December 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions - Minority meetings - December 2000 Current Issue
December 2000
image John Crump, chairman of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners, has watched his organization swell to 2,500 members.

Diverse Interests

These niche associations recognize that all meeting planners do not have the same professional needs

By Lisa Grimaldi

When John Crump, CMP, attended his first annual meeting of the American Society of Association Executives in 1978, he was alone in a crowd. “I was the only one who looked like me on the association side, and there was only one on the supplier side,” says Crump, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Bar Association and an African American.

While he maintained his ASAE membership, even serving on its board, Crump also became active in the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners, where he has been chairman since 1994. While both groups provide valuable networking and educational opportunities, “The industry camaraderie in NCBMP is different, where so many members of the group are going to look like me,” says Crump.

Similar comments are echoed by Hispanic, gay and lesbian planners. They don’t necessarily feel overlooked by the larger meetings industry associations; it’s just that they enjoy a stronger sense of community and common issues through the minority organizations.

Meanwhile, larger groups such as ASAE and Meeting Professionals International are making efforts to recognize the diversity of their members.

African Americans
The oldest and largest of the meetings industry’s minority associations is the Silver Spring, Md.-based National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners, founded in 1983 and now 2,500 members strong.

According to Howard Mills Sr., CMP, a founder of the group who currently serves as its chairman emeritus, the organization was launched for several reasons: to give basic planning education to African Americans who organize events; to arrange familiarization trips for this group, which was often overlooked by convention and visitor bureaus; to provide a forum for planners and suppliers to meet and air grievances, and to increase suppliers’ sensitivity to minority groups in general.

The group, which drew 42 planners and suppliers to its first meeting, was staffed by volunteers in the early days; by 1985, it was a member of the Convention Liaison Council (now the Convention Industry Council), and by 1987, the board had hired an association management firm. Today, the NCBMP has two permanent staff members and seven part-timers. One-third of the 2,500 members are planners; the rest are suppliers. The group holds educational conferences and annual meetings; both include supplier trade shows.

Much of the NCBMP’s meeting curriculum is dedicated to planning education, everything from the basics to forums where suppliers and planners can grapple over their differences. “For example, some planners don’t understand why a hotel didn’t want their group’s business, or why a hotel gave its ballroom to another group,” Mills notes. “We look at the situations to see if there are racial overtones. A lot of times, it has nothing to do with race; the hotelier explains how the matter is a business decision based on factors such as how much the group spends.”

Meetings often include cultural activities of interest to members, such as African-American heritage tours. And the group tries to direct business to minority suppliers whenever feasible, according to John Crump.

“Our motto is, ‘We do business with our friends,’” says Mills, and “friends” are defined as suppliers who are sensitive to African-American needs. Mills notes that the NCBMP does not produce a list of good or bad suppliers. “We have done surveys on what hotels and cities our members prefer,” he says, “and we report the results of the survey.”

While the association does not set political policies or initiate boycotts (“We don’t picket,” says Mills), it does support actions such as the NAACP’s boycott of South Carolina for flying the Confederate flag on state capitol grounds.

The organization also sponsors 20 college students to attend the annual conference and gives up to eight scholarships each year to students who plan to work in the hospitality industry.

As for the group’s impact on the industry, Mills says there’s still room for improvement. “The coalition has had a major impact in convention and visitor bureaus, but our influence on hotels has not been as strong. I’d like to think we are working ourselves out of a job, but &we are not there yet.”

“When we started out six years ago, we had no money or financial support to kick off a membership campaign,” recalls Margaret Gonzalez, a founder and the current president of the International Association of Hispanic Meeting Professionals.

It was Hilton Hotels Corp. that thought there might be some interest in a Hispanic-based association in the industry. Gonzalez was among planners the hotel company invited to Miami in 1995 for the initial gathering; the volunteer-run group has thrived ever since.

Today, IAHMP, which represents meeting planners and suppliers of Hispanic heritage and from Spanish-speaking countries, is 250 members strong and looking into setting up permanent headquarters with a full-time staff. Its aim is to create “a community for celebrating the common interests of Hispanic meeting professionals.”

At the group’s annual meetings, speakers come from a wide spectrum of Hispanic movers and shakers. For example, the keynote speaker at the 2000 conference in Cancun was Hollywood producer/director Moctesuma Esparza, who talked about growing up as a Hispanic in Los Angeles.

