MPI’s World Education Congress Inspires Event Professionals to Deliver Enriching and Engaging Event Experiences
As Meeting Professionals International’s (MPI) signature annual North American event, the World Education Congress (WEC) makes a point of taking transparent and calculated risks to showcase how event professionals can deliver premium event experiences while providing them with top-notch education powered by the MPI Academy and business-building networking through its Hosted Buyer program and on-site events. This year’s WEC, held June 13-15 at the Barceló Maya Resort in the Mexican Caribbean, was no exception.
Now in its 27th year, the award-winning event showcased how business learnings and connections can successfully take place in non-traditional settings, creating an event of many “firsts,” including the first WEC held in Mexico, the first large-scale industry event held at an all-inclusive Mexican resort and the first WEC to feature enhanced programming with five general sessions and four keynotes.
This year, WEC attracted nearly 1,500 attendees, including almost 150 virtually. Of the in-person attendees, more than 600 were event planners, and the Latin American community represented more than 100 in total. Additionally, more than 120 planners participated in the event’s popular hosted buyer program, totaling 2,300 appointments spread across 140 suppliers.
“What a fantastic week!” said Paul Van Deventer, MPI president and CEO, during the closing general session. “We’ve had great content, powerful networking and very memorable experiences. It’s been a wonderful time to reconnect, shake hands, hug and celebrate the exciting recovery of our industry with 1,500 of our friends.”
Carrying forward MPI’s WEC mission to “refresh” and “embrace change in an ever-changing industry,” participants took advantage of inspiring general sessions and a plethora of educational sessions over the course of the vibrant three-day event.
“With a first-ever five general sessions, shortened in length, and four dynamic keynotes plus over 100 concurrent sessions, we brought diversity of thought to the forefront,” said Drew Holmgreen, MPI chief brand officer. “And we made certain to take advantage of local talent and resources, utilizing our local chapters and connections to bring Latino representation, especially on the main stage.”
Keynote speakers included:
- Gaby Natale, a global media entrepreneur and owner of the Global Agency, is the first Hispanic woman to win three consecutive daytime EMMYs and the creator of TV shows and documentaries celebrating female empowerment. She inspired the WEC23 audience with her powerful talk: “Utterly Unique You: Breaking Barriers and Redefining Possibility.”
- Elatia Abate, an entrepreneur, futurist and educator who has served as global director of talent acquisition for Anheuser-Busch InBev and vice president of human resources for Dow Jones & Company. At WEC23, she discussed strategies to prepare for the rapid transformation ahead in her talk, “The Future of Now: Three Strategies to Prepare in a Period of Accelerated Change.”
- Hamza Khan, a multi-award-winning marketer, bestselling author and global keynote speaker whose TEDx Talk, “Stop Managing, Start Leading” has been viewed more than two million times. At WEC23, he shared his insights on traversing the road ahead in his keynote, “Human 9000: Navigating the Future of Work with Attunement, Resilience and Creativity.”
- Pauline Nguyen, an inspiring speaker who escaped war-torn Vietnam as a child before building a successful career in Australia, is the co-founder of the world’s most-awarded Vietnamese restaurant and author of “The Way of the Spiritual Entrepreneur.” At WEC23, Nguyen shared her experience and insights in “The Four Essential Ingredients for Evolving Leadership.”
The MPI speaker lineup included President and CEO Paul Van Deventer; Chief Revenue Officer Rachel Benedick; MPI International Board of Directors Chair Cleo Battle, president of Louisville Tourism; and MPI Foundation Global Board of Trustees Chair Jennifer Beatty, director of partnerships for the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, with MPI Chief Brand Officer Drew Holmgreen serving as moderator.
Evening events continued to carry forward the WEC tradition of providing destination-specific activities designed to bring the entire MPI community together in an engaging and enjoyable environment for networking and fun at spectacular local venues. These included an Opening Celebration: Xcaret Mexico Espectacular Show, a President’s Dinner at Hilton Tulum honoring Kitty Ratcliffe and MPI Chapter Presidents and a Closing Celebration: Rendezvous at the Barcelo Maya Riviera beach.
