Mr. Van Deventer

Group Meetings

When We Meet, We Change the World

By Paul Van Deventer, President & Chief Executive Officer, Meeting Professionals International (MPI)

In the U.S. alone, the meeting and event industry drives $280 billion in annual economic impact. To add perspective, that's more than air transportation, the motion picture industry or spectator sports. Additionally, the industry generates a massive amount of taxes, with $88 billion generated at the state, federal and local level last year; taxes that help our communities pay for services, build schools, fix roads and maintain parks.

The Meetings Mean Business (MMB) Coalition-an industry advocacy group of which MPI is a part-has been conducting video interviews with top executives at major companies to find out just how important meetings and events are to their bottom line. Here's what Levi's Brand President James Curleigh had to say: "How do you turn moments into momentum? Well you do that by meeting face to face…. Enter the moment of engagement into a meeting. And after that, you've set the conditions for success, and then you can use all of the different communication vehicles at your disposal. But don't miss out on the moment that matters most, which is the first meeting."

So we know the value of face to face meetings, and we're slowly but surely spreading that message beyond our own ears through grassroots efforts, lobbying campaigns with legislators and the annual Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID). But as any successful meeting professional knows, designing and executing an effective live event is a complex operation with numerous challenges.

I recently read an article about the most stressful jobs in 2016, and No. 5 was "event coordinator." As it turns out, the meeting and event planner profession has landed within the Top 10 of the CareerCast.com Most Stressful Jobs report for the past three years-placing No. 8 in 2015 and No. 5 in 2014.

On any given day, meeting and event professionals spend time juggling tight deadlines, managing client expectations, engaging with suppliers and vendors and keeping track of all the details that go into planning a meeting. There's also the challenge of keeping pace with new markets, global security risks, innovations in technology and new ways of doing business. The reality is that change is happening all the time, so successful meeting and event professionals must be willing to embrace change, embrace best practices and have the skills and confidence to handle it all. Let's take a look at some of the significant challenges facing today's professionals, and how they're responding.

Safety and Security

In a recent MPI Meetings Outlook report, more than 44 percent of meeting professional respondents said security and risk management has become the top topic when they meet with their executives to discuss strategic planning. It's becoming part of how we do business. Unfortunately, with the reality that global crises-from terrorist attacks to health emergencies such as the Zika virus-are going to happen, meeting planners must focus on how to prepare for them? Are planners discussing risk preparation with venues? Are they changing policies and procedures to prepare attendees? Risk management is a now a critical component of the DNA of meeting planning.

"Are we prepared when someone walks into a convention center in this country and starts shooting? Because it's going to happen." That provocative question was posed by Michael Dominguez, co-chair of the MMB Coalition, during a recent panel discussion involving meeting industry leaders commemorating GMID. He went on to say that although our industry is very good at handling the economic impact of disruptive events, fear is another matter altogether.

"If the threat is terrorism and people are afraid to travel, that has nothing to do with the economy, that has nothing to do with how many jobs we create. That has to do with our fear and our need for safety as just a human being," he said. "Those are all things we have to prepare for. The Zika virus is more intense and actually much more serious in the United States than we thought. When it's a health scare we need somebody from a health organization to be speaking, not someone who owns a hotel saying we need to get back to traveling."

Risk management, preparation and ongoing vigilance is what's required to maintain safety and security at events. From identification verification at registration to conducting rigorous staff training, to ensuring both staff and attendees are aware and on the lookout for any potential threats. Detailed and widely known communication, contingency and evacuation plans are also a necessity. But as Eric Rozenberg, CMM, CMP, founding partner of Keyway LLC, noted in our State of the Industry report, "Most importantly, don't stop doing the things you want to. If you do, the terrorists win."

Attendee Engagement

For years, we've delivered education and structured meetings in the same pattern, and we weren't thinking about the fact that individuals learn in many different manners; this is not a generational thing, it is a learning behavior challenge. Planners are starting to look at design around learning patterns, learning styles and pre- and post-event data management. And technology is enabling us to reinvent meetings and address multiple learning behaviors. So although we're designing meetings for three generations right now, more importantly we are redesigning, rethinking and reimagining events for how people want to learn and using technology to enable those new learning styles.

