Interview with a Trade Show Executive: Amsterdam RAI’s Denise Capello

December 3, 2014

As part of an ongoing series, TSNN Reporter Traci Browne has been profiling trade show executives and asking them probing questions like if time travel were possible, where would you go and why? For this interview we’re lucky enough to chat with Denise Capello with Amsterdam RAI. I met Denise a few years ago at SISO and not only is she brilliant, but she’s also fun to hang out with.

Denise Capello
Business Acquisition Manager
Amsterdam RAI
Years in the industry: 12

Traci Browne: Where did you grow up? What was your adolescent experience like? 

Denise Capello: I grew up in Curacao, a small island in the Caribbean. I have such fond memories of my youth there, living the island life. BBQ on the beach on Sunday, surrounded by your friends and family. I moved to the Netherlands in ’95 to attend the university of Maastricht (most southern part of the Netherlands.

TB: What was the first show you went to? What do you remember most about it?

DC: During my college years, I worked as a hostess in the events industry. The first show I went to was a consumer show called Femina (in Rotterdam – Netherlands), I was promoting grape juice, and it sold like crazy. I most remember the interaction between the exhibitors; at the end of the show, I would come home with new nails, polished shoes and stuff I never knew I needed

TB: What show are you working on currently? What makes you excited about it?

DC: In my new role, I am responsible for partnerships and acquisitions of new shows for our own portfolio. This is a new role within the company, which means for the most part starting from scratch. We are no Reed or UBM, nor do we have the facility size of the German Messes. We need to find our own way in this ‘game’. Finding the answers to questions like, what do we want? what fits our corporate strategy? what interests the stakeholders in the city? what are the financial restrictions etc.? If we are successful,l our company will continue to grow. The dynamics and to actually play a role in this just gives me so much energy!

TB: What was your first job? Did you learn any valuable lessons or tools that you have brought with you into your current career?

DC: My first real job was for a company that built online virtual communities. I was responsible for the sales for some of these communities. We were bringing professionals together online on unbiased platforms sponsored by a number of players for that specific industry. I still believe we were just too soon and the burst of the internet bubble took the company down with it. In 2002, the company filed for bankruptcy. I learned to value people who give everything for their own company. It makes me understand the emotions behind selling your own little baby (read tradeshow) and various traits to find a potential buyer.

TB: When did you become interested in working in the industry? How did you get started in the trade show industry?

DC: As a professional,  my first show was the Urology Conferenc,  which took place in Anaheim at that time. This was a time when the restrictions to the pharmaceutical industry were just a fraction of what they are nowadays. The atmosphere, the enormous booths, the professionals left such an impression on me. This was when I decided that if I ever changed jobs, I was going to work in the events industry.

TB: Do you have any hobbies? (woodworking, birding, knitting, Herpetoculture).

DC: I love to swim. The sound of the water when you go under has the most relaxing effect on me. And if it means I am actually working out at the same tim e…

TB: Do you have any pets? We want to know all about them if you do.

DC: We have a membership to the zoo, does that count? I grew up having 2 dogs, which I loved very much, but in the Caribbean they live in the garden. In the Netherland,  it would mean having them in my house and with the amount of rain we have you can imagine the mess (let alone the smell)… Also our busy schedule doesn’t allow for any pets at the moment, although I think my boys will pressure us for a pet at some point.

TB: What’s on your iPod?

DC: Actually a little bit of everything; my Latin favorites like Marc Anthony, Prince Royce, Juan Luis Guerra; my eighties memories; Michael Jackson, Prince, Salt’n Peppa, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Aerosmith and of course all European house; Afrojack, Hardwell, Armin van Buren.

 TB: It’s the day before the show and the CDC has just announced a zombie apocalypse. Your first thought it to …

1. Immediately book a flight out of town. Every man for himself.

2. Call your attorney to find out if your cancellation insurance covers you for a zombie apocalypse.

3. Zombies Schmombies…you’ve been planning this for a year. The doors will open at 8 a.m. as scheduled. (with all possible precautions in place)

4. Turn the show into a big party with open bar including top shelf liquors.

DC: #3

TB: If time travel was possible, where would you go and why? (You cannot choose the future because it hasn’t happened yet and there is the possibility you may have to stay put wherever you travel to… So answer wisely.)

DC: Back to the Caribbean in the 19th century when slavery was still going on. Action at that time could have changed the position of people of color now.

TB: Name three people you would love to have lunch with? (Living, dead, famous, infamous, unknown …)

DC: Princess Maxima of the Netherlands, Angelina Jolie and my 3 best friends, as we all live in different countries and very rarely get to spend quality time together.

TB: What are your future goals? (Career, education, travel, etc.)

DC: Grow Amsterdam RAI by adding new shows to our portfolio within the next 2 years, focus on getting a new business degree, support my kids to be the best they can be, help them to be confident and kind, travel to Bali, South Africa and Australia with my husband and kids (go Bucket list!)

We wish you all the best growing Amsterdam RAI, who wouldn’t want to have an event there? Also, I’m not really a kid person but I’d be happy to be your nanny when you travel.

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.