With the stage set at PCMA’s Convening Leaders in Nashville, Tenn., for the departure of CEO Deborah Sexton, who achieved a stunning level of success during her 13-year tenure, the association is using its annual event to welcome PCMA COO Sherrif Karamat into the leadership role starting on Jan. 19. PCMA also sees Convening Leaders as a chance to look toward the future as it predicts record attendance for the event.

“Our numbers are incredible,” said Sexton during the opening press conference of Convening Leaders 2018, playfully admonishing the media with a reminder that full attendance figures won’t be released until 10 days after the event—an annual tradition she employs to flummox attendance-obsessed trade press. “It looks like this is the very largest Convening Leaders or any other conference that PCMA has ever had.”

Sexton’s job performance numbers are also impressive. Under her leadership, PCMA increased its membership from 2,400 when she joined as CEO in 2005 to more than 7,000 members currently.

Partnership revenue quadrupled in the last 10 years, to just under $7 million.

“Hands down this is the best partnership program in the industry,” Sexton said.

Sexton, who is resigning to start a consulting company, mixed her appreciation of the association and its members with some closing opinions about the state of the meetings and conventions industry, opining that the future of face-to-face meetings continues to hinge on the challenge of changing mindsets and conference models, and improving content development and brand strategy as it relates to events.

The spotlight will have to wait a little longer for Karamat, who is expected to be the highlight of the press conference on the last day of Convening Leaders, on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018.

[See our Jan. 8 interview with Karamat below about his new role leading PCMA].

While the numbers were rosy for PCMA, host destination Nashville and its Music City Center are also on a roll with a hotel development boom that has bolstered the area’s meetings and conventions fortune.

According to Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. President Butch Spyridon, Music City added some 1,200 hotel rooms in the last year, with an additional 5,300 rooms under construction and scheduled for completion in the next two years. The increase in development will result in the destination offering some 10,000 hotel rooms within a half-mile of the convention center when all projects are complete.

“Nashville and Davidson County represent one-third of the visitor spending in the state—[at a total of] $6 billion,” Spyridon said, “and 40 percent of that is the meetings industry, so the meetings industry is incredibly important to this city and state. “We’ve been on an 84-month run … with record results.”

Not to be outdone, the PCMA Education Foundation has also found comfort in successful statistics, according to Phillip Jones, immediate past chair of the foundation in 2017 and president and CEO of VisitDallas, who said the foundation posted a record $1.9 million haul last year, contributing $500,000 in grants and scholarships to 92 individuals, an increase of 21 percent over the previous year.

“We have $6.2 million in the bank to support our industry and research,” Jones added.