MPI Builds Bridges in Luxembourg

Meeting Professionals International European Meetings and Events Conference 2024 participants gathered around a Luxembourg sign at the European Convention Center Luxembourg

Skift Take

MPI gathered its European community in Luxembourg, a new destination for most participants. The annual conference was an opportunity to build bridges between different groups.

The Meeting Professionals International’s European Meetings and Events Conference (EMEC) returned to its regular annual cadence, with around 260 meeting professionals gathering in Luxembourg. The 35th edition of the conference came after the 2023 edition in Brighton, which was the association’s first gathering in Europe after a two-year COVID-induced hiatus. Participants enjoyed Luxembourgish hospitality, most of the first time, as the small country in the heart of Europe showcased its unique offering.

In a statement issued in advance of the conference, MPI shared the three key design tenets of EMEC:

  1. Designed for Europeans by Europeans
  2. An incubator environment for ideation
  3. Local influence built into the overall experience

Building Bridges

Özlem Cekic on stage at MPI EMEC 2024 (Photo credit:Butino/Jan Buteijn)

Former Danish Member of Parliament Özlem Cekic provided plenty of food for thought as the opening keynote speaker. She told her story of meeting with people with opposing political views who sent her hate mail over coffee. She calls this #DialogueCoffee. Cekic is now secretary general of Bridge Builders, an organization dedicated to cultivating dialogue that promotes cultural understanding.

Key to her story is an analogy that a bridge cannot be built from one side to the other; it is built from both sides, which meet in the middle. She reminded the audience that bridges are not built in a day, be they physical bridges or human ones. According to Cekic, the keys to building bridges between people are coffee, food, and laughter.

Cekic also shared tips that apply to all types of meetings:

  • Never disagree before drinking your coffee. In other words, start with small talk
  • Always bring food
  • Dialogue is not about changing people’s minds
  • You can distance yourself from the views of a person without distancing yourself from the person
  • Don’t judge the other person during a conversation
  • Always finish in a positive way

MPI also built bridges with other complementary industry associations. Conference participants had two opportunities to extend their time in Luxembourg by joining an ICCA Skills session prior to EMEC or an Event Design Certificate Program after EMEC. ICCA CEO Senthil Gopinath, IACC CEO Mark Cooper and Sydney Nolan, global account director at SoolNua (representing SITE), all featured in the conference’s program.

Host Partners

As always, Meeting Professionals International (MPI) worked closely with the local partners in the form of the MPI Belgium-Luxembourg Chapter with the active support of Business Events Luxembourg. Chapter President Attila Laszlo hosted the leadership dinner that unofficially opens the conferences at the Mondorf Domaine Thermal he represents. Meanwhile, Carine Loutsch, sales and marketing manager
at the European Convention Center Luxembourg (ECCL) was an excellent host for the main conference venue.

The lobby of the European Convention Center Luxembourg during MPI EMEC 2024 (Photo credit: Butino/Jan Buteijn)

As is customary with industry events, governmental support plays an important role for the host destination. After all, this is a calculated investment in promoting the destination. It also enables a short but important connection between the industry and government officials, mainly through formal addresses from the stage. On this occasion, Luxembourg’s Minister for Culture and Minister Delegate for Tourism, Eric Thill, addressed the audience, followed by Maurice Bauer, the First Alderman City of Luxembourg and President of the Luxembourg Convention Bureau.

Eric Thill addressing participants at MPI EMEC 2024 (Photo credit: Butino/Jan Buteijn)

MPI’s experience in working with the local hosts was outstanding, according to Tanya Philyaw, senior meeting planner at MPI. “The team in Luxembourg have been amazing to work with. They were committed to making every detail a complete success,” she said. Working closely with the Business Events Luxembourg team also meant that MPI EMEC received the Green Business Events logo, a national sustainability initiative promoted by the Luxembourg Ministry of the Economy.

Pushing the Boundaries

MPI once again offers learning journeys where participants step away from traditional venues to participate in immersive learning opportunities around the destination.

In Luxembourg, participants had four adventures to choose from: a visit to Luxembourg Air Rescue, backstage access with SongDivision to a historic cinema, an exploration of hospitality and tourism of the future at Lëtzebuerg City Museum or a sensory culinary experience at Novotel Luxembourg Kirchber.