Gonzalez says future meetings will feature more professional education for planners. Among the courses listed for next year’s meeting are those focusing on corporate diversity, understanding the term “Hispanic” and how to sell to the Hispanic meetings market.

In 2001, the organization will meet in Denver, which was selected in part for its large Hispanic population. In the future, says Gonzalez, “We have a real interest in bringing our group to Canada; the country has a large Latino population, and [Canadians] do a lot of business with South America.”

Gays and lesbians
This minority group was formally represented in the industry for three years by the International Society of Gay & Lesbian Meeting Professionals. ISGLMP was largely based in cyberspace, explains Alex Lichtenstein, senior conference coordinator at the Washington, D.C.-based Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, who served as president from 1998 to 2000. “We put up a Web site to gauge interest from the community. Within six months, we had nearly 600 people become members,” he says.

The site featured an online member directory, hosted a chat room and provided a listing of “gay-friendly” suppliers. According to Lichtenstein, the ISGLMP board planned to establish an annual meeting and to offer educational seminars, but due to lack of money and manpower the group never reached those goals. The association hosted several networking functions and breakouts at larger industry meetings, but the hope for an annual meeting never came to fruition. This year, the Web site was shut down and ISGLMP was disbanded.

Lichtenstein plans to resuscitate both the Web site and the group in 2001. “My desire is to see it continue,” he says, “so gays and lesbians can have a forum to address their professional needs and diversity,” as well as to focus a clear light on issues of particular interest to the gay hospitality community. Eventually, Lichtenstein would like to see the group hire, through membership dues, an association management firm to run the organization.

Other associations
Three of the largest industry associations ASAE, MPI and the Professional Convention Management Association represent diverse membership bases, but none keeps statistics on the numbers of minority members. While these organizations do not have formal “subgroups” or special interest groups for minority members, each has formal diversity policies and programs.

Washington, D.C.-based ASAE has a diversity committee, which is appointed by the board of directors. The organization also has a Diversity Executive Leadership Program, known as DELP, designed to help individuals from under-represented segments of the association community advance within the association management profession.

DELP participants are given free membership in ASAE for one year and free registration to ASAE’s two largest annual meetings. They also are assigned a “buddy” an ASAE member charged with showing them the ropes. The program is open to association employees who are in middle management and have been with the organization for at least three years.

Dallas-based MPI has a formal diversity statement. According to Ed Griffin, Jr., president/CEO, “We don’t keep statistics on minority considerations, applications or members, because we are an international organization and we would not know how to define minority interests, other than to promote advancement and equal status and parity amongst everybody.”

He added, “Our position is that everyone should be given reasonable and equal opportunity to succeed. Our job is to reinforce skill sets so everyone will have the capability to advance.”

Chicago-based PCMA has established a diversity committee and offers six scholarships annually to minority students to get them involved in the hospitality industry.

PCMA president/CEO David DuBois understands why minority-specific associations have been launched. “People like to be together with others from similar backgrounds,” he says. “Our challenge is to get them to join us, too.”


The following companies offer diversity and cultural-sensitivity training to companies and associations.

ImageAMR Training, Performance Solutions
Ft. Worth, Texas
(800) 555-1991
Fax: (817) 967-4170

ImageCook Ross Inc.
Silver Spring, Md.
(800) 845-2407
Fax: (301) 565-3952

ImageThe Diversity Training Group
Reston, Va.
(703) 478-9191
Fax: (703) 709-0591

Minneapolis, Minn.
(800) 651-4093
Fax: (612) 379-7048

ImageSimmons Associates
New Hope, Pa.
(215) 862-3020
Fax: (215) 862-3077



Following is contact information for various associations of minority meeting planners.

ImageNational Coalition of Black Meeting Planners
8630 Fenton St.
Suite 126
Silver Spring, Md. 20910
Dues: planners, $125; suppliers, $250 (202) 628-3952
Fax: (301) 588-0011

ImageInternational Association of Hispanic Meeting Professionals c/o G.V.R. Public Relations Agency
242 St. Cloud Dr.
Friendswood, Texas 77546
Dues: planners, $150; suppliers, $250; students, $50 (281) 992-9639
Fax: 281-992-2555

International Society of Gay & Lesbian Meeting Professionals is currently disbanded but is expected to start up again early next year.
Contact: Alex Lichtenstein, CMP
(202) 874-5097


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