Acknowledging that the meetings industry has not always been its own best advocate, Meeting Professional International’s incoming chairman said a priority for the organization is to take a more aggressive stance on the value of meetings.
“Meetings are all about generating more customers and more sales and opening up markets.” Kevin Hinton told Travel Market Report. “We have to communicate that within our own organizations so that we’re appreciated for leading those efforts. And we have to be positive rather than being on the defensive.”
With the World Education Conference (WEC) of Meeting Professionals International just around the corner (July 28-31 in St. Louis), change is in the air for the organization. Bruce MacMillan, who served as CEO for six years, has left MPI; and Hinton is about to start his one-year term as the organization’s chairman.
Hinton, who is executive vice president of Associated Luxury Hotels International, a representation and marketing company for luxury hotels, spoke with Travel Market Report about MPI’s upcoming conference, the future of the association, and issues important to planners.
What’s the immediate situation with Bruce MacMillan’s departure?
Hinton: We have great leadership in place and will continue to operate as normal. We hired a COO earlier this year, Cindy D’Aoust, and she will serve as interim CEO. She has brought a great deal of stability to the organization from a day-to-day standpoint and we feel very confident we can put on an extraordinary conference and continue to do what we need to do to provide value for members.
What will you be looking for in the next CEO?
Hinton: We want someone who can continue much of what we already have put in place. We don’t see a major change in direction. We have invested a great deal in content and being able to help planners to do their jobs.
We’re looking for somebody who understands the meetings industry and who can help communicate externally the value of meetings and the role they play in society. When people want to solve a problem, they get together. We have not always done the best job of communicating the importance of meetings.
Does that mean the new CEO should come out of the meetings industry?
Hinton: I think it’s important that the CEO would be able to have a conversation with any member and understand what their roles are and what they face each day. They also need to understand the critical importance of our local chapters.
Can attendees expect any big changes in this year’s World Education Conference?
Hinton: We have made an effort to reduce the number of sessions so that we can attract an even better caliber of speaker. We still want a broad array of content, but the emphasis is on quality rather than quantity. Based on the feedback from previous years’ attendees, we want to focus on the experience of attendees, and we realized that having so many sessions could sometimes be difficult to navigate.
Will there be anything totally new at this year’s WEC?
Hinton: We have partnered with the Event Marketing Institute for an all-day session on Tuesday. The focus is on the growing importance of face-to-face marketing, as in consumer trade shows. It is part of the conference but you have to sign up to attend. That is something that’s been in the works for a while.
That partnership with EMI is one example of our plans to partner with other organizations. We don’t claim to have all the knowledge our members need, so we will partner with other organizations whenever we can.
What do you see as the mission of WEC?
Hinton: At MPI, whether you’re a member of the Chicago chapter or the Netherlands chapter – or on the corporate staff – we are all part of one community, and WEC is the biggest opportunity to enhance that ideal.
What are the biggest challenges facing meeting planners today?
Hinton: We may laugh about it among ourselves, but the fact is that frequently our relatives don’t know what we do. But that is just a symptom of the problem. We want people to understand the work we’re doing.
We have done economic impact studies in five countries to show how important we are. The meeting industry in this country is larger than the auto industry. We have to advocate for ourselves individually and together. . . . And we have to be positive rather than being on the defensive as we have been on some recent issues.
Does that mean issues like this spring’s GSA meeting scandal?
Hinton: Yes. We have done a letter-writing campaign around GSA, but we can’t always be on the defensive in those kinds of situations. Sometimes our positive message gets lost when we’re dealing with something like a muffin-gate. (Editor’s note: Muffin-gate refers to a headline-generating report last year that a government agency had overspent on breakfast at meeting; the widely reported accusations were later debunked.)
How will your background as an executive at Associated Luxury Hotels International bear on your tenure as chairman of MPI?
Hinton: My role at ALHI is to lead our global development, and we now have hotels in 17 destinations outside the U.S. We are all part of a global industry even if most of our members’ experience is local. When you meet somebody from a different country, it presents an opportunity to appreciate their differences, and that’s what we need. Our organizations all need to be more global, because our clients are being challenged to do so as well.