How Visit Fort Worth Pulled Off a Successful Hybrid Event

March 22, 2021

As the event and tourism industry begins its slow journey toward post-pandemic normalcy, it has become clear that hybrid events – those with both socially distanced in-person and virtual components – will be a vital part of the return of live meetings and conventions. Thus, many hospitality communities across the nation are doing their part to adapt to this new reality, including CVBs.

Case in point: Fort Worth, Texas and its tourism bureau, Visit Fort Worth, which successfully hosted its 8th Annual Meeting & Breakfast in hybrid format on February 5. Held at the Omni Fort Worth Hotel, the event attracted approximately 350 in-person and 308 virtual attendees. Though participation had dropped from its typical attendance of a little more than 800 attendees, that didn’t stop the CVB’s first-ever hybrid gathering from achieving its goals.

According to Stephanie Rodriguez, Visit Fort Worth’s senior convention services manager, the annual meeting has traditionally been an opportunity for the community’s key leaders to reflect on and celebrate the past year in tourism, with an itinerary of engaging keynote speakers, thoughtful discourse and the unveiling of new CVB marketing collateral and campaigns. However, this year’s hybrid version followed a different trajectory, concentrating on post-COVID recovery while still creating an uplifting experience for participants.

“The pandemic led us to think differently this year, as the safety of guests from arrival to departure was imperative,” Rodriguez explained. “The event is meant to inspire pride in our city and though this year’s annual meeting looked a little different, we still achieved that ultimate goal.”

“Surprise and delight” lobby activations of years past, including a donut wall, caffeination and mocktail stations, an on-site tattoo parlor and photo opps, were replaced with health and safety signage reminding guests of policies such as temperature checks, face masks and spaced seating, while a DJ played upbeat music. 

Also reconfigured to reflect health and safety was Omni’s ballroom, which re-imagined seating options to maintain social distancing, while the maximum room capacity was lowered to adhere to the rules and regulations implemented by the venue, city and state. Meanwhile, the event’s AV company managed the Zoom feed to make sure digital attendees didn’t miss any of the action.

During the event, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Visit Fort Worth President and CEO Bob Jameson welcomed attendees alongside local Chef Tim Love, who whipped up a surprise cocktail for the crowd. Keynote speakers included Gloria Loree of Destination Canada, local artist Michelle Cortez Gonzales and Jess Pryles, founder of Hardcore Carnivore

Kicking the event’s inspirational component into gear, Tokyo Cafe Chef Kevin Martinez was awarded the 2021 Beyond Award for his grassroots campaign to supply more than 48,000 free meals throughout the pandemic, and civil rights activist Opal Lee, who recently garnered 1.5 million signatures to make Juneteenth a national holiday, was honored with the much-deserved 2021 Hospitality Award. 

According to Rodriguez, planning for the 2021 event began in July 2020, four months after the start of the pandemic — when much was still unknown about where the country would be by showtime. From there, the CVB’s event team met bi-monthly via Zoom and Microsoft Teams to discuss changing regulations, monitor COVID numbers, discuss floor plans, determine food distribution, chat about ticket sales and weigh the benefits of an in-person versus a hybrid meeting. 

“The hybrid event was confirmed later in the planning stages as in-person ticket sales neared capacity,” Rodriguez said. “Our audiovisual partner quickly added the virtual component and we booked musical entertainment to welcome the online group — just as the DJ was welcoming guests in-person — so no matter where guests were viewing from, the experience remained the same.”

Understanding that clearly conveying the meeting’s safety protocols from the start was key, the CVB outlined rules on a dedicated webpage as well as in emails and on social media. The site also featured a floor plan to allow guests to familiarize themselves with the space ahead of time. 

“We also sent multiple email communications to ticket holders in advance, noting general meeting details, social distancing efforts, masks requirements and mandatory temperature checks, which every guest immediately received upon arrival,” Rodriguez said. 

On the morning of the meeting, guests were directed to the Social Tables digital check-in station, and then to a table to pick up a lapel button (red, yellow, green) stating their comfort level with in-person interaction. Red meant no contact, yellow signified elbows only and green cleared the way for high fives and handshakes. 

