The perfect balance of meeting planners and suppliers got together in a perfect setting — The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation — for the jam-packed, yet retreat-like, FICP Educational Forum, June 14 to 16.

The 251-room property, located 75 minutes from Atlanta's Hartsfield airport, affords views from every angle of Lake Oconee, Georgia's second-largest lake. The 110 attendees appreciated the calming effect of the water and scenery as they dined on exquisite Ritz-Carlton food or networked on the great lawn that overlooks the lake. And for the first time, the hospitality partner sponsors attended the full conference.

Mike Burke, CMP, FICP president, and manager, conference and travel services, The Hanover Insurance Group Inc.; and Karyn Rizzo, CMP, senior meetings consultant, Sun Life Financial, chair of the Forum Design Team, welcomed attendees at every opportunity. At Thursday morning's breakfast Burke and Steve Bova, FICP's executive director, outlined some exciting changes for the association, including a redesigned Web site by year's end as well as a state-of-the-industry research report on the financial services and insurance meetings market.

Thursday's general session focused on how Ritz-Carlton delivers its legendary service, aptly presented by the property's general manager, Stephen Freund. He is a member of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center and as such often speaks to senior executives from all industries about benchmarking many of the business practices that led to Ritz-Carlton becoming a two-time recipient of the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award.

Another informative general session revolved around the benefits, usefulness, and costs of earning credentials or certifications in the meetings industry, and included discussions of the Certified Meeting Professional (the industry standard), the CMM (Global Certification in Meetings Management), as well as college degrees and certificate programs. Laura Reines, CMP, CTSM, event manager, NCCI Holdings Inc., is the FICP liaison to the Certified Meeting Professional board, which is administered by the Convention Industry Council. She explained that candidates need a minimum of three years as a meeting professional, devoting at least 75 percent of their time to meetings management, in order to apply for the CMP.

The breakout that afternoon on crisis management planning, led by Dave Wiggins, an Anaheim, Calif., police officer, representing the Tourism Security Association, focused on the potential risks to meetings that are far more common — and controllable — than terrorist attacks or hurricanes. They include laptop theft, the newest and most prevalent crime facing travelers. Wiggins advised planners to tell attendees of any and all potential safety problems at a meeting destination, and added that meeting planners have great influence on safety measures through site selection. “Start spending your money where there's a demonstrated effort about safety and security concerns” at your hotel or destination, he said.

On the final morning, Koleen Roach, director of recognition and conference planning, Securian Financial, spoke on the effects of NASD regulations on meetings and events and explained how Securian remodeled its recognition and incentive programs in order to remain within NASD guidelines.

Some attendees stayed on for an afternoon of golf at one of the five courses at Reynolds Plantation.

Next year's meeting will be held at the St. Regis Monarch Beach, Dana Point, Calif., June 20 to 22.