that matter to our industry, from security and crisis management, women in leadership, integration of technology, the sourcing of engaging content, to the latest engagement techniques that foster learning.
WEC provides numerous opportunities to gain the education needed to get certified as a meeting professional, refresh business relationships and gain important new friends and allies in the meeting and event industry. You won’t find the same content or education anywhere else, with each breakout session filled with timely, actionable advice that can be immediately applied to your work. MPI looks for opportunities to try new concepts and take risks on behalf of our attendees, looking for opportunities to create teaching moments. For example, when one of our keynote speakers unexpectedly cancelled at the “12th hour,” we created a real-time learning workshop for attendees on how they could manage a similar situation.
For WEC, as well as other MPI signature events, locations are selected through a competitive request for proposal (RFP) process, which considers factors such as location benefits, meeting venue facilities, pricing, hotel offerings, destination accessibility, unique options and local MPI community support. Our host partners, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and MGM Resorts International, were wonderful to work with; their hospitality, accommodations and overall event support were superb.
Q What are the most timely and relevant issues meeting planners are most concerned about? How is MPI helping planners deal with these challenges?
A There are so many critical issues confronting meeting planners and our industry, including meeting design, risk management, travel restrictions, shorter planning times, budget constraints and the integration of technology. Specific to risk management and contingency planning, these have become a critical component of the DNA of meeting planning, including preparation, partner/venue coordination, response and recovery.
We recognize that MPI can play an integral role in helping the global meeting community in this area and thus, we are partnering with the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) at the University of Southern Mississippi, an organization with a proven methodology and track record for creating safety and security best practices, on the development of educational courses that can immediately benefit our community. In addition we are partnering with NCS4 on a five-year, pan-industry initiative to create the first global gold standards for safety and security for meeting and event organizers.
Q How is the approach to risk management in the meetings industry changing in the face of increasing meeting disruptors, such as terror threats, major weather events, cyberthreats, active shooters?
A Contingency planning, disaster management and preparedness, and the safety and security of attendees have become a primary responsibility and expectation of planners. They need to educate themselves on best practices in risk management, contingency planning, partner coordination and communication.
Q What are you learning as co-chair of Meetings Mean Business? What are some of your immediate and long-range goals?
A As co-chair of Meetings Mean Business, I am reminded often that promoting and advocating for our industry cannot be achieved by a single company or organization. More than ever, we must band together as a community and share our story with a united voice.
This year our goals are to (1) generate greater awareness of the industry’s value among policymakers, business leaders and the media; (2) create new proof points and engagement opportunities for coalition members and supporters; (3) broaden our base to include planners and to reach a more global audience; and (4) strengthen our infrastructure for communications and advocacy.
Q How do you think the divided political landscape, rising nationalism and travel ban efforts are affecting the meetings industry? Which White House policies are affecting our industry for better or for worse?
A As I mentioned in my speech during the WEC 2017 Opening General Session, our industry is under attack — from discriminatory legislation, global terrorism and, ironically, by misplaced reaction by some to the threat of terrorism. These threats to the free flow of people limit the effectiveness of live events, and thereby stifle innovation and progress driven by our industry. As a community, each and every one of us has an obligation to advocate for this industry, to promote the value it brings to society and to bring awareness to the pressure it is under.
Q Are meeting budgets keeping pace with costs? Do you see any swing away from the seller’s market? What about lead times?
A We are working to wrap up our next MPI Meetings Outlook report, which is scheduled to be released the first week of August. Without giving away too much, I can tell you we are finding in our research that the industry is projected for a continued healthy market, with indications of anticipated increases in employment, business conditions, and both live and virtual attendance. Also, research respondents envision a seller’s market continuing through next year, with continued pressure on planners’ budgets.
Q Are there any new education and/or certificate or certification programs coming from the MPI Academy? Which of the existing programs are the most popular with meeting professionals? Are there any other new career development initiatives in the offing?
A I am proud of the enhancements we’ve made to our educational programming with the strategic focus achieved since the introduction of the MPI Academy. Our members continue to tell us that education is one of the most important and valued member benefits, so I am excited about the progress we have made in expanding the MPI Academy and our portfolio of educational offerings including webinars, streaming content, our popular Experiential Event Series, certificate courses, and more.
We recently issued a press release announcing a variety of new offerings as part of our new Executive Education Series. These include the Women in Leadership Program and a designation program for the MPI Experiential Event Series. We are also collaborating with the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) at the University of Southern Mississippi to develop educational programming and resources, with the first course — Emergency Preparedness for Meetings and Events — which debuted at WEC 2017. We will soon launch online versions of Meeting Essentials2 and Going Local.
In addition, the academy is working to create e-learning modules of the Basics Bootcamp: Meeting Fundamentals certificate course launching in 2018, the addition of new webinars each week and the development of new education partnerships.
Q How has your restructured membership model been received?
A Our redesigned membership model is resonating well within the community. Last year, we gained 4,985 new members and in the months leading up to WEC 2017, we had 245 registered attendees become new members.
Q How has technology most changed the meetings industry and how challenging has it been for you to keep pace?
A Technology is transforming our industry; from behind-the-scenes logistics to in-person audience engagement, livestreaming and enhanced networking, it is creating a range of efficiencies and flexibility in the way we work and design events. In the 10 years since the launch of the first smartphone, it has exponentially increased the ways we engage with our audiences, and the ways those audiences engage with each other — from networking and business exchanges and educational delivery. It has encouraged innovation in eco-fying our events, reducing waste and energy use.
Based on our own experiences at MPI, we recommend meeting professionals make sure they take the time to fully understand (a) the challenge/opportunity they want a technology to address; (b) what tech solution best suits that need; (c) what the risks of implementation are (and how to reduce them); and (d) whether those risks are worth the decision to implement.
Q What encouraging signs do you see ahead for the U.S. and the global meetings industry?
A When the global economy is doing well, market conditions are certainly more favorable for our industry. The resulting investments in infrastructure and budget increases relieve some of the pressures experienced within the meeting and event industry. On the other hand, when economic development is lagging, meeting professionals have proven to be resilient and creative in finding ways to conduct business despite the challenges faced with room demand, smaller budgets, shorter lead times, etc.
Q MPI is becoming more global in scope than ever before. Where do you envision the organization in the next 10 years?
A We have a very solid plan in place for strategic growth; though change is inevitable and anything can happen over the next 10 years. For now, I can tell you MPI’s priorities are focused in five key areas:
Q What in your opinion are the biggest areas of change meeting planners and the meetings industry will face in the coming year?
A Our industry is under attack because of threats to the free flow of travel. Face-to-face meetings drive innovation, political advancement and economic growth. But if we can’t meet, we can’t facilitate change, and we can’t facilitate advancement. And with the tragic increase in terrorist occurrences, the responsibility for the safety and security of attendees has been moved to the forefront of planning efforts and planner accountability.
It is great to see more industry leaders speaking up and promoting the contributions of the industry to outside stakeholders, and with the Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID) campaign, meeting professionals around the world have rallied and used their voices to champion for our community. I believe we are starting to gain some traction with our advocacy efforts, but there is more work to be done this year and in the foreseeable future.C&IT