Latino Meeting Professionals Unite

New Association Targets Suppliers and Planners in Mid-Atlantic States

By Jonathan Vatner

Late in January, the new Network of Latino Meeting Professionals ( held its first meeting. The South Riding, Va.-based group aims to bring together Hispanic meeting planners and suppliers in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., for a monthly education session with networking and lunch. Events run by the organization will be sponsored by hotels and convention and visitor bureaus; participation will be free to interested meeting planners.

“Our goal is to get to know each other, become the voice of the Latino community in the hospitality industry and really say, ‘Yes, we can be certified meeting professionals. We can be good as anybody else,’” explained Jeannette Gonzalez, CMP, CEO of the South Riding-based Agora Occasions and a founder of the group.

Haydee Grijalva, manager for membership and meetings at the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, based in Arlington, Va., is thrilled about the new group. The NETWORK is helping her earn her CMP; she in turn plans to help the organization grow.

“I think this is a great initiative,” said Grijalva. “I’m glad we will get to know our peers around the D.C. metro area.”

The NETWORK – as the founders of NLMP prefer the organization to be called – is not unique in its mission statement. The Houston-based International Association of Hispanic Meeting Professionals, which has been in existence for more than a decade, shares the new group’s goals on an international scale. In fact, the founders of The NETWORK initially met at an IAHMP meeting.

“We are not competing,” said Laurie Nelson-Choice, who serves as the Washington, D.C.-based director, Eastern regional sales, for Visit Milwaukee and is a Network founder. “There is room for two groups doing different things. I just don’t want there to be animosity.”

Margaret Gonzalez, president of IAHMP, did not return calls about the issue. Two IAHMP board members did respond and said they did not feel that The NETWORK would be a threat. One, who attended The Network’s first meeting, was eager to investigate opportunities for partnership.

The founders of the Network, too, have indicated that they are open to the idea of partnering with IAHMP on future events. As to why they didn’t simply found the group as a chapter of IAHMP, Jeannette Gonzalez said, “I guess we wanted to be our own voice.”

Karen Staples, who until recently sold to the diversity market for the Greater Hartford Convention and Visitors Bureau and is now moving to Washington, D.C., to become the Hartford CVB’s director of Eastern regional sales, said she is enthused about the new group, though not the older one. The Hartford bureau hosted IAHMP’s 2003 meeting, she said, but solid results never materialized.

“I do not think the CVB will remain a member of IAHMP,” Staples explained. “We have had little to no return on our investment.”