Tag Archives: PRA Destination Management

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.”

www.kc-a.com
www.asu.edu
www.nau.edu
www.conferenceconnection.org
www.visitphoenix.com

Arizona Business Magazine Oct/Nov 2006

busy tomorrow for Meeting Planners

Meeting Planners an Industry On A Roll

Meeting planners an industry on a roll

Only a few years ago, professional meeting planners in Arizona were struggling through a post-9/ll slump in business. Those days are now history. But don’t get the impression meeting planners are breathing a sigh of relief. Members of the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter of Meeting Professionals International are much too busy for that. The number of meetings and events in Arizona is in a sharp rebound as the state’s economy hums along again and planners who once had nothing but time on their hands, can’t get enough of it today.

“It’s such a turnaround from three years ago,” says Bonnie Brant, national sales manager for Doubletree Guest Suites Phoenix near Sky Harbor International Airport. “We’re so busy and it’s a nice kind of busy. People are traveling again, rooms are filled, planners have a broader selection of events and venues. It’s great.” Brant, a chapter board member and 2006 Mentor of the Year, says the Doubletree steadily booked meetings and events all summer.

Michael Barnhart, CMP, a chapter member and national sales manager for Pointe South Mountain Resort in south Phoenix, is happy to be scrambling again. “The economy is definitely back and it’s nice to have demand again. I like being busy. It beats the alternative.” Planners say that business from associations remained steady during the lean years while corporate meetings nosedived. Now corporate business is back and planners are helping with incentive meetings for top producers, sales meetings, new product launches, board retreats and departmental brainstorm sessions. Because of its proximity to the airport, the Doubletree’s weekends are devoted primarily to military reunions for veterans who served in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Gulf War.

Some resorts and hotelsMichael Barnhart - meeting planners are funneling money back into their properties to attract more visitors. For example, Brant says the Doubletree refurbished all public areas in 2004 and also enhanced its meeting space, installing new lighting and soundproofing and softening the colors. “Repeat business is key and if you’re not providing renovations and high-tech features and good service, you are not going to be one of the ballplayers,” she says. But the good times also bring challenges. Planners are coming to grips with a time crunch they call compression. Clients struggle with their own lack of time and that trickles down to planners who now have a substantially tighter turnaround to do their jobs compared to previous years. “Usually, what we planned a year out, we are now planning 90 days out,” says Katherine Christensen, CMP, president and owner of Katherine Christensen & Associates and PRA Destination Management in Chandler. Sometimes, there is virtually no lead time, says Christensen, a past chapter president. “They call on Tuesday, asking me to plan an event for Friday.”

Planners who book hotel rooms are bumping up against higher rates as fewer rooms are available and the law of supply and demand flexes its muscle. Christensen sees it as a seller’s market in which booking terms are less negotiable. Part of the problem is that three major Valley resorts–Marriott Mountain Shadows, Doubletree La Posada and Radisson Scottsdale–closed in 2004 and 2005, Barnhart says. “Supply has dipped,” he notes. “With the economy coming back, we’ve got that pent-up demand from corporate America. Their national and regional meetings are in full force. Rates have gone up as much as 10 percent for February through March. Rates are just now getting back to where they were before 9/11.” Meeting planners at one Scottsdale corporation face the same problems with rates and space availability as they organize 60 to 80 events a year for their company. Courtney Aguilar and Shannon Urfer, each a marketing manager of events at eFunds Corporation and chapter member, say their greatest challenge is getting executives to understand that rates are higher and that space is hard to come by. Urfer, who serves on the chapter’s membership, fund-raising and holiday party committees, says from her experience, rates have climbed 20 to 30 percent over the past few years. “When we started looking for the 2007 location for our annual global sales kickoff, almost all the properties we looked at were sold out,” Aguilar says. “We booked both our 2007 and 2008 kickoffs in February of this year.”

Christensen has noticed a significant change in the kind of corporate people her company works with. Increasingly, she works more with procurement departments and less with internal event planners. The bottom line has become more important than the relationship, she says. “The deliverability of our services has not changed,” Christensen says. “What has changed is how we prepare our proposals and that is becoming more line-itemed. That’s fine, but as they pick apart the event to save money, they pick apart the ambience. We will do all that. Just don’t come back to me and say this is not what I originally described in my proposal.”

But since it’s better to be busy than not, planners are taking it all in stride. Christensen attended a MPI retreat over the summer and the busy times was a topic of discussion. “No one really has an answer as to how they are doing it; they’re just doing it,” she says. “We are all glad to see the business.”

Urfer sees meeting and event planners taking on an increasingly important role in the years ahead. “Meeting planners will become more integral and valued as people look to them not as order takers, but as someone who can provide direction,” she says. Brant believes the profession will have a bright future in metropolitan Phoenix. “We’ve got a new convention center coming in. Light rail is coming in. We will have the Super Bowl in 2008. It’s just a great place to be a meeting and event planner.”

www.azmpi.org
www.webeventplanner.com/doubletreeguestsuitesphoenix
www.efunds.com
www.kc-a.com
www.pra.com
www.arizonagrandresort.com

ABOUT MPI
Established in 1972, Meeting Professionals International (MPI) is the largest association for the meetings profession with more than 20,000 members in 68 chapters and clubs across the USA, Canada, Europe and other countries throughout the world. As the global authority and resource for the $122.3 billion meetings and events industry, MPI empowers meeting professionals to increase their strategic organizational value through education and networking opportunities. Its strategic plan, Pathways to Excellence, is designed to elevate the role of meetings in business via: creating professional development levels to evolve member careers to positions of strategic understanding and influence; influencing executives about the value of meetings; and ensuring MPI is the premier marketplace for planners and suppliers. More information can be found by going to www.mpiweb.org. Active since 1979, the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter is MPI’s 15th largest chapter in the world. The organization is comprised of over 460 members throughout the state of Arizona, representing a mix of corporate, association and independent planners as well as suppliers who provide a variety of products and/or services to the meeting and hospitality industry.The local chapter offers its members educational, networking, community volunteer, industry certification and professional growth opportunities throughout the year. For more information, contact Executive Director, Joanne Winter, at (602) 277-1494 or visit the chapter website at www.azmpi.org for up-to-date information on events and programs.

Arizona Business Magazine Oct/Nov 2006