Returning to the city that hosted its first meeting 50 years ago, the Professional Convention Management Association drew more than 3,000 attendees during its annual meeting in Philadelphia, held January 8 to 11.

PCMA's 2005 chairman, Gregg Talley, CAE, said at a press conference during the event that about 40 percent of registrants were planners, the rest suppliers. He estimated that the economic impact of the PCMA meeting in Philadelphia over the next 10 years would be about $200 million to $300 million in new meeting business.

Talley also announced that the association has decided to take its annual meeting to New Orleans in 2009. “We had been talking to other cities [about hosting the meeting], but nothing had been finalized,” Talley said. “PCMA wants to show its support for New Orleans, and our choice was fully endorsed by the cities we had been talking to.”

Philadelphia officials also had good news to share. Pennsylvania Governor Edward 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, which sits in the heart of downtown.

“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.

With more than 80 educational sessions, PCMA aimed to deliver its best educational program yet at its annual meeting. Among the new programs offered were several off-site experiential learning opportunities, as well as innovative programming for senior planners on investment strategies and scenario-planning as a strategic tool at the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. “We are doing at least 10 different 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. General Richard Myers, retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered an analysis of the country's military and security preparedness. A panel discussion afterward included two CVB executives from convention destinations affected by hurricanes (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 following Hurricane Katrina. Among the lessons learned: Disaster plans have to be constantly updated, and they have to include just about every imaginable scenario.

One session that drew a packed crowd was “CVBs and Meeting Planners, A Partnership Worth Preserving.” The gist of the session was that 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 where 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 like this,” said panelist Bruce Harris, CMP, president, Conferon Global Services. “But isn't it interesting. Bureaus are under attack, but we're not doing anything about it.” He suggested writing letters to local political leaders and to local newspapers, letting them know how the bureau had helped them and emphasizing the economic impact of their conventions.