During the event, MPI officials made announcements and provided updates about the organization’s membership, board of directors, DEI initiatives and the MPI Foundation, for which WEC is a key fundraiser. Through the following MPI Foundation activations, WEC23 was able to raise $130,000:
• G3 – fan-friendly golf tournament at Hard Rock Golf Club
• President’s Dinner
• LIVE auction and raffle
• WEC Silent Auction
• Live auction and raffle with more than 75 items.
• Closing Night/RNDZ Celebration
Additionally, more than 50 scholarships were created to help MPI members attend WEC23 through donors including Wyndham Resorts, Simpleview, Visit Dallas and Encore.
Other special events included the celebration of this year’s RISE (Recognizing Industry Success and Excellence) Awards recipients, who were selected for exceptional achievements in the meeting and event industry, and the WEC23 Chapter Challenge, which recognizes the MPI chapters with the highest WEC membership registration percentage by chapter size.
According to MPI officials, WEC continues to be sought out by destinations, as it allows each to showcase its venues and ability to deliver top-notch meetings and events. That’s why in a time of industry resurgence, MPI chose Mexico, a destination that has shown exciting signs of growth. Since 2019, the country’s MPI community has grown by 60% and has welcomed two new chapters (Caribe Mexicano and Colombia) and two new clubs (Argentina and Ecuador).
According to Holmgreen, while the MPI team knew WEC23’s chosen destination would serve as a significant draw, they also realized the location would be a deterrent for some due to international travel challenges, perceptions associated with destination safety and/or the notion that “business” can’t get done in such an environment.
“In many ways, the stars were aligned for a tremendous event, yet, in others, there were cards stacked against us,” Holmgreen said. “We started promoting the event as early as possible, right out the gate when leaving WEC22 San Francisco, to get people excited. Those promotions took advantage of the destination’s allure by bringing in visuals of the beach and accommodations, tying a key branding component between the networking and education to the all-inclusive resort environment.”
He continued, “As the barriers to attending became voiced, we addressed those head-on. For example, when community members expressed safety concerns related to traveling to Mexico, we provided information and speaking points to help allay these concerns. This information was also added to our website for future reference and easy access.”
As the design unfolded, the MPI team further sought opportunities to marry the destination with “business” benefits, ensuring the balance was always leaning toward the aspects of what people expect from the award-winning WEC format, he added. For example, on the supplier side, the MPI team sold out its Hosted Buyer event and added speed networking as an additional value-add.
“Speed networking, a new element to WEC, was an opportunity to bring even more planners to the table, Holmgreen explained. “To create a connection between our nearly 600 planner attendees, we worked closely with our partners on activations in the MPI Marketplace, an activation area where onsite partners could bring innovative ways — the more creativity, the better — to engage and connect.”
He continued, “Our Marketplace serves as a natural gathering place during the show and the more creative we can be, the more people we will attract, which makes for a robust experience for attendees between sessions! We never take attendance for granted and feel it’s our job each and every year to earn their attendance, and that’s a responsibility we take very seriously.”
Additionally, the event offered fun CSR opportunities to give back to the local community, including a pinata-making project at the start of the Hosted Buyer program. Attendees were joined by members of a developmentally disabled community, and the pinatas they made together were then taken by community members to sell and help raise funds for their organization.
“It’s our job to be cutting edge, to be risk takers on [our membership’s] behalf and to be at the forefront of the educational needs of our industry — that’s our goal for each and every WEC,” Benedick said. “Having WEC in Mexico was just another example of trying something new.
She continued, “We brought WEC to Latin America for the first time, hosted at an all-inclusive resort, and we engaged local volunteers from schools and with the help of our host committee. This meant that even more people got to experience WEC outside of our traditional attendees.”
WEC 2024 is set to take place May 21-23 in Louisville, Ky.