by Sarah F.J. Braley | June 21, 2017
During Meeting Professionals International's World Education Congress, being held at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas until June 22, the association has welcomed a recent record of more than 2,400 participants -- beating last year's total of just over 2,000, when the event was held in Atlantic City, as well as the number reached in 2013, the last time the organization held the WEC in Las Vegas.
 
Over the past five years, the ratio of planner attendees to suppliers also has been changing from a time when the event drew about 40 percent planners and 60 percent suppliers. This year, with a ratio of about 60 percent planners and 40 percent suppliers, MPI credits a richer environment for learning and less emphasis on a selling environment for the shift. 
 
"There's a very interesting and ongoing pressure between our supplier partners who help make all this happen, and the attendees who are here for the education," said Paul Van Deventer, MPI's president and CEO. "If not for the partners, attendees would be paying a lot more. But we have to be cognizant that the primary purpose of the WEC is to learn, in the classroom, in the general session."
 
The organization does offer a hosted-buyer program, which Van Deventer said is currently at an optimum level of 250 buyers and sellers. There also is a business exchange with a sort of trade-show vibe, but it is open only during certain curriculum breaks. "We want to make sure the partners feel that their investment gives them value, but we don't want to get the Xchange any bigger than it is or the hosted buyer [component] any bigger. We feel it's the right size right now," Van Deventer said. "The partners have been thrilled this year with how it's been designed, driving casual interactions by putting breaks in there. It's still far from a trade show. That's not our core - I think that would distract us. There  are other places people can go for that."
 
Van Deventer shared insights about last-minute snafus and other challenges in a chat with M&C.
 
Your keynote speaker for today's lunch, basketball legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson, canceled at the last minute. What have you been going through the past 12 hours?

This is what our audience lives through. They hopefully come to learn from experiences they've all had, whether it's running late on Monday night or going through with the contingency plan of losing a keynote speaker at the last minute. We believe there's a good opportunity to use this as a learning moment for the attendees. We're still working on developing out how we're going to do that.
 
If you think about our theme here, about designing experiences and overall meeting design, this shows that if you get totally focused on a rigid schedule or the marquee name, you lose the opportunity of why you're here, which is to have an interactive experience together. We have that opportunity to be flexible. It's a real live case study.
 
What is MPI's role in helping the community handle the issues of the day, whether it's terrorism at home or abroad, or local legislation that impacts destinations?

We are not a political organization, and our bylaws are chartered so that we cannot make a stand, we cannot lobby. But whether it's global terrorism or laws that can undermine our industry, we need to understand the facts and the impact to help our community to move forward.
 
If you have 2 million people working in this industry in the U.S. and get them to understand the economic impact of the industry and interact with their legislators and their communities, you change the dialog pretty quickly. If someone says, " boycott meetings," those in this industry understand this could hurt the people you're trying to protect. There's an important role we play for them in providing awareness and data, ensuring people have the facts.
 
How are you getting MPI's stance across?

With something like the Texas bathroom bill [concerning gender usage of public bathrooms, which is about to be debated again in a special session of the Texas Legislature in July], we know what happened economically in North Carolina. We didn't come out as saying you shouldn't do this. We said, here's what happened in other markets. These are the facts. This is how many people were put out of work. If you extrapolate that to a state the size of Texas, the impact grows exponentially.
 
Personally, I sat on panels and wrote op-eds and said it was my opinion that it was not a good position to take for our industry. I can use the platform I have to at least have a little bit of a louder voice.
 
The counter-example is Trump's budget proposal to kill Brand USA, directly affecting our industry. I came out as MPI and said we all had to rally together against that. This has a direct and easily correlated impact on our industry.