by Alex Palmer | June 20, 2017
Safety and security should be a greater priority for event planners in the years ahead. That was one of the key messages driven home during the opening events of Meeting Professionals International (MPI)'s World Education Conference in Las Vegas this week. MPI's leaders also emphasized that the organization would aim to take a more strategic, long-term approach to strengthening its members and the industry more broadly.

At a media breakfast held at the MGM Grand Conference Center this morning, MPI President and CEO Paul Van Deventer laid out the organization's strategic priorities for the coming year, which he acknowledged "haven't changed much" from last year due to the more long-term focus of the organization. These consist of five key priorities: supporting volunteer leadership, building the chapter network, MPI Academy, strategic partnerships, and the digital platform.

Among the strategic partnerships Van Deventer pointed out were the SITE MPI Global Forum, taking place in Rome next January, and MPI's showcasing of IACC's Meeting Room of the Future. He also highlighted that MPI was now working with the University of Southern Mississippi's National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security, which is helping MPI develop a new Emergency Preparedness for Meetings and Events certificate course, which MPI Academy will present at the SITE MPI Global Forum.

"We have found in our research and it's been corroborated in other research that only half of planners have risk mitigation and catastrophe recovery plans in place," said Van Deventer. "We can't have that. We need to get them educated in the importance of being prepared. It could be anything from how do you deal with an outdoor party when it's 110 degrees to an active shooter -- just thinking about all the elements that you have to prepare for."

The theme of this year's MPI WEC is "stop planning meetings, start designing experiences," a point which the leaders came back to several times, both in discussing this week's WEC and in considering MPI's goals for the long term.

On the expansion of its digital platform, the leaders emphasized the growing importance of face-to-face events, despite -- and in some cases, because -- of the greater ease with which tech allows people to connect. 

MPI Chair Brian Stevens pointed out that travel professionals, even hotel executives, are working from home now more than ever, putting a premium on in-person meetings.

"The value of face-to-face meetings...is important now more than ever because of the remote work environment," he said. 

Van Deventer added that while social media was recently seen as a potential replacement for in-person gatherings, in fact it has "created new groups and those groups want to get together. You can drive an increasing value of face-to-face because of what social is doing underneath it."

He noted that the event had generated more than 2,400 registrations so far -- an increase over the registrations compared to MPI WEC's last Las Vegas event -- and that 35 percent of the attendees are non-members.

"We're broadening our community and attracting new audiences," said Van Deventer. 

Stevens highlighted the importance of welcoming new members to the organization and new attendees to WEC, saying "we want to welcome you and become more inclusive."

The media breakfast took place the morning after MPI kicked off with an Opening General Session at the recently opened Park Theater at Monte Carlo Resort and Casino. The event demonstrated what "designing experiences" meant: a performance with dancers, singers, along with a video with cameos from Wayne Newton and Carrot Top, all capped with a show from members of the Blue Man Group. Dena Blizzard, aka One Funny Mother, emceed the rest of the evening, which began with comments from Van Deventer and Stevens, who highlighted the organization's growing focus on safety, security, and making the business case for face-to-face meetings. 

Attendees then heard from a series of speakers who explored the idea of event design from different angles, from humorist and marketing expert Ron Tite discussing creating impactful customer experiences to alternative medicine icon Deepak Chopra discussing the importance of mindfulness and "living in flow."

The night ended with the Opening Night Celebration at The Park Las Vegas where attendees snacked on food from Beerhaus and Sake Rok, and were entertained by 80s rock band the B-52s.