Last year at our World Education Congress, we broadcast all of our general sessions live and we doubled our audience, but it required a significant investment. Several months later we were in Copenhagen doing our European conference and we tripled our attendance using a free technology platform - Periscope. Technology is enabling us to rethink meeting and learning design, do things very differently and to expedite the delivery of those changes.

When asked about Millennials and meetings at the GMID panel, Dominguez noted that industry research has found that we need to "Focus on psychographics, not demographics. Let's focus on the behavior and the data will tell us what the behaviors are," he said. "But that's cross-generational. You know what the research is telling us [about Millennials]? They [may] use technology more than us. They go to meetings more than any of their peer groups, they want meetings more than any of their peer groups. But, bottom line is that Millennials are looking for professional development, for mentorship and networking. That's consistent with every other generation before them."

So once we have our audience and realize that the respective ages of attendees isn't terribly important, we still face the challenge of keeping them engaged in a world that's pulling them in many directions at once. The answer isn't trying to pry their smartphones out of their hands, but rather capitalizing on grabbing their attention and stimulating their minds.

"Planners need to stay on top of the latest research around adult education, adult learning and the brain's ability to process information," Meredith Martini, founder of PlayWorks Group, said in our State of the Industry report. "It's not enough to slap a gamified app into the meeting and call it interactive-we really have to create space and opportunities for people to have in-depth dialogue and discussion. And just as important, we must create space or sessions for participants to apply the learning and create a plan of action for post-conference. Frankly, if we're not doing this, we're wasting our time even hosting a meeting."

Seller's Market

Our Meetings Outlook research has found that while hoteliers may still hold the upper hand, the seller's market is slowly changing, with hotels and venues getting clearer on the sectors of clients with whom they want to do business and more precisely targeting their marketing to reflect this. Sometimes, properties are turning away bookings from clientele who no longer fit their business model well. Exhibiting flexibility, informed negotiation skills and taking last-minute risks are sometimes necessary for buyers and sellers trying to negotiate the most equitable deals in this ever-shifting market.

"What we're seeing is hotels and venues becoming more sophisticated in their target market definition and doing a better job of tracking their target market customers and accepting the types of business for which they are best suited," said Bill Voegeli, president of Association Insights, the Atlanta-area research firm that conducts the Meetings Outlook survey. "You'll find hotels and venues turning away customers with whom they used to work, in favor of customers for whom they can do a better job or possibly enjoy a higher yield."

In the current environment, planners are finding that both long- and short-term meeting space is scarce, and that they therefore must show the value of their meeting to prospective venues. Negotiation is more critical than ever because many planners' budgets have not increased. Alternative dates, patterns and even cities must therefore be kept in mind. "Cost is always a factor, no matter who you are or how large your budget may be," Bob Walker, senior vice president of client solutions for Freeman, said in our State of the Industry report. "Where we see it the most is in the planning for the number of attendees. As hotel and resort costs go up, the number of attendees will be more tightly controlled, and as the facility leverages what they have to offer to the meeting planner, it's going to take a more savvy planner to know how best to negotiate with facilities. This may involve not only the meeting planner, but perhaps procurement and even a legal team to look over contracts and carefully craft how best to configure those costs."

Yes, stress is a big part of life for everyone who works in the meeting and event industry. But those who find the work enriching and continue to find success are the ones who value connecting with people, cultivating relationships, embracing change and learning from others, and then apply that knowledge to achieve the best possible outcomes for attendees, venues and all other constituents. And ultimately, it is this industry that enables face to face meetings - meetings that change the world.

Paul Van Deventer is President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO). He leads the strategic direction of the association and is responsible for managing its global staff, operating budget, and membership programs and services. Mr. Van Deventer works closely with MPI’s Board of Directors and serves as a liaison to the MPI Foundation. He has held a variety of leadership positions and has a proven track record for driving business growth and creating brand value. Mr. Van Deventer has served as divisional vice president of the Health & Wellness Division at Walgreens. Prior to Walgreens, he was the senior vice president of Sales and Field Services at Mitchell International, Inc. Mr. Van Deventer can be contacted at 972-702-3098 or pvandeventer@mpiweb.org Please visit http://www.mpiweb.org for more information. Extended Bio...

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