Up to now, Meeting Professionals International’s CMM program has been the gold standard of education in the meetings industry. When I went through the course, I had about 12 years of hospitality industry experience and was fairly new to the planner side. It was a huge financial commitment, a massive devotion of my time, and it expended and challenged every one of my brain cells. But it was so worth it. I would say that it was the best week of education I have ever had, and the whole program elevated my thinking to a much more strategic level.

For weeks, I poured over my business plan, loving that it combined all that I learned in the CMM classes and put it into real-world practice. I had numerous people proofread it, and incorporated their comments, edits, and suggestions into my final plan. When I sent it off to MPI for grading, it was a very happy day—followed by a couple of months of waiting anxiously for the results. The feeling when I got that e-mail stating I was now a CMM was one of relief and joy that all the hard work had paid off.

In late 2013, MPI announced it was creating a partnership with the Global Business Travel Association and would be administering the CMM designation program jointly with GBTA going forward.

MPI also clarified that the CMM, which I had always believed stood for “Certification in Meeting Management,” was never a certification program at all, but rather a certificate program. When I went through the course in 2010, receiving my CMM in 2011, all of the documentation from MPI at the time—and my diploma—said “Certification in Meeting Management.” Now, MPI and GBTA intend to use “CMM” as a standalone trademark, rather than an acronym, so it will no longer specifically stand for anything. This is one of many controversial changes MPI is instituting in this once-revered program. 

No longer must one have at least 10 years of meeting planning or hospitality experience to be eligible for the program. The updated CMM program will be open to anyone who “self qualifies.” (The suggested eligibility requirement is five years of experience, but an application approval is no longer required.) A business plan is no longer required, but rather an “independent work-based project.” The six days of on-site, high-level education have been reduced to 3.5 days. Most shocking to me is that MPI intends to grant the CMM designation to anyone who previously held the Strategic Meetings Management Certificate.

MPI has acknowledged the ham-fisted way the program changes were announced and has been having open calls with concerned CMMs, but the organization’s leaders have said that no salient changes will be made to the structure of the updated program. 

Many articles have been written about the specifics of the changes, so I will not repeat them here. I’d like to focus on my experience with the CMM, and what the changes mean to me.

Having my CMM has paid off handsomely in my career. It has given me credibility in the industry, it has allowed me to gain a seat at the table and talk strategy as well as logistics, and has been industry shorthand for the depth of experience clients expect. There have been many times I have encouraged people to get the CMM, and I have proofread and graded many applicants’ business plans over the years. 

The proposed changes to the CMM program, I feel, devalue the effort of the nearly 1,000 worldwide CMMs. Not having an experience threshold lowers its value significantly. When people see “CMM” after my name now, will they continue to assume I possess deep experience in the industry?

Also, business travel and meeting planning are two totally different disciplines, and I am not sure that combining them for a designation program benefits either. It was a huge benefit to me to learn from people who actually did what they taught on a daily basis, who spent the time in the trenches. People like Paul Bridle, Tyra Hilliard, Eric Rozenberg, and Karen King had lessons that were far more valuable to me than what a non-industry business professor could have given. Granting the CMM designation to people who never put in the work for the designation cheapens the work and effort that I put in to earn it, and was an especially ill-advised move by MPI.

I feel that by jettisoning the CMM program as it was, MPI is making it clear that they do not value the longtime members who have been committed to continuing education. I do not know of a single CMM who has not put in time with their MPI chapters as officers, board members, committee chairs, etc. I served three years on the board of directors for the Dallas chapter, as I believed in the vision of MPI. I have since let my membership lapse as I have seen how little MPI has come to value education. The CMM program changes confirm my feelings, but still make me sad. What was once a great organization has lost its way. Instead of being an industry champion for education, MPI is making something elite into the lowest common denominator.

Timothy Arnold started his hospitality career with Hilton Worldwide, where he spent 10 years in global sales. In 2008, he joined HPN Global, a global meetings procurement company. He loves traveling, especially internationally, photography, his five dogs, and his wife of 12 years, Susan. He calls himself “a huge hotel nerd,” and in the past two years alone he’s visited 26 countries and worked on hotel contracts and meetings in dozens of destinations.