Tag Archives: Gary Vallen

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AzMPI partners with schools to stress education

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.

Life lessons

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.”

Changing space

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.”

Why Meeting Planning Has Become A Top Career Pick

Planning Big

Why meeting planning has become a top career pick

By David M. Brown

$122.3 billion. That’s what businesses, small and large, spend on meetings and conventions annually. And that’s one great reason why, when choosing their careers, so many young people are choosing meeting planning.


Planning BigEither as independent firms or employees, meeting planners ensure that events, from seminars and incentives to Fortune 500 annual meetings and conventions, are successful for their clients, both tactically (did it run smoothly?) and strategically (did the gathering fulfill corporate goals?). While the perception may be that this is a females-only profession, males are participating in its many facets: administrative; communications; financial; sales; hospitality; audio-visual; staging and production; and long-term visioning. “If you consider the bigger picture, the industry, there are men filling various roles,” says Katherine Christensen, CMP, president and owner of Chandler-based Katherine Christensen & Associates and PRA Destination Management–Arizona. The Certified Meeting Professional, CMP, is an industry certification earned through examination, as well as work and association experience.

“[Students] see the industry as a $120 billion business, and the thought of the myriads of detail necessary to conduct a major event, whether small or large, is challenging for their skills,” says Jim Fausel, CMP, CMM, faculty associate with the School of Community Resources and Development at Arizona State University. There, students pursue one of two elective accredited courses: Meetings and Convention Management and Special Events. Fausel also serves as the director of the Professional Meeting Managers Partnership and, as an independent meeting professional, has led Scottsdale-based The Conference Connection since 1984.

Programs at quality universities such as ASU and Northern Arizona University help students realize that this is a career they never even considered, until they learned what it was all about. “Meetings management is the sleeping giant in academia, and more and more students want to learn how to plan effective meetings,” adds Fausel.

The degree at ASU is a Bachelor of Science and Recreation, with tourism as the section in which meeting management is taught. ASU also offers adult learning courses, he notes: “We target those working in nonprofits, government, associations and corporations who are told to plan and set up a meeting, but don’t have the experience to do so.”

Dr. Gary Vallen, professor, from the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, says the appeal is that meeting planning is a “thrill-a-minute industry.” He asks, “Where else could someone take a leadership role putting on high-end conventions from such diverse topics as a National Home Builders Conference (one of the largest physical show requirements of any in the world) to the world’s largest cocktail and nightclub show?” He adds, “Or put on smaller themed events like a James Bond dinner, or a racecar/Nascar evening for various conference groups?”

His Gary Vallen Hospitality Consultants hosts casino-themed evenings for social purposes or charitable fundraisers. Vallen helped initiate the NAU program in 1988. He teaches Hotel Operations, Casino Gaming Management and Meetings and Events Management, and, during a recent semester sabbatical, developed four courses in meeting, events and expositions management: Meeting Planning; Conventions and Expositions; Festivals and Special Events; and Topics in Meetings and Conventions Management. NAU first offered these courses this spring.

A Business Convention
“Meeting planning as a career is growing more popular in part because of the increasing awareness of our industry,” explains Karla Vogtman, convention services manager for the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“Almost every organization holds some type of meeting. As long as companies meet, the demand for professionals in our industry will continue,” adds Vogtman, an ASU alum.

She, in fact, works with the CVB’s convention sales department to service groups hosting meetings in the Valley. This includes providing housing and registration assistance; developing community awareness; coordinating site inspections and venues; hosting off-site activities; supplying destination and promotional collateral; and providing marketing assistance to convention groups. “In other words, I act as the destination specialist and work as a liaison between members and meeting planners,” she says.

Her path is illustrative of the many opportunities a meeting career offers: She started in the multi-cultural affairs department, moved to the convention sales department and now works with groups in convention services. “A degree in this field requires you to focus on communication, business and a variety of other skills I utilize every day.”

While the popularity of meeting planning as a career is a national trend, tourism’s place as the second largest industry in Arizona is particularly inspiring young people here. “Arizona as a destination is very popular and our seasons are high in the fall. From January through June, when all in our industry work very hard, oftentimes without days off, we do it to serve our visitors,” Christensen notes. As a result, most meeting and convention planning is hospitality-focused in Arizona, although medical, real estate and financial concerns significantly rely on these professionals as well.

In fact, it’s becoming a necessity, she emphasizes. “It’s a profession that is finally being recognized as an industry,” After all, she points out, “People take their taxes to a CPA, as they are schooled and study in that field, or other experts in their fields like attorneys or mechanics. Why would they not have their meeting/event planning needs tended to, by a professional?”

Plan to Associate with Colleagues
Meeting planning has evolved, though, explains LoriAnn K. Harnish, CMP, CMM. “Today’s meeting planners are event and meeting extraordinaires who are far more strategic than tactical,” explains Harnish, noting that Fast Company Magazine has listed the meeting industry as one of the top 20 professions for the next decade. “Yes, they have resources at their fingertips and checklists galore to ensure every detail is not overlooked or forgotten. However, their main focus is being strategic, that is, aligning their meetings objectives with the visions of the organizations they serve.”

Hornish is president of Scottsdale-based Speaking of Meetings, which ensures that a company’s strategic objectives are the components of every meeting and event. The CMM, Certified Meetings Manager, which develops this strategic visioning, requires a five-day, in-residence course and other components.

She is also president-elect of the 460-member, Phoenix-based Arizona Sunbelt Chapter of the Dallas-based Meeting Professionals International, established in 1972. The largest association for the meetings profession, MPI includes 20,000-plus membership in 68 chapters and clubs in the United States, Canada, Europe and other countries. The chapter assists members with networking, education and vocation tools, as well as works with students for internship opportunities.

AZ Business Magazine October November 2006“Our state has had a chapter for more than 25 years, and that tells you how important meeting planning has been for several decades,” explains Christensen, a member since 1993 who has served in various roles, including president. “It isn’t new; it is just perceived as a necessary profession for corporations, associations and organizations to assist in their planning.”

Everyone agrees: For those planning this as a career, plan ahead. “Throughout the country, this background opens the doors to employment,” Fausel says. “Those companies and associations looking for meeting-management assistance usually turn to those individuals with the training and education in the meetings industry to be part of the team.”


Arizona Business Magazine Oct/Nov 2006