THE THEME of Meeting Professionals International Professional Education Conference/North America was “It's all about YOU,” and that really was the mantra February 2 to 4 at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center and Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. From the opening general session, where keynote speaker Dr. Jim Loehr discussed strategies for “surviving the storm,” the conference offerings stressed leadership, but the subtext was survival.

Networking events included two in Walt Disney World venues that drew big crowds and enthusiastic responses. Gaylord Palms had a chance to show off its 400,000 square feet of meeting and convention space as it hosted the PEC Expo, educational sessions, and keynotes.

At 2,207 (680 planners and 1,167 suppliers), attendance was up significantly from 2002.

Professional Development

“We're facing challenges that are more serious than they've ever been,” MPI chairman George Aguel, senior vice president of Walt Disney World Resorts, said in an interview during the PEC. “We're entering the third year of this economic downturn, and it's our obligation to our members to further their abilities and enhance their professional development.”

A heavy menu of personal development courses added to the overall feeling that individual planners are fighting for their own jobs at the same time that they're striving to convey the strategic value of meetings and events. The 50-plus educational sessions focused on tools to navigate an economic and political landscape that's grown increasingly challenging for both planners and suppliers.

The unspoken undercurrent at the conference was how to justify the apparent expense — and downplay any aura of frivolity — of meetings in a down economy. “We have to be careful about appearances,” said Audra T. Narikawa, meeting and event planner for The Capital Group Companies Inc., in Los Angeles. “We have shareholders, and we don't want them to think we're wasting money, even if it's obvious to us that we're not.”

Other MPI News

Aguel announced MPI's new three-part strategic plan: creating career pathways toward positions of strategic influence; increasing MPI's influence with senior decision-making executives; and focusing on business development opportunities for suppliers.

The MPI Foundation announced an ambitious fundraising campaign to support MPI's strategic plan and the relaunch of MPI's Web-based networking forum, “Communities of Interest,” at

The committee seeking a replacement for departing MPI president and CEO Ed Griffin disbanded after confidential information relating to the search became public. A new committee is being formed, but its membership will remain secret. The new group is expected to announce Griffin's replacement by the time he leaves at the end of April.