Laying Out a Welcome Mat
Though neither Meeting Professionals International nor the Professional Convention Management Association has data on how many minorities are part of their organizations (the associations do not track members' ethnicity), both groups are boosters of diversity.
"The MPI community represents members from different geographic locations, cultures, ethnicity and religious affiliations," says Junior Tauvaa, MPI's vice president of member care and chapter business management. "MPI encourages members with common interests to form communities organically online and/or around MPI events." Tauvaa notes that one of the first MPI communities to form was a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender group, which maintains an active presence online as well as with gatherings at MPI events.
At PCMA, says Brad Lewis, vice president of marketing and communications, "it has really been our position not to single out minorities for special groups but to make an earnest attempt to fully integrate them into the complete and varied fabric of the organization." He adds, "From positions on our boards of directors and trustees to committee and task-force members, to speakers and sessions at our annual meeting, we have tried to live diversity and truly walk the talk. Inclusive and representative is our mantra."
Hispanic-Americans and African-Americans are the two largest minority groups in the United States, representing 15 percent and 13.5 percent, respectively, of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And both groups have their own meetings industry organizations: the International Association of Hispanic Meeting Professionals and National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners. Their success reflects the way they meet the needs of their members.
International Association of Hispanic Meeting Professionals The Houston-based IAHMP (hispanicmeetingprofessionals.com) has five chapters in the United States as well as one each in Mexico, Portugal and Spain. The group was founded in 1995 and held its first annual conference in August 1996, following discussions initiated by Leo Solomon, a Cuban-American hotel manager in Miami who, according to IAHMP president and founder Margaret Gonzalez, "saw a need for an association that would help Hispanics within the meeting planning industry."
Today, IAHMP claims nearly 600 dues-paying members in the United States and several hundred more outside of the country. In recent years, membership has grown both at home and abroad, due in part to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, which are helping IAHMP to gain a larger audience. Membership is primarily, though not strictly, Hispanic. According to Gonzalez, many of IAHMP's supplier members are non-Hispanic.
The organization's next gathering, its 2009 annual meeting, is set for Dec. 6-9 in Denver; planned sessions include general planner concerns such as marketing on a limited budget, as well as more specialized fare like the economic impact of the Hispanic meetings market (which the association estimates at more than $50 billion a year). Besides the conference, IAHMP offers its members networking and professional development opportunities, supplier-hosted events and more.
IAHMP's mission is "to bring a greater appreciation of the U.S. Hispanic population that plays a significant role within the meetings and hospitality industry." The group does this by making young professionals aware of the industry, further developing its Certified Diversity Meeting Professional program (for details, go to mcmag.com/webexclusives), creating educational programs at schools and universities, and establishing cultural exchange programs for students.
IAHMP member Linda Pereira, executive director of Lisbon, Portugal-based CPL Events, says the association fosters "a forum that actively listens to its members' concerns and issues." She adds, "I have learned a tremendous amount from interacting with other Hispanic cultures in the truly international environment that is IAHMP."
National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners NCBMP (ncbmp.com) serves a similar function, although it is more U.S.-focused -- just a handful of members hail from foreign countries. The Silver Spring, Md.-based group was founded in 1983 and holds meetings in the spring and fall. The most recent event, the 2009 Fall Educational Conference, was held Dec. 2-6 in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Of about 1,000 planner and supplier members, 65 percent are African-American. Supplier members include representatives from various ethnic groups who wish to sell to and work with the African-American market.
"We provide educational and networking opportunities, along with scholarships to historically black colleges and other universities," says Stella Beene-Venson, NCBMP's Nashville-based president and a meeting and travel planner for the United Methodist Church's General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. The coalition's primary mission is to create a forum for members to exchange professional experiences and ideas.
Beene-Venson, who has 23 years of experience in the meetings industry, emphasizes the mentorship role of the association. NCBMP holds workshops for college students and invites local high school kids to its conferences. "We try to mentor these students," she says. "Our conferences give them an opportunity to learn firsthand about what we do." Students from Jamaica, the Bahamas and other destinations also have attended conferences in the past, with NCBMP covering their travel costs.
Member Cynthia Graddy, a 19-year-veteran independent meeting planner based in Washington, D.C., says her relationship with the coalition began a decade ago and has "proven to be worth its weight in gold." Networking is one of the chief draws for Graddy. "NCBMP offers me contact with people who have gone through common experiences," she says. "The camaraderie and trust level are great. Participants are able to meet people who have been through everything they have -- and then some."