by The Successful Meetings Staff | July 01, 2015

Once again, we present our yearly list of luminaries, chosen because they have either contributed to the business of meetings, made it easier for meetings professionals to do their jobs, helped raise awareness of the industry, or in some way have had a significant impact on the industry.

The Advocates

Leonard Hoops, President and CEO, Visit Indy
Visit Indy President Leonard Hoops (in conjunction with Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard) helped the entire industry stand up and be noticed while fighting Indiana's anti-gay Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Visit Indy and the mayor not only fought the good fight here, but rallied the meetings industry to stand up and show its economic clout, forcing the state government to back down and reverse itself in a matter of days with the threat of a boycott.

The U.S. Travel Association has been talking for years about the need to demonstrate the industry's importance to economies of all U.S. cities and states, and it did so here, with Visit Indy and the city's mayor in the lead. In that respect, the incident became a statement about the importance and power of the MICE industry as a whole. It's also worth noting that this is the only time in decades that Visit Indy has gotten involved in a political issue, excluding lobbying for a convention-center expansion.

Fiona Pelham, Managing Director, Sustainable Events Ltd and Positive Impact; Chair of Meeting Professionals International (MPI)
Pelham is one of the event industry's most respected leaders in sustainability, a pioneer who also acts as the chair of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). In this role, she's working to bring more than 30 different countries and five liaison bodies together to develop the ISO 20121 event-sustainability management-system standard. "I passionately believe that the event industry makes a difference in the world," Pelham told Successful Meetings. "As MPI says, 'When we meet, we change the world.' Sometimes, we can become too focused on timelines and budgets and forget the bigger picture of the impact made by the job we do. My role with MPI and the development of ISO 20121 gives me the opportunity to remind our community of the potential we have to make an impact. Imagine if all event food waste was eaten by people who need it; this is just one example of what we can accomplish. Everything is impossible until it's possible, and my aspiration for my leadership roles is that they give other people the ideas, inspiration, and access to go into action to make a difference in areas that are important to them."

Michael Dominguez, Senior Vice President and Chief Sales Officer, MGM Resorts International; Co-chair, Meetings Mean Business Coalition (MMBC)
A great advocate and speaker with proven passion for the meetings industry, no one explains the hotel business side of the hospitality world to planners better than Dominguez. In his role at MGM, he has been an innovator in dealing with the Wi-Fi accessibility issue, and a leader in bringing wellness concepts into hotel rooms, all while leading his team to a record year of sales for group rooms in 2014.

At Meetings Mean Business, he has helped grow the coalition, including the recruitment of Fortune 500 CEO Bill McDermott of SAP as a vocal advocate for the power of face-to-face engagement and launching this year's first annual North American Meetings Industry Day. As he considers the challenges the industry is likely to face, Dominguez predicts that the "battle for talent and succession planning" will be on planners' radar, as will "equipping current leaders and preparing future leaders."

 Nan Marchand Beauvois, Vice President, National Councils, General Manager, Educational Seminar for Tourism Organizations for U.S. Travel Association
"Meetings Mean Business has the potential to galvanize the industry and propel it to the next level," says Nan Marchand Beauvois, the U.S. Travel Association's vice president of national councils, overseeing the National Council of State Tourism Directors, the U.S. Travel Experience Network, the Destination Council, and the MMBC. "In just 18 months we have created a central platform to unite the industry in a way that has never been done before. I want to continue to drive this coalition forward to achieving its goals. That would be a great legacy."

Marchand Beauvois originally predicted that the first annual North America Meetings Industry Day on April 16 would consist of about 20 events. The continent-wide advocacy day surpassed her expectations with 88 events held in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and South America, and it also became a trending hashtag on Twitter. The event rallied and convened leaders to show the industry's strength and impact on businesses, economies, and communities.

