Quality, as opposed to quantity, may best describe Meeting Professionals International's Professional Education Conference held January 20 to 22 in Honolulu. The quality was found in three days of seminars addressing changes in the meeting industry since September 11 and ways of dealing with those changes in light of a less-than-vibrant economy.

As for quantity, attendance figures stood at about 1,300 — roughly half the count tallied at the 2001 PEC in New Orleans. Still, MPI President and CEO Ed Griffin said he was pleased with attendance, all things considered. “This is a watershed event for this industry,” Griffin said in a post-opening-session interview. “To have this many attendees make the trip here to participate in this conference is a tribute to them and shows proof that we're moving ahead into 2002. I think the mood here is totally upbeat.”

During the opening session, Griffin announced the postponement of MPI's Paragon Awards until the July PEC North America in Toronto. “We thought it was the prudent thing to do,” he explained. “It was in deference to our planner members who were working so hard to deal with the cancellations that resulted after September 11. It would have been too much to ask of them to get their nomination applications together in the fall.”

The impact of the attacks, not surprisingly, was a focal point of discussion. In a seminar on post-September 11 issues, Christine Duffy, president/COO of McGettigan Partners in Philadelphia, listed the trends that she saw emerging after the attacks and that she expects to continue:

  • Increased use of virtual meeting tools

  • Diminished air service to secondary cities being offset by increases in regional drive-in meetings

  • Corporations no longer making exceptions to policies limiting the number of employees traveling on a particular flight (thus making it tougher for planners to use secondary cities with less airlift)

  • Domestic resort destinations, such as Hawaii, to benefit from cancellations of international incentive programs

  • More electronic marketing to boost meeting attendance

  • Continued increase in outsourcing as companies downsize planning departments and/or cut back travel because of economic conditions.

Fellow panelist Patti Roscoe, president of PRA Associates, San Diego, added to the list. She said incentive groups are clearly becoming smaller, and corporations are asking for more content, in particular patriotic content, and more teambuilding events. She said there is an obvious concern about security. “Clearly,” she said, “frivolous programs are going away.”

Both in and out of the seminar rooms, layoffs and downsizing were on the minds of PEC participants. Veteran meeting planner Tony Korody, president of Los Angeles-based FEP Inc., discussed his company's new programs — one for businesses faced with downsizing their meeting departments, and one for ex-corporate planners transitioning into their own businesses. Korody hopes to help companies maintain continuity by outsourcing their meetings to former employees. For information, log on to www.fepinc.com.