The tone and message set by the keynote speaker at Meeting Professionals International Professional Education Conference, held January 18 to 20 in San Antonio, was carefully chosen. It was from filmmaker Eric Saperston, whose three-year journey across the country in a 1971 Volkswagen Bus in search of life’s deeper meaning resulted in an award-winning documentary, The Journey.

During his three-year sojourn, Saperston interviewed 176 of America’s most creative, innovative, and powerful people to find out what makes them tick . . . what allows them to "get up in the morning excited . . . and go to bed fulfilled." The theme of being on a journey--one toward elevating the meeting planning profession--resounded throughout the three-day meeting.

Terri Breining, CMP, CMM, chairwoman of the MPI board of directors, and president of her own meeting planning company, Concepts Worldwide, and Colin Rorrie Jr., PhD, CAE, president and CEO of MPI, continually focused the attendees on the three-pronged strategic plan rolled out at last year’s World Education Conference, which has become the guiding light for MPI.

One doesn’t need a college degree in meeting planning to become a meeting professional, and it’s doubtful planners will ever be put through the rigorous education that physicians receive. But if it’s up to Rorrie, who led the American College of Emergency Physicians for 21 years before joining MPI in September, and who helped elevate the reputation of ER physicians (with a nod to the TV show, "ER"), planners will have the recognition and acknowledgment that they’ve sought for years before his tenure at MPI is through.

Said Rorrie at a Town Meeting held last Monday afternoon about the first point of the strategic plan, "through career pathing, we will help you map out a course, see a progression in your career. We are revamping our programming at the World Education Congress to bring you the type of courses you need, and will continue with our Business Skills for Life programming. It’s going to be a tough journey, but it’s going to be a wonderful journey, and we’ll be here every step of the way."

The MPI Foundation will help achieve that mission, having raised $5.1 million in just 18 months in its Envision 2003 capital campaign, said David Dubois, CMP, CAE, executive vice president of the Foundation. The Foundation celebrated its 20th anniversary at the PEC, which drew just over 2,000 delegates.

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At the meeting, the MPI Board approved an increase of the rebate it issues to each chapter (51 in total) for its members’ annual dues to 18 percent for North American chapters and 23 percent for European chapters. The bulk of the increase is expected to fundeducation, says Breining, because "chapters feed their members, and most of our members use MPI through their chapters." MPI predicts a 30 percent increase in its European membership within the next three years.

The mood was optimistic at MPI among both planners and suppliers, reflecting the just-announced results of FutureWatch 2004 (click here). As Breining said in an interview, "the survey’s results have confirmed what we had hoped, that the meetings industry is coming back, that both suppliers and planners said, on average, that spending and revenue projections would increase 4 percent over last year, in 2004. That’s good news."

Breining also announced that MPI has established a research task force, which is working closely with the MPI Foundation to identify additional research needs. Breining hopes that research will begin this year to address the second point of the strategic plan, to "aggressively pursue opportunities to increase the influence that decision makers have on meeting expenditures by proving that meetings are a critical component of any organization’s success." The research will be conducted "outside the industry," said Breining, perhaps by a large accounting firm or business school.

Also expected to launch in 2004, through a foundation grant from Hilton Hotels Corp., is MPI MIX (Meeting Industry Exchange), an online bridge to knowledge and peer-to-peer exchange for MPI members. "Our forum will be global and robust," said Dubois, and should launch by early summer. Moveover, MIMlist.