MPI WEC Is Symbol of How Trade Group Sees Future of Meetings

The 2011 Meeting Professionals International (MPI) World Education Congress (WEC), being held in Orlando July 23-26, reflects the professional trade group's latest philosophies about the meeting industry's future, with what it calls the new rules of engagement, which include proving the value of meetings and measuring their performance, embracing technology, and designing meetings that have positive economic, social, and environmental impact.

One of the visible changes at the 2011 WEC has been the lack of a trade show. Bruce MacMillan, president and CEO of MPI, said attendees and partners of the annual meeting planner convention—including last year's show in Vancouver—wanted a more intimate and networking-friendly atmosphere. The result has been this year's significantly ramped-up focus on the show's hosted buyer program, which has resulted in 4,000 prescheduled business appointments between meeting suppliers and buyers.

"We redesigned WEC around these new rules of engagement," said MacMillan, of offering greater value to the 1,000-plus MPI planner members and suppliers attending the show. "The most valuable resource is how people spend their time together. We also have to commit to mobile technology and technology 'extending outside the room,' and design meetings sustainably, environmentally, and to have a social impact."

The 2011 WEC has buzzed. Aside from the moments between education sessions, attendees have been able to mix and mingle at a variety of social events staged at the Orange County Convention Center and off site by MPI, its partners, and sponsors, including Disney's opening-night reception at its Epcot theme park and Caesars Entertainment's The Big Deal charity poker tournament at the Hilton Orlando.

Corporate social responsibility has been another main theme at the 2011 WEC. Eight show-related CSR projects have taken place, most notably an off-site soap recycling and teambuilding exercise at Clean The World's Orlando facility. The nonprofit takes used toiletries from a roster of hospitality partners around the country, recycles them, and delivers them to challenged parts of the world such as Haiti.

MPI continues to push meeting technology, both established and experimental. This year's show has featured a downloadable smartphone app allowing attendees to keep track of their education-session schedules, find late-breaking developments, browse an Orlando city guide, and search for speakers and attendees from directories, among other functions. A virtual component, branded WEC Live Online, has given no-cost access to show content for those who couldn't be in Orlando.

Meanwhile, the Hive, a "technology concierge" and peer-to-peer learning venue, and the Daily Download, a large floor space where planners and suppliers can rate education sessions and share their thoughts and ideas via text messages and electronic devices given out by show organizers, have given attendees high-tech opportunities to submit and exchange feedback.

The fourth rule of engagement, the courage to act, innovate, and inspire, was brought home by opening keynote speaker, Simon Sinek, a leadership expert and author, who urged a packed house of MPI planners to become change leaders by believing in what they do and communicating their meetings in compelling terms to stakeholders. "Nothing replaces the human need for interaction, the Internet is not the end all, be all," said Sinek. "The question now is why do people want to come to your [meetings]. You have to know why you do what you do."

In a press briefing, MacMillan and Sebastien Tondeur, MPI's new international board chairman, who is the CEO of global destination management company MCI, laid out MPI's three main objectives for 2011 and its future: continue to provide its members with content and enrichment through face-to-face and electronic means, become an even more global organization with expansion outside North America, and lay out a long-term vision for the organization.

MacMillan said he and the organization have pondered about what MPI might be like a decade from now, after he mentioned "the new normal" and that "the industry will not go back to what it was. Measuring meetings is a reality, it is not a trend anymore. Mobile technology is not a trend, it is a fact."

Both MacMillan and Tondeur acknowledged that MPI is still a predominantly North American organization, with 80 percent of its membership based there. Tondeur said that language barriers make up the main hurdle to global expansion, but added that in his new MPI role, he will rely on his skill set that has helped grow his international DMC business.

An example is the rapidly growing Chinese meetings market. Partnering with the Beijing Tourism Administration, MPI will administer, for the first time in China, the Convention Industry Council's Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) exam next month. This will occur after the first-ever CMP Boot Camp in the country.

In a related development, MacMillan provided a teaser of the upcoming, January 2012 changes to the CMP program that make it more of a global standard, and MPI announced more future WEC as well as European Meeting & Events Conference host cities. Through 2016, the WEC will be in St. Louis, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. The future EMEC cities are Budapest and Montreux, Switzerland.