Transparency and insight: MPI Town Hall

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Transparency and insight: MPI Town Hall

By Michael Pinchera | Jun 22, 2022

Paul Van Deventer, President and CEO of MPI, began the annual MPI Town Hall by going over the association’s ongoing strategic pillars and the latest financials, highlighting how this year is expected to be the first positive EBIDTA (without government loans or grants) since 2019. That development, he said, is more positive than he’d initially thought two years ago.

“Back then, we just wanted MPI to survive the pandemic, then we’d build back,” he said.

Because the association lost so many suppliers due to layoffs, etc. during the pandemic, MPI membership is now almost evenly a planner-supplier split. That’s viewed by many as a positive outgrowth. Still, Van Deventer says, the long-term sustainability of MPI remains the top priority.

Bonnie Carlson, president and CEO of the Bloomington (Minn.) CVB and chair of MPI’s International Board of Directors, opened with some remarks on the state of the industry as she’s seen plenty of variation over her 36 years of membership, but wanted to give one shout out.

“Yesterday, our keynote speaker mentioned making people feel famous,” she said, noting that what MPI did with the Walk of Fame onsite at WEC really goes far to recognize members of the community.

With his introductory words, Gary Schirmacher, CEO of Total Hospitality Industry Solutions and chair of the MPI Global Board of Trustees, highlighted some of the initiatives of the MPI Foundation, from the limited-edition pins to scholarships helping Ukrainian students in Poland.

Co-moderators Pawntra Shadab, Shannon Jones—Member of the Year RISE Award recipients this year—read off the top-voted questions submitted via Slido by in-person and remote participants. Here’s a rundown of some of the most important parts of that discussion.

Why aren’t all MPI chapter operations representatives at WEC and what happened to the Chapter Leader Forum?

Van Deventer said a main cause was just prudent financial realities.

“The feedback we got for many years is that it was redundant with the Chapter Business Summit (CBS),” and professionals struggled to attend both, he said. “With the pandemic, the CBS went virtual, but we may be revisiting that.”

What is the focus of MPI over the next couple of years?

Carlson explained that financial stability, strategic pillars and streamlining processes in the current business landscape are key.

“We’re looking at how we can create a broader community,” to broaden the impact and scope of our community, Van Deventer added.

What are your concerns for chapters in the face of possible recession? What is MPI doing to prepare for that?

“We’re looking at how to future-proof MPI. We’re being very prudent with our overall financial management, protecting the reserves that we now have…looking at different revenue streams," Van Deventer said. "If we can maintain the financial base we have, we can continue to support the chapters and community.”

How can we get more students involved in our chapters?

“That’s a core question and a core goal about everything that we’re doing," Van Deventer said. "Hospitality and business events have never really been viewed as one of those careers that students talk about in high school. We have to start by telling the incredible story of hospitality and, specifically, business events—what can happen in this career.”

If students want to focus on accounting or technology, there are plenty of options within the meeting industry—we just need to get those stories across," he said.

“Students are our future. That needs to be a top priority.”

Despite changing the name 30 years ago there continues to be a split between planners and suppliers. How can we be partners instead of just revenue?

Carlson: “I think that’s happening now. The pandemic was a real reset—everyone really learned to appreciate everybody else [in the industry]. I think it’s a mindset change.”

Schirmacher: “The hosted buyer program we have has grown and remains very popular, so there is that desire to actually invest more to have more focused conversations with planners and collaborate to ensure planner and supplier member success.”

Van Deventer: “At the end of the day, there’s a symbiotic relationship between planners and suppliers,” even though a lot is funded by our supplier partners. “We need to ensure those partners are getting value back in exchange for those investments,” and what that helps fund attracts planners. “We’re always looking at the balance and trying to figure it out.” He adds that member pricing changes are continuously being investigated.

Is MPI looking into organizing another economic impact study?

Van Deventer: “MPI did some of the earliest national economic impact studies [for this industry], then we focused more on the global economic impact study,” for that, he said, MPI has supported the Events Industry Council’s work in this realm.

In closing, Shannon Jones thanked the assembled members and association leaders for speaking so openly.

This is the reason we’re all here, Jones said.



Michael Pinchera

Michael Pinchera, MPI's managing editor, is an award-winning writer and editor as well as a speaker, technologist and contributor to business, academic and pop culture publications since 1997.