Research released by Meeting Professionals International’s Multicultural Initiative last week found respondents from both the association and corporate world predicting an average 20 percent growth in multicultural meetings around the world. Interestingly, though, the meeting professionals didn’t agree on what "multicultural" means. For U.S. planners, the word describes people from different ethnic, religious, and racial backgrounds; for the rest of the world, "multicultural" means people from different nations come to an event.

"The fact that people outside the U.S. have a different perception of what multicultural means than those in the U.S. is vitally important in how any industry addresses its changing clientele," said Karen M. Garcia, CMP, managing director of the Multicultural Initiative, in a press release.

However they defined it, though, respondents all agreed that today’s planner can’t afford to ignore the differences in cultural expectations. They also agreed that they had to take the specific needs of their attendee demographics into account, particularly in the areas of speaker/presentation screening, recognition of different customs and traditions, dietary requirements, organizational cultural education, and understanding regional and international cultural differences.

The study, which was conducted for MPI by Smyrna, Ga.-based Association Insights, included more than 1,700 MPI members born in 61 different countries, who ranged in age from 21 to 75 years old. Next on MPI’s agenda is a four-part research paper covering key success criteria for international, domestic, and regional meetings; why organizations should embrace multicultural needs; planning and executing successful multicultural meetings; and the importance of cultural sensitivity and multicultural business protocol.