WEC 2019: Exclusive Interview With MPI CEO Paul Van Deventer

June 19, 2019

Tyler Davidson sat down with MPI CEO Paul Van Deventer at MPI WEC 2019 in Toronto following the association’s press conference. Van Deventer provided an update on what’s new with the organization and discussed its latest initiatives, including its work to fight against human trafficking.

Following is a transcript of the resulting conversation, which you can also listen to in the embedded audio player below.

Meetings Today Podcast Episode Transcript

Tyler Davidson: Hello and welcome to this Meetings Today Podcast. We’re taping this at MPI WEC 2019 in beautiful Toronto, here with Paul Van Deventer, president and CEO of MPI.

Thanks for joining us Paul.

Paul Van Deventer: Always a pleasure Tyler.

Good to see you, and thanks for being here with us.

Tyler: Oh, thank you very much. And you have some good news to report. [MPI WEC 2019] had its largest attendance in the last 10 years, if I got that right?

Paul: Yes, it’s largest attendance we’ve had at an MPI WEC since we eliminated our tradeshow. We have over 2,600 attendees here and [that number] is still growing every day.

[MPI WEC 2019 Event Recap: Strongest Attendance in 10 Years]

Tyler: That almost goes against some common wisdom if you [hold your event] in an international destination your attendance might dip, so that’s good news for you guys.

Paul: Well, Toronto is an incredible city. But we did have considerations around the challenges of crossing the border and holding a conference around Father’s Day. Two very big challenges.

We have proven that with the right destination, content and communication that you can bring the community together, no matter the circumstances.

Tyler: And those numbers don’t include people you might have brought in from the [Toronto Raptors’] NBA championship parade, right?

Paul: Well then, I guess we’re at 2,002,600… [laughter].

Tyler: We’re going to go with that then. [more laughter].

New Initiatives for MPI in 2019 and Beyond

Tyler: What are some of the major initiatives the association is working on now?

Paul: We’ve got a number of key things going on.

The first is working with the industry overall, with our partners at the destinations to promote the value of what a DMO or CVB brings to the planners.

Most planners aren’t even really aware of the value of a CVB.

We’re working on an advocacy campaign with Destinations International to get that message out to our community and to all the planners in the community.

Another key area we’re working on is how we make a more personalized experience at MPI for the professional. So it’s not seen as a broad homogenous organization, but one where you can personalize your own experience based on the type of planner or professional you are.

Whether your work is primarily focused on medical or financial planning … or the special interest group or focus area that you are very interested in advocating for or networking with.

Whether it’s a women leadership or LGBT organization ... any community you want to be in. It’s about building out training and networking and enabling the connections to occur.

I can join MPI overall—like enrolling in a university—but then I can choose my major.

And I might choose multiple majors. And then I can choose the associations within there—like a sorority/fraternity or an athletic group—all of those sorts of specifics.

I can really build and customize my experience MPI. It’s people’s professional home, and they evolve throughout their careers and they want to join and participate in different communities.

An Update on the MPI Academy Initiative

Tyler: You mention the education part of that and you really detailed some of the successes you’ve had with the MPI Academy as of late. Maybe you can share that with our listeners.

Paul: We built the MPI Academy four years ago to bring a focus to our education overall and to be able to think about it strategically from what does our membership need and what does the market need. The MPI Academy, in that role, has been extremely successful.

What we’ve been able to do is hear from our membership, what are the core issues you need development on and what are the leadership issues you need development on.

We’ve built out curriculums around those. Whether it’s safety and security, whether it is women leadership, whether it’s inclusion and diversity in conferences.

We’ve been building out content, but not doing it on our own.

We've been finding the right partners that are experts in these areas. If you look at diversity and inclusion, we partnered with the New York University School of Hospitality and built that out. And they really assisted us in the program development.

If you look at our CMM program, we partnered with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, because that’s about a business degree in event management.

We’re working with San Diego State on a master’s degree program in event management. The first one in the U.S. to be launched. We’re looking at the right partners, building that curriculum and ensuring that we are delivering back to our membership what’s of value to them.

Tyler: If I heard it correctly, it sounds like the Mexico chapter is the first chapter to be accredited through the MPI Academy and actually delivers education in Spanish?

Paul: Yes. In order to get the best distribution, the best content to our membership at the right pace and speed. We couldn’t do it all ourselves. We look at it from several perspectives.

We listen to our membership and find our where is the content they need. We look for strategic partners to help accelerate it to market. And now we’re working on how we distribute it beyond the traditional MPI channels. We started with face-to-face. We moved heavily into digital and online on-demand courses. And now we’re actually dealing with distribution partners.