During the meeting, ballroom doors were kept open for airflow, meals were served in packaged containers for enjoyment on-site or to-go, hand sanitizing stations were placed around the lobby and individual hand sanitizers were placed at each seat.

Event materials were digital-only, which helped lower the event’s carbon footprint, Rodriguez added.

“The Visit Fort Worth Annual Meeting team has executed this event eight years in a row [and] each individual owns responsibility for specific areas [such as] programming, logistics, creative, content and social, registration, sponsorship, etc.,” she explained. “Flexibility was key to ensure that this event ran smoothly and was a success.”

So what is Rodriguez’s advice for organizations looking to dip their toes into the hybrid events space? Don’t forget the meeting’s main focus and overall goal, and make sure the programming is well-balanced for both the virtual and in-person audience to ensure that everyone stays engaged, she stressed. 

“Virtual attendees appreciated our efforts to greet them the same as those in-person,” Rodriguez said. “We had over 900 hundred comments from virtual attendees that mentioned they felt like they were right there with us.”

She added, “Ultimately, Visit Fort Worth wanted to lead the way in executing a safe meeting and provide local partners an example to follow. We think we succeeded.”


Don’t miss any event-related news: Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter HERE and engage with us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram!

Add new comment

Partner Voices
One of the most iconic names on the Las Vegas Strip just got an upgrade. Mandalay Bay has everything that your business needs from a refreshed convention space designed to inspire productivity and creativity, to an impressive selection of world-class restaurants and amenities. If you're looking for a venue that's both inviting and innovative, you have to be here. New Wave Experiences Mandalay Bay continues to invest in a new wave of enhancements both in the convention space and within the resort as a whole. New restaurant openings including Orla by Michael Mina, drawing inspiration from the award-winning chef’s childhood in Egypt and with flavors and décor inspired by the spices found in markets common to coastal Mediterranean towns, as well as Caramá by Wolfgang Puck, bringing the essence of Italy and spirit of Wolfgang into one concept, are recent additions. The Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas also experienced a recent remodel of all 424 rooms. Swingers, a high-end, adults-only golf and entertainment concept will debut in Fall 2024. Enhanced Technology Creating a truly effective conference venue requires careful thought into what a business needs: the right technology, capacity, and inspiration to bring ideas to the next level. As part of the resort’s refresh, Mandalay Bay implemented state-of-the-art technology upgrades, installing cutting-edge Cat6A Ethernet cabling throughout the convention center. This advancement doubles the frequency of data transmission, enabling lightning-fast speeds up to 9400% faster. The convention center now boasts 11 dynamic digital walls, spanning up to 24' x 13', strategically positioned for brand placements, sponsorships and targeted event messaging. Additionally, attendees can benefit from 20 double-sided 55" mobile flexible display units, facilitating effortless navigation to meeting rooms and events. RFID locks were installed on all meeting room doors, and over 200 motion detection cameras have been placed throughout the space. Refreshing New Design & Fine Art The newly remodeled convention space provides a bright and vibrant atmosphere that complements Mandalay Bay's tropical-inspired brand. Featuring white-washed walls and ceilings adorned with bold floral patterns in cerulean and coral tones, the space is complemented by warm walnut accent walls. In addition to the redesign of all pre-function spaces, meeting rooms and ballrooms, Mandalay Bay's 1 million square feet of exhibit space has undergone a rejuvenation, including new paint, covered pillars and relocated strobe lights. Sustainable Spectacles Mandalay Bay is committed to Focused on What Matters and creating more responsible meetings. Refillable water stations all available around the resort, cutting unnecessary plastic usage from single-use bottles. The Mandalay Bay campus’ recent upgrades represent a bold step forward in redefining the Las Vegas experience. With a focus on innovation, sustainability, and unparalleled service, Mandalay Bay sets a new standard for excellence in business hospitality. Whether you're seeking cutting-edge conference facilities, world-class dining options, or simply a luxurious retreat, an unparalleled meeting experience awaits.