MPI EMEC 2024 participants on a learning journey in the city of Luxembourg (Photo credit: Butino/Jan Buteijn)

“Creating atypical, immersive personal development experiences is key to the creation of EMEC, and Luxembourg has provided an extraordinary backdrop to design this opportunity for the event’s 35th iteration,” said MPI Chief Brand Officer Drew Holmgreen.

Learning journeys, introduced at EMEC 2019 in the Hague, continued as part of the program in 2020 in Seville and again in 2023 in Brighton. As a non-standard learning format, it brings additional logistical challenges, but Philyaw was happy with how they turned out. “Securing locations for the learning journeys definitely put them [the host partners] to the test, but we ended up with some amazing locations that really brought the education full circle.”

MPI worked with SongDivision’s Europe-based team to create musical moments throughout the general sessions. One highlight was the short and very original tunes created by the team of three to introduce each speaker.

SongDivision performing on stage at MPI EMEC 2024 in Luxembourg
SongDivision performing on stage at MPI EMEC 2024 in Luxembourg (Photo credit: Butino/Jan Buteijn)

The program also featured keynote sessions and breakouts in more traditional formats. Many of the breakout and final keynote sessions were led by meeting design experts, including the final general session by the Event Design Collective, where participants discussed the top reasons events fail. This focus on meeting design reinforces MPI’s prioritizes the design of event experiences. 

Unique Setting for Connecting the Connectors

The conference connects four distinct but overlapping groups of meeting professionals: the global boards of MPI and the MPI Foundation, who meet beforehand; the chapter leaders from European chapters, who also meet beforehand; hosted buyers from the U.S., Canada and across Europe; and a smattering of other, mainly local, participants. The size of the conference works well for connecting the dots between these groups, but more can always be done to engage with and connect participants.

Thijs Peters, chair of MPI's European Advisory Council presents at the MPI Chapter Leaders Forum at EMEC 2024
Thijs Peters, chair of MPI’s European Advisory Council, presenting at the MPI European Chapter Leaders Forum 2024 (Photo credit: Butino/Jan Buteijn)

The fixed layouts of the rooms at the ECCL challenged speakers and session leaders. The ECCL’s main purpose is to host the Councils of Ministers of the European Union. The venue closes to the public for three months every year (April, June, and October) when EU meetings are in session. This focus dictates the shape and functionality of the meeting spaces. For example, some plenary rooms include fixed round table arrangements and extensive translation booths.

The meeting rooms are undoubtedly iconic but also hard to adapt to the needs of different sessions. “We spent additional time preparing the speakers and showing them their assigned meeting room utilizing the 360 tour on the website. We wanted to help them take advantage of the non-traditional spaces in non-traditional ways,” said Phiylaw.

MPI EMEC 2024 participants interacting in the European Convention Center Luxembourg’s Plenary 2 (Photo credit: Butino/Jan Buteijn)

Conference participants certainly enjoyed the opportunity to sit in the rooms where political leaders have made decisions that have shaped Europe. The audiovisual equipment permanently installed in the rooms worked well, and overall, MPI made it work. “I think attendees were surprised about the setup of the rooms as well, but once given the rich history of the building, I think they enjoyed the unique settings,” added Philyaw.

Luxembourg Showcases Credentials

What wowed participants was the in-house catering powered by Sodexo, which was outstanding, only missing better allergy labeling to be perfect. Philyaw was not shy in commending the food and beverage offering. “The food and beverage at ECCL is made in-house and the offerings are amazing. I was extremely satisfied with the quality and highly recommend,” she said.

Five hotels, providing 785 rooms within easy walking distance, surround the ECCL. The area dubbed Convention Park Luxembourg is also home to MUDAM, the Contemporary Art Museum of Luxembourg. This museum hosted the conference’s opening reception. Big Beer Company, Luxembourg’s only micro-brewery, hosted the conference’s second and final evening event, the MPI Foundation’s Rendezvous. A short bus ride took participants from the Convention Park Luxembourg to the brewery, but participants could easily have accessed it using the country-wide free public transport.

Photo credit: Jan Buteijn / Butino