Globalization was the watchword as Meeting Professionals International got off to a successful start to its 2007 Professional Education Conference in New Orleans.

During the opening session Sunday, new MPI President and CEO Bruce MacMillan referred to MPI as a “powerful global community” of ideas, knowledge, and business opportunities. In a separate interview, MacMillan and MPI Chairman of the Board Mark Andrew elaborated on that theme as they discussed issues ranging from MPI’s CultureActive tool to new opportunities for the association to expand into areas such as Asia and South America.

CultureActive was launched last year, but as MacMillan acknowledged, it has not gained traction among MPI members. MPI members, MacMillan said, need to understand that just because they don’t plan meetings in London or Shanghai doesn’t mean there are no international aspects to their meetings--and the tool is just as relevant for planners whose meetings here in the United States include international attendees.

CultureActive is an e-learning tool aimed at increasing members’ international awareness and intercultural relationships, and MPI is promoting it heavily at this year’s PEC. MPI members need to recognize global opportunities in their own communities, as well as internationally, MacMillan said. “The bottom line is that we have to tell a better story around the CultureActive tool.”

As for MPI’s future, MacMillan said it’s no secret that regions such as China, with its developing infrastructure, “represent a huge opportunity for us.” MacMillan also noted that MPI will be looking to develop partnerships with companies that are positioned globally.

MPI put a twist on this year’s PEC by holding the trade show on Sunday, immediately after the opening general session, in an effort to increase the show’s traffic. According to MPI officials, the show was hopping for the first two hours, but came to a standstill at 2 p.m., when the hometown New Orleans Saints football team took on the Chicago Bears in the game that determined which would go on to the Super Bowl. (Sadly, the Saints were defeated 39-14.)

“I think having the trade show after the general session is a good idea,” MacMillan said while lamenting the conflict with the football game. Both MacMillan and Andrew said MPI would evaluate the trade show issue with the idea that MPI will be as flexible as possible with scheduling issues, whether it’s the trade show or other parts of the conference. “MPI is not so big that we can’t be nimble,” said Andrew.

As for MPI’s return to New Orleans, the security concerns that swirled about the city in advance of the PEC seemed to abate, with no reports of problems and attendance hitting the 2,400 mark, which surpassed last year’s numbers in Charlotte, N.C. New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Stephen Perry has been vocal in his belief that the importance of MPI’s visit to the Crescent City far outweighs the actual size of PEC, considering the exposure it provides.

The welcome provided to MPI, said Andrew, indicates that when it comes to meetings, New Orleans “doesn’t just walk the talk, it runs the talk.”