MPI World Education Congress Demonstrates the Power of Face-to-Face Meetings

June 21, 2021
MPI World Education Congress Demonstrates the Power of Face-to-Face Meetings

More than 1,200 event professionals gathered at MPI’s World Education Congress at CAESARS FORUM last week, the largest in-person industry event so far this year. While attendance was about half of pre-pandemic levels, the large showing is another shot in the arm for an industry recovering from essentially a lost year of business.

A hybrid event, WEC placed an emphasis on safety in bringing together 1,229 people in Las Vegas and attracted another 568 remote attendees. Content reflected the state of the industry, pointing toward ways to hold events responsibly while confronting social issues that reinforce the need for greater diversity and inclusion. Among the highlights of the three-day event were a question and answer session between MPI President and CEO Paul Van Deventer and music star Usher, and a panel featuring women executives leading prominent organizations.

Timing worked out well for the event, which occurred two weeks after Nevada lifted all COVID-19 restrictions. While MPI maintained what it referred to as “duty-of-care” procedures, it was able to set a number of firsts:

  • First large-scale event at CAESARS FORUM
  • First large-scale industry event held at Allegiant Stadium (Opening Night Celebration)
  • First large-scale event held at the Virgin Hotels Las Vegas (President’s Dinner honoring Terri Breining)
  • First large-scale event held at the Venetian Pool Deck (Rendezvous Closing Night Celebration benefiting the MPI Foundation).

Vaccinated attendees were not required to wear masks, and the bulk of the audience identified themselves as ready to forgo social distancing, and acted accordingly.

MPI World Education Congress 20201“This show has been well received by everyone — it’s truly a love fest,” reported Destination DC President and CEO Elliott Feguson on a LinkedIn post, noting this was his first industry show since January 2020. “When people question if in-person events will return, this has been evidence of the importance of convening live. Nothing compares.”

MPI was among the few industry organizations, along with Connect, to host an in-person event in 2020. About 700 attended WEC in Grapevine. Meanwhile, PCMA Convening Leaders adopted a hub-and-spoke hybrid model that was primarily virtual and IMEX was forced to cancel its annual Spring European event. IMEX is moving ahead with its Las Vegas show in November. Connect, which hosted 750 event professionals at a collocated event with BizBash May 24-26 at Red Rock Casino Casino Resort & Spa, is aiming for more than 3,000 Aug. 30-Sept. 1 in Tampa, Florida.

Yet with the seeming return to normal, WEC took on a greater purpose. It occurred as statistics bear out that business travel is not coming back as quickly as hoped (evidenced by MPI’s smaller attendance). Industry shows bringing together trade show organizers and meeting planners with destination representatives and venue operators will be important in spurring new events that should help fill many of the still vacant hospitality industry jobs and further resuscitating the U.S. and global economy.

Angie Ahrens, senior manager of global events at Infor, said she could feel the difference being among her peers again. “Connecting with friends and meeting new colleagues was my priority in coming to Las Vegas,” said Ahrens. “I value hybrid yet it was incredible to be with everyone.”

MPI will mark its 50th anniversary at next year’s WEC, to be held in San Francisco, June 21-23.

Photo Credit: Soliman Productions


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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.