The Game Changers
Mickey Schaefer, CEO and Founder, The EXPERIENCE Institute (TEI)

A 30-year industry leader who helped create the CIC's APEX initiative, Schaefer has continued to give back with the Certified Tourism Ambassador (CTA) program (27,000 certified in 17 states). CTA's success in enhancing the visitor experience led to her launching TEI and defining the first-ever visitor experience standards for the industry. Through its Experience Dedicated Destination program and new Attendee Experience Report, TEI gives planners and destination management organizations a means to measure the experience and take action on what matters to attendees and visitors. Along the way, Schaefer is building a network of destinations that are dedicated to improving what for them is the most difficult part of a meeting: how attendees experience their city.

The Airbnb Team
Back in 2008, who knew that three roommates from San Francisco would revolutionize the hospitality industry with an air mattress? Struggling to make their rent, Nathan Blecharczyk, Brian Chesky, and Joe Gebbia listed their apartment online as an "air bed and breakfast" to attract attendees from a design conference at the nearby Moscone Center and thus, Airbnb was born. Today, Airbnb has more than a million listings, with hosts in 34,000 cities in nearly 200 countries, and its impact is being felt throughout the tourism industry -- as well as in meetings and events.

Together, the three co-founders, Blecharczyk (chief technology officer), Chesky (CEO), and Gebbia (chief performance officer) have created a new shared economy tool -- valued at $10 billion -- that has revolutionized the way we travel and book rooms. In the process, it's also become a threat to the traditional revenue models for hotels, destination marketing organizations, and tourism boards around the world. Right now, Airbnb is looking to revolutionize the way we meet, too, by actively targeting the meetings and events industry. Only time will tell how our industry responds to this game-changing company.

Craig D. Brennan, CEO, QuickMobile
Meeting and event apps are changing the way we meet, and QuickMobile is a marquis brand within the industry as the inventor of the first mobile meeting and event app, earning kudos from meetings technology experts like Corbin Ball and Jim Spellos along the way. As an industry pioneer, the company's leaders continue to innovate and learn from their years of experience working with customers that range from Fortune 1000 companies and global associations to trade shows and universities. Brennan, who arrived at QuickMobile in January, is eager to lead the mobile-events industry in a new direction, developing a multi-event platform that's more scalable, but also more innovative, than ever before. "I came on board to help take our business to the next level by introducing the habits and behaviors of enterprise software companies," Brennan told Successful Meetings. "It's not just a mindset, it's a business model."

Julius Solaris, Founder,; CEO, Showthemes
You would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the meetings industry who has harnessed the power of social media and turned it into a cohesive tool for networking, education, and marketing as well as Julius Solaris has. His list of accomplishments is a template for how to create maximum traction in the virtual arena. In 2007, he started, which has grown to have a global audience of event professionals. His Event Planning and Event Management LinkedIn Group currently has just under 270,000 members, making it the undisputed largest online community for meeting and event planners and industry suppliers. He is also the author of The Event App Bible, The Good Event Registration Guide, and Social Media for Events, three e-books that have generated over 50,000 downloads at last tally. He also finds time to work on events. As CEO of Showthemes, an event-theme website production company, Solaris has worked with clients all over the world.

Roger T. Helms, Founder and CEO, HelmsBriscoe
When Roger T. Helms co-founded HelmsBriscoe in 1992, it not only changed the way clients booked their meetings, it also transformed the way hotels and destinations view business from third parties. Today, the company is the highest volume purchaser in the meetings and events industry, with 1,200 associates in more than 55 countries. In 2014, HelmsBriscoe booked a record $1.003 billion dollars in room revenue -- the first time in industry history a company has delivered more than $1 billion in group rooms revenue in a single year.

Last year, HelmsBriscoe launched another industry first, HB Inspect, a mobile site-inspection app. This tool enables a team of HB associates to access a dynamic site-inspection checklist from their mobile or tablet devices. From there, the information can not only be easily shared with HB clients, but the data entered is also populated in the company's global knowledge database.