Around the world in a single day – MM&E’s Spring Expo a Global success
By Michael Humphrey
Hundreds of meeting planners, exhibitors and special guests went on a journey around the world March 15. And all it took was a stop in St. Charles, Missouri. “Local Focus … Global Impact,” the 2006 St. Louis Regional Expo hosted by Missouri Meetings & Events, turned the St. Charles Convention Center into an inter-national marketplace.
“We wanted to give meeting planners a sense of just how global their vision can be, right here in the Midwest,” says MM&E publisher Joe Clote. “This Expo was about expanding our expectations, so we can use all of the resources available to make a greater local impact.”
So the theme was decidedly international, with each exhibitor representing a United Nations delegate and food from all corners of the globe, but this was far from worldwide window dressing. The expo delivered on global topics (international meeting planning, global diversity, airline travel and hosting a cruise event) as well as local (Meetings and Events 101, exhibiting strategies, meeting production and attitude evaluation.)
And the confluence of theme and execution proved to be a success.
“Everything was great,” says Becky Sherwood, travel and hotel coordinator for Joyce Meyer Ministries. “The speakers and especially the educational seminars were very helpful.”
It was clear that substance would follow form when Dr. Benjamin Ola Akande, dean of the School of Business and Technology at Webster University, gave his keynote speech at the Opening General Assembly. Akande said to be competitive in the global market, individuals have to create a unique sense of identity.
“What I have seen in recent times is that we are all trying to be copies,” said Akande, a consultant to Fortune 500 companies as well as the United Nations and World Bank. “And by trying to be copies, we are losing our competitive advantage, we are losing our selling point, we are losing those things that make us unique.”
Akande, a Nigerian-born U.S. citizen, says meeting planners must create an atmosphere of intimacy, one that makes anyone from around the world feel like they belong in that place at that time.
Clients must “really get the experience of where they are,” Akande said, “and therefore want to come back and talk to others about (that experience).”
A world of education
Akande sent the delegates off to a full day of learning and networking, whether the attendees were new to planning or well-travelled.
As usual, “The Basics: Meetings and Events 101” drew big crowds and rave reviews. Maria Shoemaker, CMP, of MAC Meetings and Events dug into the most fundamental aspects of the industry, from site selection and housing to negotiating and scheduling.
“Meetings 101 reaffirmed some of what I already knew, but I did pick up some pointers that were very helpful,” says first-time Expo attendee Pat Jones, a human resources manager for the United States Post Office in St. Louis. “My meetings are on a smaller scale, mainly in-house, and this sparked my interest to learn more.”
Jones also took some time for personal development with the seminar “The Energy of Attitude” conducted by Darla Arni, of Sharing Creative Energy! Arni showed delegates how their attitude affects every aspect of their lives and how to gain more energy by choosing the right outlook.
Joyce Meyer Ministries’ Sherwood went for the more specific breakout sessions, such as “Meeting on the Seas.” Richard Weinstein of Carnival Cruise Lines facilitated a panel discussion on the ebbs and flows of using cruise ships as a venue. He was joined by Tanya Barnette of Seabourne, Ron Gulaskey of Celebrity and Claudia Sayles of Windstar.
“It was really great,” Sherwood said. “We met a lot of contacts that we’re going to actually meet with and do business with.”
Sherwood, who helps plan events for up to 10,000 participants, also attended “Up, Up and Away,” a panel discussion facilitated by Brian Kinsey of Lambert–St. Louis International Airport.
Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge of American Airlines, Laura William of Frontier Airlines and Jane McAtee of Southwest Airlines rounded out the discussion of managing air travel for big and small groups.
But an MM&E Expo would only be partially successful if education were the sole outcome. Meeting people – potential clients, customers, coworkers and colleagues – is the other hemisphere that the Expo explored.
“The best part of this is making new contacts,” Sherwood says. “Getting more face-to-face information about different cities and venues is something we wouldn’t get to do otherwise.”
Exhibitors promised adventures for planners by many means. Resorts, hotels and spas, transportation companies, cities and regions, event spaces and suppliers all gathered under one roof to create a small world for planners on the lookout for new resources.
A “passport” encouraged the planners to discover as much as they could. Each booth represented a country and provided a stamp that proved the planner was a true world traveler. Once the passport was full, the planner entered a drawing for some truly grand prizes.
“I think having the passport was a really great way to get planners around to everyone,” said Cameo Harrington, director of sales for the Joplin CVB. “And they did interact. I didn’t have anyone just come get a stamp and leave.”
Jones says those contacts will pay off for her in the future.
“I liked going to the exhibits and not being pressured to move along. I picked up a lot of informative packets,” she said. “I plan to make a few phone calls when I’m getting ready to do my events.”
Clote says that connections will continue to be a focus for future expos.
“We got feedback from the planners that they made a lot of important connections and did business here today,” Clote said. “We want to see more of that in the future and we’ll continue to innovate to make sure that happens.”
Two of the exhibitors were recognized for their inspired reflections of the global theme. This year’s Editor’s Choice Exhibitor Award went to Destination
St. Louis for its Monte Carlo theme. The Secretary General’s Exhibitor Award went to Spa Shiki at the Lodge of Four Seasons for overall excellence.
First-time exhibitor Clyde Niblett, sales operation manager of Metro Limousine Service, said the premise of the show was its strength.
“I thought the theme was nice, the show, the food, all of that was excellent,” Niblett said. “I know that if I was a planner I’d be here.”
Yes, the food was a hit. Food booths were positioned throughout the exhibit space, reflecting cuisines from around the world. Sushi, caviar and lamb chops were just some of the popular indulgences.
“The food was amazing,” Harrington said. “And I loved how the food booths were spread throughout the exhibit hall. It gave planners a chance to browse and mingle while they ate.”
Another well-received amenity was the cache of attendance prizes, topped off by a seven-day Celebrity Cruise for two in the Caribbean along with $250 of spending money offered by Missouri Meetings & Events magazine.
Other major awards included four packages of board meetings for 10 participants, including a continental buffet, meeting room rental and afternoon break, which was provided by Lodging Hospitality Management Hotels. Many more travel and hospitality packages were offered, creating more than $10,000 in attendance awards this year.
Next stop: Kansas City
Clote says the great news about the St. Louis Expo was that it taught MM&E staff even more about creating the perfect event.
“We had feedback that was extremely positive as well as good suggestions for the next Expo,” Clote said. “We’ll take those suggestions and create an even better Kansas City Expo this fall.”
(Michael Humphrey is the contributing editor from Kansas City, MO)