How Experience Kissimmee Has Served In-Person Events for the Past Year

June 3, 2021
How Experience Kissimmee Has Served In-Person Events for the Past Year

Experience Kissimmee Senior Director of Meeting Sales and Services Michelle Moore couldn’t believe her ears at a recent meeting at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center. In a pre-event meeting, the key players were discussing dine-arounds, branding activations and entertainment options. 

“It was wonderful,” Moore said. “For the first time in over 14 months, we actually talked about non-health and safety stuff.”

Of course, COVID-19 was the elephant in the room. But significant vaccination progress and relaxed CDC guidelines have shifted the conversation from when, and not if, conventions, trade shows and other events will begin to resemble their pre-pandemic counterparts.

While each destination has a different vantage point of the recovery, Experience Kissimmee’s viewpoint is particularly interesting. Some cities and regions are only just now readying to welcome groups back. But the Central Florida region’s full stop was far shorter than most. In fact, it was more of a pause.

Open for Business

As remarkable as it is to imagine, these examples of face-to-face events held during the pandemic will be stories local hospitality workers remember all their lives. 

  • Margaritaville Resort Orlando reopened on May 15, 2020, and held Kissimmee’s first hybrid meeting June 3-4, 2020, with 26 in-person attendees and additional virtual participants.
  • In November, Embassy Suites by Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista South welcomed 120 attendees for the Florida League of Cities for its 2020 Legislative Conference. 
  • Gaylord Palms hosted Southeast Natural Products Association’s (SENPA) SOHO Expo in December 2020, just as it has since 2009. About one-third of the regular attendance came to the hotel.

“We all went through survivor’s guilt, I guess you would call it,” Moore said. “A lot of my counterparts in other destinations were not so fortunate.”

Yet the CVB had its own challenges, with budget shortfalls following a record year in 2019 causing painful cuts. Creativity, communication and collaboration were three Cs the community seized upon to ensure that those who were willing to meet in-person had a destination available to them.

Experience Kissimmee’s website became a portal of information about safety measures, openings and local business news. 

“Everyone was committed to doing whatever we needed to do to get back in-person,” Moore said.

Keys to Success

Some key factors in keeping the doors open included:

  • Florida Gov. Ron Desantis’ push to very prominently remain open as much as possible, freeing hotels, attractions and restaurants to welcome at least a percentage of the guests they are accustomed to.
  • Hospitality is in the blood of Kissimmee, home of Walt Disney World. The community understands what it takes to welcome guests.
  • In October 2020, Experience Kissimmee announced a new partnership with major healthcare system AdventHealth to provide resources to ensure safety and planners’ bullet points to comfort attendees about travel.
  • Early pandemic conversations with meeting planners paid off, as Moore noted many first-time groups have made their way to the region because typical host sites were not available due to restrictions or venue closures.
  • Kissimmee has always relied on many in-state groups, which proved beneficial with the rise of drive-to meetings and events.
  • Medical meetings are naturally drawn to the region due to AdventHealth Nicholson Center, a medical research and training center, and other similar facilities that also interest technology companies.

Moore also credited the work of the Kissimmee Sports Commission for keeping the destination afloat with events like:

  • American Youth Football and Cheer; December 2020; 5,250 Participants
  • National XBall League (Paintball); November 2020; 2,935 Participants
  • Major League Fishing; November 2020; 75 Participants (including the top anglers in the world)

Fourteen other sports events are on the books through Sept. 18, 2021.

Signs Pointing North

Meanwhile, the number of flights and out-of-town visitors has dramatically increased. By fall, once everyone has found time for family vacations, Kissimmee will start hosting larger in-person events like association meetings and trade shows, Moore noted. 

A key enticement, “It Pays to Meet in Kissimmee,” offering up to $10,000 cash back to qualified meetings, remains available throughout this year.

“We’re starting to see bigger numbers again,” Moore said.

Photo Credit: Experience Kissimmee

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Overview: The award-winning Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) goes the extra mile to make every day extraordinary by offering customer service excellence and industry-leading partnerships. From their dedicated in-house Rigging team to their robust Exhibitor Services, The Center of Hospitality brings your imagination to life by helping you host unforgettable meetings and events. With more than 2 million square feet of exhibit space, world-class services and a dream destination, we are committed to making even the most ambitious conventions a reality. In October 2023, the Orange County Board of County Commissioners voted to approve allocating Tourist Development Tax funding for the $560 million Phase 5A completion of the OCCC. The Convention Way Grand Concourse project will include enhancements to the North-South Building, featuring an additional 60,000 square feet of meeting space, an 80,000- square-foot ballroom and new entry to the North-South Building along Convention Way. “We are thrilled to begin work on completing our North-South Building which will allow us to meet the growing needs of our clients,” said OCCC Executive Director Mark Tester. “As an economic driver for the community, this project will provide the Center with connectivity and meeting space to host more events and continue to infuse the local economy with new money and expanding business opportunities.” Amenities: The Center of Hospitality goes above and beyond by offering world-class customer service and industry-leading partnerships. From the largest convention center Wi-Fi network to custom LAN/WAN design, the Center takes pride in enhancing exhibitor and customer experience.  The OCCC is the exclusive provider of electricity (24-hour power at no additional cost), aerial rigging and lighting, water, natural gas and propane, compressed air, and cable TV services. Convenience The Center is at the epicenter of the destination, with an abundance of hotels, restaurants, and attractions within walking distance. Pedestrian bridges connect both buildings to more than 5,200 rooms and is within a 15-minute drive from the Orlando International Airport. The convenience of the location goes hand-in-hand with top notch service to help meet an event’s every need. Gold Key Members The OCCC’s Gold Key Members represent the best of the best when it comes to exceptional service and exclusive benefits for clients, exhibitors and guests. The Center’s Gold Key memberships with Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando and Walt Disney World greatly enhance meeting planner and attendee experiences offering world-renowned venues, immersive experiences and creative resources for their events. OCCC Events: This fiscal year, the OCCC is projected to host 168 events, 1.7 million attendees, and $2.9 billion in economic impact.  The Center’s top five events during their 2022-2023 fiscal year included:  AAU Jr. National Volleyball Championships 2023 200,000 Attendees $257 Million in Economic Impact MEGACON 2023 160,000 Attendees $205 Million in Economic Impact Open Championship Series 2023 69,500 Attendees $89 Million in Economic Impact Sunshine Classic 2023 42,000 Attendees $54 Million in Economic Impact Premiere Orlando 2023 42,000 Attendees $108 Million in Economic Impact