From Aug. 1 to 4, Meeting Professionals International (MPI) welcomed approximately more than 2,500 meeting, hospitality, and tourism professionals to San Francisco for the association's annual World Education Congress. The attendance numbers, while not finalized yet, point to a 25 percent increase in attendance from last year's WEC, which was held in Minneapolis.
This year's theme was "Finding Your Professional Edge" and the program reflected that in a variety of ways, as did the news released by MPI President and CEO Paul Van Deventer and members of the MPI Board of Directors.
Speaking with Successful Meetings, Van Deventer said that the organization is focused on being the "number one resource for education and professional development in the meetings industry." Here are some key ways in which the organization is evolving its educational and professional development offerings:
- The MPI Academy. On the first day of the WEC, Van Deventer announced the launch of this new "umbrella" for all of MPI's educational content, tools, research, and resources for meeting professionals. He also noted that the content from the MPI Academy will include content produced by MPI as well as other resources and partners. It includes MPI's newest certification and certificate programs.
- Experiential Event Series. One of MPI's newest education offerings is this series, which takes planners behind-the-scenes of some of the biggest events, including the upcoming Miss America Pageant and Epcot Food & Wine Festival. Participating planners get an insider's look at what it takes to put these major events together, and can receive certificates in such areas as event production and sport event management.
From a strategic standpoint, MPI is focused not only on making WEC a must-attend industry event, but reaching out to members who may have become dissatisfied with the organization in years past, and may not have attended WEC since Van Deventer joined MPI in 2013.
"We need to get back to where we are No. 1 again in terms of must-attend events," Brian Stevens, incoming chair-elect of MPI and CEO of Conference Direct, told Successful Meetings. "Our chapters do an excellent job, but there have been a lot of customers who have moved their attention to other things."
Stevens added, "We need to be delivering better content that will drive more senior planners back to MPI." He said that members want to know "where to go to learn now and to improve [their] jobs in the quickest amount of time. I want to blend the networking at WEC with education and a marketplace so that a planner can come to MPI in a sustainable manner and feel that this might be the only place they have to go to get their education."
Michael Dominguez, senior vice president and chief sales officer of MGM Resorts International and immediate-past chair of MPI's Board of Directors echoed Stevens' sentiments, saying, "Please come back and give us a try. If you haven't been to WEC in the past five years, now's the time to come back. This is a new MPI."
Van Deventer also announced that over the course of the next 18 months, some changes will be made to MPI's current membership model to include more planners and others involved in the meetings industry. The new model, he hinted, may also include more of a subscription-based type of membership option related to events, content, and other resources provided by MPI.
Additionally, the next four World Education Congresses will take place in June or July instead of the traditional August dates. Van Deventer said that conflicts with summer vacation holidays, country holidays, and other industry events motivated MPI to move up the dates of the conference to accommodate more attendees and make it easier for members to attend.
While the content presented at WEC ranged in topic, a large number of sessions and panels focused on the sharing economy, as well as the future of meetings.
On Tuesday, the FlashPoint General Session included speakers from Airbnb, Bookalokal, and Crowd Companies, all of whom spoke about the impact of the sharing economy on the meetings and events industry. Later, those speakers were joined by representatives from car ridesharing app Lyft and San Francisco Travel Association President Joseph D'Alessandro for a panel, during which D'Alessandro announced San Francisco's new partnership with Lyft -- a first for a U.S. DMO.
In his popular education session on "31 Predictions for the Meeting and Event Industry," Social Tables Founder and CEO Dan Berger surprised attendees with a few of his predictions, including one that said event F&B will be replaced by synthetics and supplements. He also predicted that meeting going forward will be crowd funded, content will be crowd sourced, and meetings in general will be smaller in size and more intimate.
WEC also afforded attendees with multiple opportunities to make valuable personal and business connections, whether at the Opening Reception hosted by San Francisco Travel at Pier 48 near AT&T Park to Rendezvous, an annual fundraising event hosted by the MPI Foundation and its partners which included Caesars Entertainment, Freeman, Encore, and Team San Jose.
The conference also included a variety of examples of sustainable meeting practices. The corporate social responsibility program involved making more than 3,500 welcome kits for children admitted to the local UCSF Beinoff Children's Hospital. And a local chapter of 4Paws Social Therapy brought their dogs to Moscone Center West to meet with attendees for some quality "puppy cuddling." As much as WEC attendees benefitted from the time spent with the canines, the dogs also benefited in their continued training as therapy dogs.
The closing lunch for MPI WEC, hosted by Meet Atlantic City and Caesars Entertainment, included a preview of next year's conference, which will take place at the brand-new Harrah's Waterfront Conference Center in Atlantic City, NJ, from June 11 to 14, 2016. It included an appearance and dish prepared by Food Network star Guy Fieri, as well as a performance from Jersey Boys which got the crowd on its feet.