In my 12 years covering this industry, I've seen a dramatic shift in the role of the meeting planner. The latest move by Meeting Professionals International and the National Business Travel Association to offer joint education for members and to testify before the government about the importance of meetings to the economy is proof that this profession grows more strategic each year.

While business travel managers have long been recognized by CFOs for their contribution to the bottom line, meeting planners have operated in a separate arena. They've had less direct contact with the top levels of the company, and there has been little awareness of their buying power — let alone of the savings they can bring to an organization.

All that is changing. Companies are looking for ways to consolidate and track travel purchasing, including the meetings buy. Many are merging the roles of corporate travel planner and meeting planner to do so. And finally, it appears that there's a new understanding of the importance of the meeting planner.

“It's been heading in this direction for a long time,” Terri Breining, MPI's chairwoman, told us in an interview for next month's cover story on this subject. “As the role of meeting planners has been more appreciated by them [execs], they are finally getting more focus.”

MPI started its efforts to demonstrate the ROI of meetings (and the value of planners) several years back — and those efforts are clearly paying off. Its latest, ROI II, will collect data from the entire membership to develop a set of tools, reports, and best practices that can be used to prove meeting ROI.

What we have here is clearly the blossoming of a profession. And that's good news for us all.

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