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April 17, 2008

Inaugural MPI Conference makes its mark

The first Gulf Meetings and Events Conference exceeds expectations

More than 175 local and international meeting and event professionals attended the first-ever Gulf Meetings and Events Conference on 5-6 April 2008 at the brand-new InterContinental Hotel Dubai Festival City.

The event is part of MPI's vision to build a rich global meetings and events community and delivered a unique programme of education, professional development and networking to the region.

Speaking to meetme, Bruce MacMillan, president and CEO, Meeting Professionals International (MPI) said, "The conference has exceeded our expectations. For a first time event, we were hoping for 150 attendees, which is consistent with what we did for our first European Conference, but we had 175 delegates.

"We have also exceeded our expectations in terms of the quality and richness of the engagement - where in some of the sessions we have had some very provocative questions being asked by the audience. This was not a basic conference - instead, this was a sophisticated audience asking questions very pertinent to the industry in this region."

The success of the event is also reflected in the fact that it was a truly global conference with over 20 nationalities represented.

Commenting on the reaction of the international delegates, MacMillan said, "For a lot of people, this has been a first-time experience of the Middle East and they didn't know what to expect - but they have undoubtedly been impressed, both by the modernity as well as the multiculturalism of Dubai."

"The North American audience have commented on the speed of development here which is a lot faster than in the US. Though there are trade-offs on some aspects, the 'wow' factor is definitely there, especially with developments such as Atlantis, The Palm and the Burj Dubai. It was especially evident when they visited the desert - they were blown away by the contrast and realise the short time it has taken to get from being a sandy patch to what it is today," he added.

The Gulf Meetings and Events Conference is seen as a first step towards MPI's potential plans of establishing an office in this region. "It's clearly what needs to happen here and from the feedback that we are receiving about how MPI can play an increasing role in the region. But before we open an office in the region, we need to figure out our role - whether it will be a chapter or as an influencing partnership," said MacMillan.

"We could play an increasing role in what the community wants and to co-create with them - for example, by collaborating with the Emirates Academy in the certification programme or help in fine tuning the content of their curriculum. It is a lot easier to build structures than it is to build a profession or nurture talent and that's a role we can help in."

MPI partnered with Reed Travel Exhibitions to field this inaugural educational event and all professionals interested in conducting business in emerging global marketplaces, have been able to combine the conference - an important opportunity to build new relationships - with GIBTM, the ideal place to conduct business.

"Not everybody who comes here for the first time is going to bring an event to this region in the near future. It is a process that will take a couple of years and involves relation-building. I know of a number of people who are doing site inspections and have come to meeting the regional representatives of global corporations," said MacMillan.

Responding to challenges faced towards establishing a chapter in the region, MacMillan says, "Setting up a chapter in the classic sense means having volunteers to manage the chapter - we have to understand whether people here are ready for that - not from a competence point of view, but simply because people lead very busy lifestyles.

"So what we would like to do is a pro-creation session like in Singapore or in the UK when we design our conferences there. We need to pinpoint the best way we can serve this community - clearly the issue of 'war of talent' is a serious one - so, will this be best served by establishing a chapter or through a partnership with the Government of Dubai and Emirates Academy to help training programmes, so people can get CMP certifications? I am not sure that the chapter is the best way ahead," he added.

Echoing the views of industry leaders in the difficulty faced in identifying the meeting planner, Macmillan says, "I think this is a sign of a juvenile or an immature industry. MPI can help define what this role is and our CMP certification would set parameters of what a meeting planner does. A similar scenario exists in Asia where the travel agents are now migrating to be meeting planners and so the need for certification and training in Asia is more acute."

MPI enjoys a membership base of over 23,000, most of which is in the US. Europe features 2,000 members and are close to a similar membership in Canada.

Commenting on the membership from this region, Macmillan said, "At the moment we have less than 50 members in this region. That's because we never really pushed it. It is presumptuous to say that we will build membership as we don't still completely understand the needs of this region. I believe that we need to understand the needs and then build on the membership instead of the other way round."

In the Asian market MPI has announced a conference in Singapore in partnership with Messe Berlin right after ITB in October 2008. They are also engaged in conversations in China in terms of how MPI can support the post-Olympic growth as a global convention facility.

The Gulf Meetings and Incentives conference is a roving conference and will move to another destination in the region for 2009 (venue not confirmed at the time of printing). "We are not restricted to the UAE; we have made a long-term commitment to the region. Having 175 delegates for the first event is a good measure of the success, though I would like to add that it's not just about numbers - the educational value of the sessions and the involvement of the delegates is a true measure of success," MacMillan concluded.

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