MPI: High-Tech, High-Touch Meeting Professionals International's Professional Education Conference (PEC), held in late January in Vancouver is a perfect example of how in-person meetings can never be replaced by technology. A technology education track and a live Webcast of the opening and closing sessions were two high-tech highlights, but the experience of the record-breaking 2,185 attendees mingling, networking, learning, and being inspired could hardly be replicated online.

At the meeting, MPI announced new business alliances with several technology partners: PlanSoft Corp., Fusion Productions, broadcast.com, and Eastman Kodak Co.

PlanSoft Corp., creators of the PlanSoft Network, an online database of 5,000 hotels, convention bureaus, and related services worldwide, and Ajenis meeting planning software have a private labeling agreement with MPI, called TechEdge, in which visitors to MPI's Web site have immediate access to the PlanSoft database. Many of the hotels on the Plansoft Network offer panoramic photos of meeting rooms, guest rooms, and public spaces; and complete floor plans of each meeting room. A Request for Proposal service lets users send their meeting dates and specs to the hotels electronically.

Fusion Productions, the creator of MPI's Web site (www.mpi.org) is offering MPI members discounts on other Web-related services, including Web site development.

And Eastman Kodak Co. will provide MPI members with its digital imaging technologies, products, and services.

In Other News MPI also announced its Global Paragon Awards winners, recognizing innovation and creativity in meetings: in Category I, for meetings with expenditures of up to $1,000 per attendee (not including transportation), the National Association of Federal Credit Unions and L&M Production Design won for its 30th Annual Convention & Trade Show in 1997. In Category II, for meetings with expenditures of more than $1,000 per attendee, the winner was the 1997 Apollo Travel and Technology Conference. --Betsy Bair

Vienna, Austria, saw an astounding 77-percent increase in the number of international conferences held last year over 1997, with the United States becoming the top source of meeting business. Figures recently released by the Vienna Convention Bureau show that a total of 400 international meetings were held in Vienna in 1998, with the peak periods being April, August, September, and November, and the average stay 1.93 nights.

This year holds equal promise, as Vienna gears up for a citywide millennium celebration, transforming itself into "the world's largest ballroom" on Dec. 31. A New Year's Trail more than a mile long will be lined with stands serving champagne and snacks, and waltz melodies will fill tents along the stretch. Many of the city's top venues, such as the Hofburg Palace, are quickly selling out, and some of the top hotels in the city are requiring minimum stays of five nights.

*www.iacconline.com The International Association of Conference Centers has enhanced its Web site. In addition to a searchable database of 300 IACC member centers worldwide, visitors can consult the "virtual concierge." This feature offers links to attractions (museums, restaurants, shopping, sporting events, and recreational facilities) in a given meeting city.

*www.swan-dolphin.com Call a Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin (Lake Buena Vista, Fla.) sales specialist and minutes later you'll get an e-mail message with a user ID and password that will take you to your own Swan and Dolphin Web site. There you will have access to diagrams of the meeting space at each property (including 500 possible setups), information on guest rooms, restaurants, and recreation. You can share the site by forwarding the e-mail with the ID and password.

*www.ggisb.com Check out the Frequently Asked Questions at this site to read about celebrity speaker fees and quirks. Laura Fenamore, president of the Golden Gate International Speakers Bureau in San Anselmo, Calif., has gathered some fun and useful information.

*www.randmcnallystore.com If you're in the market for a map, look no further. The online catalog also offers atlases, travel guides, travel software, and other travel resources and accessories. You'll find updated road construction, weather information, and more.

*www.previewtravel.com The site is comprehensive: You'll find regularly updated info on the lowest fares, destination and cruise info, exchange rates, weather reports, even packing tips.

Montgomery County, Annapolis, and Potomac, Md., are in northern Maryland. They were incorrectly listed under southern Maryland in February CMI, page 51. Also, the Montgomery County Conference Center is expected to break ground in early 2000 and open in 2002. It will connect with a 260-room hotel.

Need to take a meeting on the road? The Seven 0 Seven Automotive Group of Elkhart, Ind., has transformed Ford, Dodge, and Chevy vans into roadworthy conference centers. They can be accessorized to duplicate the most well-equipped offices, with workstation, LCD television, cellular telephone, printer/fax, Internet access, and cable television. All the vans, which are priced from $36,900 to $69,900, come with privacy partitions and inter coms. The most popular model is the largest, a Ford extended van that seats five people around a built-in conference table.

Contact: Seven 0 Seven Automotive Group, (800) 321-4707.

An Interview With Darryl Hartley-Leonard Q: You made some pretty dire, but accurate, predictions in the early '90s. What's next?

A: In John Naisbitt's book, Global Paradox, chapter two, he said meetings and conventions illustrate the "high-tech, high-touch" paradox of the future. Technology will make some travel extraneous while building the need for in-person events. And I do have a prediction. I see business travel plumme ting during the next five to 10 years. And I see a complete lack of awareness of that in our industry.

We've entered a new cultural age. And we haven't had too many cultural changes in our history. No one really had any idea how videoconferencing and virtual reality would take off. But I think technology will mean meetings and conventions will rise, and become separate from the travel industry, per se. People need cultural and psychic interchange.