Board member of the National Business Travel Association, co-founder of NBTA's Groups and Meetings Committee, and former global manager, Honeywell Meeting Solutions, KARI KESLER is now taking on what might be her biggest challenge yet — the development of a certification program for strategic meetings management. Corporate Meetings & Incentives Editor Barbara Scofidio spoke with her about this latest and greatest step in the evolution of SMMP.

Corporate Meetings & Incentives: How did the decision to start a strategic meetings management certification come about?

Kari Kesler: When NBTA first took on the task of developing tools and resources in this area, the committee decided that “meetings consolidation” was not the right name, and we changed it to “strategic meetings management.” Then last spring, I began to notice that many other associations in this space were adopting the phrase “SMMP” and teaching courses that were not true to the original definition. I had a discussion with Bill Connors [NBTA's executive director], and we agreed it was time to take back ownership of SMMP in a gracious way and formalize the definition for the benefit of the industry. He was the one who brought up the possibility of a certification, and I said I could run with it.

CMI: Who can earn the certification?

Kesler: It's really for anyone who sees this as a potential career or step in his or her career: professionals in travel, procurement, meetings, and possibly associations. I see it as being valuable to suppliers as well.

CMI: Will the SMMC be different from Meeting Professionals International's CMM certification?

Kesler: Vastly different. The CMM is targeted toward professionals who want to be strategic about delivering events. The SMMC has little to do with planning and execution of events. It's about maximizing value and minimizing risk by developing standardized meeting programs and deploying them across a company.

CMI: Are you collaborating with MPI ?

Kesler: While NBTA is the pioneer of this discipline, I did meet with Bruce MacMillan [President and CEO of MPI] in January. We had a very positive discussion, which is ongoing, and I respect his community. There's great work to be done right now, but we need to be sure we're reading from the same hymn book when it comes to SMMP.

CMI: What course work will the SMMC require?

Kesler: Participants must complete Core Week 1 and Core Week 2, and five electives. Core Week 1 is about the “business of SMMP” — the many basic business principles that you need to know, such as stakeholder management, policy, sourcing, and data analysis. Core Week 2 is very specific SMMP knowledge — things like technology, risk management, and trending. Our hope is to affiliate with regional colleges around the country, offering, let's say, spring in Boston, and fall in San Diego. You could take the electives any time, and we're hoping to partner with other associations, such as MPI and the Professional Convention Management Association, to qualify some of the content at their conventions as electives. You would have 24 months to complete the SMMC.

CMI: What colleges are involved?

Kesler: There are a few we know we want to partner with that have strong meeting planning programs: San Diego State, Indiana University, Madison Area Tech College, and Rochester Institute of Technology. We're looking for colleges with professors in key areas, such as leadership and finance, for Core Week 2. We have a couple of people interested in teaching Core Week 1 who are former corporate SMMP experts. Very few people out there are qualified to teach Core Week 1.

CMI: Will there be an evaluation?

Kesler: We're not sure how each area will be tested, but there will be some written tests. I'm very excited about the potential SMMP mentor component. Students will have an ongoing dialog and meetings with mentors, who will need to provide their approval before certification.

CMI: What's your timeframe?

Kesler: Before this year's NBTA convention in San Diego [August 2326], we will hold a pilot program for Core Week 1 for task force members. This fall we hope to hold the first revenue-producing classes.

CMI: Who are some of the consultants you have brought in?

Kesler: The main consultants are Amanda Cecil, PhD, CMP, from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, curriculum developer; and Janet Sperstad, program director from Madison Area Technical College, educational lead of the facilitation team.

CMI: This certification couldn't be more timely.

Kesler: It's the perfect time to have an SMMP in place. The questions senior execs are now asking about meeting spend and tracking spend cannot be answered without an SMMP. It's energizing to be at the forefront of this!

Meetingsnet.com:

  • Landry & Kling is launching a new online portal, SeaSite.com, that will allow planners to search for cruise ships that can accommodate their meeting needs and send requests for proposals.

  • Destination Marketing Association International and U.S. Travel Association have merged their foundations, creating the Destination & Travel Foundation, focused on the needs of destination marketing professionals.

  • Las Vegas' first-quarter drop in meetings and conventions business has forced the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to suspend a plan to expand and renovate the Las Vegas Convention Center.

  • Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts has dropped its plans for a 200-room luxury hotel in Chicago. The hotel would have been Shangri-La's first property in the U.S. and its second in North America.