Returning to the city that hosted its first meeting 50 years ago, the Professional Convention Management Association drew more than 3,000 attendees to its annual meeting in Philadelphia, held January 8 to 11. PCMA's 2005 chairman, Gregg Talley, CAE, president, Talley Management Group Inc., Mt. Royal, N.J., estimated that the economic impact of the PCMA meeting in Philadelphia over the next 10 years would be $200 million to $300 million in new meeting business.

Talley also announced that PCMA has decided to take its annual meeting to New Orleans in 2009. “PCMA wants to show its support for New Orleans, and our choice was endorsed by the cities we had been talking to,” he said.

Philadelphia officials also had good news to share. Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell said in the opening general session that the city had just reached an agreement to purchase the Pennsylvania Fine Arts Building, the first of 27 land acquisitions needed for the expansion of the city's convention center.

“Our expectation is that we will have ownership of the other 26 land parcels by June [2006],” Rendell said. City officials hope to break ground on the expansion, which will give the center a total of 700,000 square feet of exhibit space — including 541,000 square feet of contiguous space — by the end of the year. The center currently has 440,000 square feet of exhibit space.

Among the new programs offered at the conference were several off-site experiential learning opportunities, as well as innovative programming for senior planners at the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania on investment strategies and scenario-planning as a strategic tool. “We are doing at least 10 things we never did before,” Talley said.

One of the hottest topics at the meeting was risk management — the focus of two general sessions as well as an education session. Gen. Richard Myers, retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered an analysis of the country's military and security preparedness. A panel discussion included two CVB executives from hurricane-affected destinations (New Orleans and Miami), a microbiologist who spoke about the potential threats involved in avian flu, and a meeting planner whose group had to relocate after Hurricane Katrina. Among the lessons learned: Disaster plans have to be constantly updated, and they have to include just about every scenario.

One session that drew a packed crowd covered how, as CVBs continue to face pressure from local municipalities to justify their existence and expenditures, meeting planners have to step forward and communicate the value of CVBs to the local community in which they are holding their meetings — or risk losing the free services that bureaus offer convention groups.

“Bureaus provide services to convention groups; they provide education through sponsorship dollars at meetings,” said panelist Bruce Harris, CMP, who recently retired from his position as president, Conferon Global Services, Twinsburg, Ohio. “Bureaus are under attack, but we're not doing anything about it.” He suggested planners write letters to local political leaders and newspapers, explaining how the CVB had helped them and emphasizing the economic impact of their conventions.