Nearly 1,600 attendees gathered at the 20th Annual NEMICE (New England Meetings Industry Conference and Exposition), sponsored by the New England chapter of Meeting Professionals International, at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center on April 13. Some 44 percent of the 850 meeting planners in attendance were corporate meeting planners.

Mark Andrew, chairman-elect and interim CEO of Meeting Professionals International, on a leave of absence as general manager of The Westin Bayshore Resort & Marina, Vancouver, British Columbia, gave a presentation at the general session about the “State of the Industry,” focusing on trends in global meetings management.

Some highlights:

  • The changing business environment is creating more short-term meetings, but despite a recovering economy, “rising costs don’t necessarily mean that corporate profits are up,” said Andrew. He said that higher costs in urban areas mean that tertiary and secondary cities will play a larger role in meetings.
  • Andrew talked a lot about the expected impact of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, WHTI (referred to as "Wheaty"), on the meetings industry beginning next year. WHTI mandates that starting December 31, 2006, all U.S. citizens returning to the United States from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda via air or sea will need to present a valid U.S. passport or other secure travel document to re-enter the United States. For return across a land border, the same rule will go into effect December 31, 2007.

    MPI is preparing for it, said Andrew, by setting up a passport booth at this summer’s World Education Conference in Dallas, because next year’s WEC is in Montreal, Quebec. Andrew added that, “37 percent of American employees have a passport,” and that half of all members of associations have passports.

  • Andrew called the current seller’s market a “partners’ market,” and said that although hotel general managers are “always concerned with the bottom line, we all need to focus on the return on objectives.” He added that suppliers need to understand that this is “not a short-term marketplace,” intimating that if hotels want to work with planners in good times and bad, hotels should not be solely focused on driving profits.
  • Andrew, referencing the goals of MPI’s strategic plan, said that “meeting planners will be more well-known in five years.” He compared the profession to “personnel” of old (now human resources) and “purchasing” (now procurement), both of which have “seats at the table.”

After the general session, Andrew and MPI New England Chapter President Judy Wesson, director of national accounts, Samoset Resort, Rockport, Maine, joined Starwood officials for the official “breaking through” ceremony for the skywalk connection from the new Westin Boston Waterfront to the BCEC. The 793-room hotel is scheduled to open on June 21, 2006.