|By Mike Gorrell, The Salt Lake
TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jul. 16--The people who organize meetings for a living left Salt Lake City on Wednesday satisfied with the way their meeting was run here.
"It was one of the smoothest World Education Congresses we've had in a long time, just the normal little glitches here and there," said Jeffrey Busch, vice president of strategic communications for Meeting Professionals International (MPI), the trade group for nearly 24,000 individuals worldwide involved in every aspect of staging meetings and events for companies and professional groups.
That efficiency could pay future dividends for the Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) and its hospitality industry partners. Many of the 2,400 visiting MPI members will play key roles in determining where their organizations go for future conferences and meetings.
"We can absolutely quantify the direct economic impact from the stay of delegates for the MPI event at over $2 million," said CVB President and CEO Scott Beck.
"But the long-term exposure of hosting MPI is where the real impact is going to be felt. This group is to the meeting industry what the 2002 Winter Olympics were to [Utah's] winter sports industry."
MPI selected Salt Lake City because Utah was new to many organization members, the city was affordable and the mountains provided a beautiful summer backdrop.
"We look for a city to host this convention that has passion and creativity," said Vicki Hawarden, MPI's vice president of special
events. "We chose Salt Lake because it was hospitable and creative."
For example, the CVB staged Saturday night's opening ceremony in Library Square, entertaining visitors with Project Bandaloops and the Salt Lake Jazz Festival. Tuesday's closing ceremony was at Red Butte Garden, with rock band Smash Mouth providing the show. Park City was the scene of a party in between.
But even more than in past years, MPI's emphasis in recession-battered 2009 was on business. Nobody knows better than meeting planners that corporate meetings have taken a big hit since the financial collapse. Strategic thinking and execution must be employed to prove to skeptics that meetings are critical to business success and not just a fun-filled extravagance.
"The economy is going through a shift," Busch said. "It is shifting from crisis mode to recovery mode. Everybody had a positive attitude in wanting to move forward and to return to their places of business to educate people that events and meetings, more often than not, positively impact the bottom line.
"Hopefully, from the contents of our meeting, people are smarter and have more information to make their cases. That you have to get people together, in a face-to-face manner where they can generate ideas, collaborate and learn collectively to help move their business forward," he added.
Although this year's number of attendees was down from previous years, reflecting the very type of cutback MPI is trying to overcome, Busch found a silver lining in the smaller total.
"The overall quality, from top to bottom, was better," he said. "These were the people who really needed to connect with their colleagues. They wanted to learn."
And CVB officials wanted them to learn more about Salt Lake City and what it offers.
"If the leading organization in this industry says our city is good enough for its international meeting," Beck said, "then it also is good enough for any group planning its next large meeting."
MPI, past and future
The Salt Lake City meeting was sandwiched between sessions in Las Vegas (2008) and Vancouver, B.C. (2010).
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