Our Mexico chapter is now licensed to distribute our content but translate it into a bilingual format and teach in Spanish.

MPI Expands Further Into the International Arena

Tyler: That really points to a continuing effort you’ve had about expanding MPI into the international arena.

Paul: It has been for many years … the “I” is important. The “International” in Meeting Professionals International. But that focus has really been more North American and European.

And while we’ve had a great base in Europe, we have over 1,200 members in Europe, there’s so much more potential there. I believe we’re underserving a number of countries.

We still have potential in North America. But we’re also asking, how do we increase what we’re doing of value in Europe? How do we increase what we’re doing of value in North America, especially in Canada? How do we grow our influence in South America and Asia?

Those are really exciting [opportunities] for us.

We can’t take our eye off the ball for our core markets. But in those core markets our membership wants to do business in those other regions.

It’s got a really nice, virtuous value for everybody.

MPI Cares and the Fight Against Human Trafficking

Tyler: You also mentioned in the press conference … details about the MPI Cares effort and a hotline that has been set up. It’s quite interesting. Maybe you can inform our listeners?

Paul: The unfortunate reality of life is that terrible things happen on a regular basis. And a number of those we believe (1) we can do something about and (2) unfortunately they actually occur within our industry—whether it’s human trafficking, sexual harassment or discrimination … they are often facilitated and occur throughout the hospitality industry.

We see it as an obligation of MPI and our community to help bring awareness to these issues, prevent these issues and educate others.

We’re approaching these areas from two different places. (1) How do we build the awareness and education so people can correct it and address it? (2) Also for victims in our industry, how do we give them a safe platform where they can address the issues and move them forward?

[Meetings Today Podcast: How Meeting Planners Can FIght Human Trafficking]

What you find is that people just don’t feel like they have a safe place to come forward. MPI created last year [in 2018], what we’re calling MPI Cares.

We’re communicating this across all of our chapters.

Any issue you may confront. Anything you’ve seen or that happened to yourself, at one of our events, within our chapters … you can anonymously reach out and get assistance.

Tyler: And how would people reach out?

Paul: They reach out through a website or phone number that’s published throughout all of our chapter information.

Tyler: And then also … there’s the human trafficking angle.

It sounds like you’re taking a leadership role in the industry to almost act as an umbrella organization to bring all the different associations, organizations and companies within the hospitality industry together to fight human trafficking.

Paul: I think we have … (a) a great platform and then (b) an obligation to use that platform to bring forward some of the biggest social challenges that we have.

Whether that is discrimination or gender equality … and for us … we’ve taken a really strong fight or stand to identify and end human trafficking.

And I don’t think it’s an MPI issue. It’s a human issue.

What we have is the ability to bring that awareness out there and then try to engage all the other associations so we speak as once voice. The best way to educate the tens of millions of people that work in this industry is if all the associations speak in a single voice.

We want to provide the tools, the resources and the platform for everyone.

Taking Risks and Trying New Things at MPI WEC 2019

Tyler: I think this is the second year where you really reshaped the message of WEC to focus on the experiential part of the event industry. How have you advanced that new message?

Paul: It’s important for us to understand our membership—the professional planners—they are really well trained. And they are deep into the execution side of events.

What we’ve been hearing from them for years is how do I get more creative; how do I think differently … how do I take risks … and I’m afraid to take risks.

We started to think about how we can take risks on behalf of our membership.

And get away from the basics of the execution of the event and more into the conceptualization, the imagination and the design of the event.

We’re building that around designing experiences. And [in 2019] we’ve expanded that into connecting people through designing shared experiences.

Planners will walk away from [MPI WEC] with new concepts, new ideas and a fresh way of bringing their content and their learning and events back to their membership.

We are very proud of what’s been going on with MPI … there’s a lot of energy, a lot of momentum and to me, there’s a lot of pride in this community. Our members are proud of who MPI is and what MPI stands for and they are proud to be members.

They’re really proud of this incredible industry.

We feel that MPI has a role here [at WEC and elsewhere] to speak on behalf of the industry and showcase professionalism and help everyone within [the association] grow.

Tyler: Well thank you for joining us Paul, I appreciate it.

Paul: Pleasure, Tyler.

Check out all of our MPI WEC 2019 event coverage in this handy article.

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About the author
Tyler Davidson | Editor, Vice President & Chief Content Director

Tyler Davidson has covered the travel trade for nearly 30 years. In his current role with Meetings Today, Tyler leads the editorial team on its mission to provide the best meetings content in the industry.