MPI WEC 2021: A Bellwether for the Return of In-Person Events

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Usher and MPI President and CEO Paul Van Deventer opened MPI WEC with a conversation about lessons learned from pandemic — including how to become an effective digital presenter.

Meeting Professionals International’s World Education Congress (MPI WEC 2021) landed in Las Vegas last week a bit smaller in attendance but bigger than ever when it comes to optimism for the post-pandemic return of in-person events.

MPI WEC 2021 also signaled a series of firsts when it came to Las Vegas June 15-17.

It was the first major convention to be held in the 550,000-square-foot CAESARS FORUM conference center, which features the world’s two largest pillarless ballrooms and a 100,000-square-foot outdoor plaza, and was scheduled to open in March 2020 but was delayed by COVID-19. MPI was the first big group to hold an event — the opening reception — at Allegiant Stadium. MPI WEC’s President’s Dinner honoring industry legend Terri Breining was the first big event held at the Virgin Hotel, and the Rendezvous closing celebration was the first large event to make use of The Venetian’s newly redone pool deck.

MPI WEC 2021
Critical next steps panel (left to right): Annette Gregg, MPI; Cleo Battle, Louisville Tourism; Tammy Routh, Marriott; Janet Dell, Freeman; Mike Gamble, Searchwide Global; Stephen Revetria, San Francisco Giants

But the biggest first for MPI WEC 2021? “We’re very excited about having a group that already is the largest industry event since the pandemic,” said MPI President and CEO Paul Van Deventer. While the 1,200-plus people who came to MPI WEC 2021 was a big bump up from the 700 who went to the 2020 show in Grapevine, Texas, postponed from June to November 2020, the number was about half of the 2,500 that the event typically attracted pre-pandemic, Van Deventer said. The event also included a digital track, and as the in-person attendance rose, the digital attendance shrank: approximately 700 attended digitally in 2021, which was down considerably from the 1,200 digital attendees at Grapevine last fall.

MPI WEC 2021
MPI President and CEO Paul Van Deventer and Stephen Revetria, Chair of the MPI International Board of Directors and President, Giants Enterprises discussed the present and future of MPI during a press conference.

Attendance at MPI WEC 2021 may have gotten a boost when on June 1 Nevada eliminated group capacity limits and masking requirements for those who are vaccinated. MPI did retain several health and safety protocols, including daily health attestations via an app, temperature checks, on-site physicians, signage about masking requirements for those who are unvaccinated, three-foot physical distancing, and ribbons indicating an attendees’ comfort level with hugging and handshaking. But the vast majority of attendees went maskless, and the vibe was distinctly pre-pandemic as people greeted colleagues, clients and friends they had only seen via Zoom for the past year and a half.

Another impetus for attendance may have been some star-studded general session speakers, including world entertainment icon Usher, emotional intelligence guru Rich Bracken, and Great Place to Work CEO Michael C. Bush, who brought down the house with his presentation on what makes for a great place to work that is better for business, better for people, and better for the world. Industry superstars also graced the general session stage during panels featuring industry leaders, champions for change, and the “Superwomen of Vegas.” 

Lending a Hand in Pandemic Times

MPI was hit as hard as its members by COVID-19, though a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan is helping it bring back some furloughed employees.

Van Deventer outlined ways in which the pandemic has affected MPI’s membership, and how the association has reached out to help during COVID-19-induced industry  shutdowns, layoffs and furloughs. While MPI did see its membership shrink by 35%, the MPI Foundation provided more than $1 million to help more than 3,100 members, including financing membership renewals for 757 people in need, and underwriting membership fees for 79 newcomers.

While the number of members may have shrunk, the services MPI offered, many for free, grew, said Van Deventer at an MPI WEC 2021 press conference. For example, the MPI Academy made more than 300 courses available at no charge for almost three months. This in turn helped keep the membership engaged. “Our engaged community actually grew, because what we saw were people looking for resources,” said Van Deventer. “I think that will grow and will lead to many of those people who found the association turning into members and more engaged individuals. So, we have these two sides of that. On the downside, we lost [more than] a quarter of our members. I think that was just a function of the loss of jobs and they couldn’t afford to be a part of it. But on the other side, people understood and began to really see the value of the association.”

Future Focus Unveiled at MPI WEC 2021

MPI WEC 2021
MPI unveiled the new logo for its 50th anniversary in 2022.

In keeping with its “Make the Future” theme, MPI made several other announcements at the MPI WEC 2021 conference on how it plans to continue to focus on its long-term strategic goals: to educate, innovate, collaborate, and advocate. Among them:

  • MPI has reupped its strategic partnership with IMEX Group for five more years, including being the official sponsor for IMEX America’s Smart Monday, to be held November 8 as IMEX America comes back in-person at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas after a year on hiatus.
  • The association is launching an initiative to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2022, which will be capped at its WEC in San Francisco.
  • It will be involved with US Travel’s new “Let’s Meet There” campaign to restart business travel and the meetings and events industry.
  • MPI plans to continue providing tools and resources to promote diversity, equity and inclusion vetted by its DEI Committee.
  • It will continue to work with ECPAT-USA to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children and eliminate human trafficking.

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