Today’s students need to hit the ground running.
“One of the fascinating things I share with my classes every semester is how important the bachelor’s degree is to employment,” said Gary Vallen, a professor in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Northern Arizona University. “Studies performed by the industry demonstrate the same fact; well over 80 percent of today’s executives hold at least a bachelor’s degree. While it is your skill and motivation that keeps your job and moves you up the ladder, it is the college degree which gets your foot in the door.”
That’s never been more true in the meetings and events industry than it is today. Recognizing that today’s students will evolve into tomorrow’s leaders, the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter of Meeting Professionals International (AzMPI) is partnering with the state’s universities to demonstrate the importance of education and training for the future of the industry. AzMPI has even launched clubs at Arizona State University and NAU.
The industry impact from the collaboration is undeniable.
“I gained insight and knowledge from (college) professors who had been in the hospitality industry for years,” said Deliah Rose, who went through NAU’s Hotel and Restaurant Management Program and is now director of hotel sales and marketing at Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino. “I loved the idea that I was learning from people who had been on the front line, not just from a book.”
Rose said college level training also exposes students to different aspects of the hospitality industry to help them determine what they enjoy most.
“Classes included everything from guest service to tourism, accounting to housekeeping,” Rose said. “We were also required to have real world experience before graduation.”
At NAU, Vallen said the meetings and events management course helps students become involved with more than 25 separate events in just 16 weeks.
Experts say today’s college classes and hands-on experience prepare prospective meeting and event planners for those “real-life” scenarios they will encounter in the industry.
“This structured education assists in providing the basis for effective and efficient decision-making as they understand meeting management concepts as well as the related business applications,” said Michelle Fulcher, CMP, manager at Discovery Treks who also teaches at ASU. “Such training better ensures a less experienced meeting professional can communicate and understand client and attendee needs.”
Fulcher said practical experience through internships and industry jobs while in school is also necessary to gain confidence, teamwork skills and understand how the industry’s individuals work in tandem.
A quick glance at NAU’s core curriculum — featuring classes in convention sales, hotel operations, restaurant and kitchen management, accounting, facilities management, sustainability, information technology, law, group sales and revenue management — shows how well-rounded the education is for professionals coming out of Arizona’s universities.
“Our curriculum is constantly evolving,” Vallen said. “The core and elective classes are mostly new for this decade. We were not offering these classes in meetings, events and catering 10 years ago.”
Raising the profile
Experts said a lot has changed in the meeting management industry that makes the profession a more compelling field of study for students.
“In the past, the U.S. Department of Labor classified meeting professionals as a subgroup of hospitality and tourism with lodging managers and restaurateurs,” said Christina Tzavellas, CMP, who works with partnership development and sales for the International Association of Exhibitions and Events. “For the first time, the meeting and event professionals are being recognized by the Department of Labor as a standalone sector. Their decision was based upon review of the Meeting and Business Event Competency Standards, the CMP (Certified Meeting Professional) Standards, and the CEM (Certified in Exhibition Management) blueprint to document the body of knowledge required by event professionals.”
Add the higher profile for professionals in the industry with demand for new talent and you have a very attractive profession. Between 2010 and 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 44 percent job growth in the meetings, conventions and events industry, which makes it an even more attractive career option.
“Despite online communication, there is a globalized increase of companies recognizing the importance of meetings and events in forging business relationships with the power of face-to-face dialogue and a handshake,” Tzavellas said. “Meetings are critical to financial systems, delivering more than $5 billion into the U.S. economy each year. The Phoenix Convention Center contributes nearly $1 million in estimated spending each day.”
While meetings and events are seeing a resurgence after the recession, the industry has become far more competitive.
“There’s a huge market potential to any organization involved in group business,” Vallen said. “As such, they’re all involved. For example, even the lowest-priced lodging operations compete for small group business. Today’s executives need to understand the economics of group business and be able to quote events which are both attractive (competitively priced) and profitable.”
To prepare students for a changing marketplace, Tzavellas said colleges and universities will be challenged to create multi-level meeting professionalism programs, including undergraduate degrees in meeting professionalism and graduate degrees with industry specialties, such as hotel management, public relations, communications, marketing or business. Tzavellas said some school systems have even introduced meeting professionalism at the high school level.
Vallen said he expect to see technology transform meeting management education in the next decade.
“While we have yet to see the explosion of online meetings, it is only a matter of time,” Vallen said. “While nothing will ever replace face-to-face events, the costs of attending keep rising. Online meetings will continue to slice a bigger portion of the pie.”
Vallen also talks to students about the potential impact of proprietary conferences and events.
“If I were a new graduate, I’d risk it all and develop a new conference — think National Association of Home Builders or Consumer Electronics Show, privately owned conventions which have made their owners literally billions of dollars.”
Whatever the future of the industry may bring, leaders of AzMPI said nurturing relationships with colleges and universities positions the industry to have an even greater economic impact in Arizona.
“That is our next generation coming,” said Penny Allphin, current president of AzMPI. “Grand Canyon University is now opening a hospitality course. ASU, Scottsdale Community College and NAU all have great programs that are boosting our industry. There are more people in the hospitality industry than ever. It runs America. When we meet, we change the world. Education is knowledge. When you can become better and more proficient in your profession, it makes you better. And it’s making our industry stronger.”