PCMA Convening Leaders 2020: Spotlight on San Francisco

January 6, 2020

PCMA Convening Leaders, the annual PCMA conference for event planners, is coming to San Francisco on Jan. 5-8, 2020. Not only does this mark a 20-year anniversary for the city — the last time Convening Leaders was held in San Francisco was 2001 — it is also perfectly timed to showcase the revamped and expanded Moscone Center.

Convening Leaders draws approximately 5,000 attendees with a nearly even split between event planners and industry suppliers. The majority will be seeing the new version of Moscone for the first time. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Travel Association intends to show visitors all the best that San Francisco has to offer.

Tom David, San Francisco Travel’s executive vice president and chief sales officer, says that PCMA’s return was indeed strategically timed. Moscone’s multi-year, $551 million expansion was completed at the end of 2018, with a grand ribbon-cutting ceremony held Jan. 3, 2019. The expansion added more than 157,000 gross square feet of flexible meeting space to the North and South buildings, increasing the center’s total exhibit space to more than 504,000 sq. ft. and making it more attractive for larger groups.

“[This year] is going to be a record year in terms of room nights at Moscone,” David says. “We will have more rooms generated from groups than we have historically. And that’s the direct result of the expansion.”

He adds that San Francisco Travel has gotten great feedback from the clients who have used Moscone within the past year. Of particular note are the natural light and the ease of getting back and forth between the North and South Halls thanks to the new pedestrian bridge over Howard Street. The new outdoor balconies are also garnering kudos.

Moscone South from Howard Street, looking West. Photo credit: Naina Ayya
Moscone South from Howard Street, looking West. Photo credit: Naina Ayya

Hotel Blocks: Spreading the Wealth Around the City

When you come to San Francisco for a citywide convention, you may have to use more hotel blocks than you potentially would in some other destinations. For example, PCMA offered rooms at 16 properties for Convening Leaders.

The biggest issue with hotel inventory for large groups is the robust business travel market, David explains. Because of the high rate of weeknight transient bookings, hotels are offering fewer rooms on peak nights, which then drives the business out further (beyond Union Square).  

David looks at this as a positive. “It spreads the wealth around the city,” he says. “It’s very easy to get around San Francisco because the city is relatively small. There are so many hotels within walking distance of Moscone, plus you have hotels at Fisherman’s Wharf and down on the Embarcadero that aren’t participating in these citywide conventions.”

Tourism health also drives prices up. As average hotel rates in San Francisco are among the highest in the U.S. (placement varies from study to study), spreading blocks out among a larger number of hotels also allows show organizers to offer their attendees a range of price points.

“In the 20-plus years that I’ve been in the industry in San Francisco, it’s always led the country as one of the most expensive cities to be in — but there has also always been a value related to that,” David says. “We have natural beauty, fabulous attractions and great venues for hosting functions. You’re getting all these benefits in a world-class city with a tremendous culinary scene.”

Cleaner Streets for Conventions

Over the past two years, San Francisco Travel has raised concerns about the impact of the city’s homelessness problem on convention business. In 2018, a Chicago-based medical convention announced that it was pulling out of San Francisco for future events, citing “dirty streets” that made attendees feel unsafe. And earlier this month, Oracle announced that it was moving its annual Oracle Open World to Las Vegas’ new Caesars Forum. Although Oracle officials said hotel room costs were the primary reason for the move, they also referenced poor street conditions.  

San Francisco Mayor London Breed is leading citywide efforts including expanding street cleaning, continuing the pilot program for 24-hour staffed public restrooms, opening new behavioral health beds and services for those suffering from substance abuse and homelessness, and proposing the new SAFE Embarcadero Navigation Center.

At a joint press conference with Breed and San Francisco Travel on Dec. 16, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce announced its 2020 StreetCareSF campaign. The mayor has asked each of her departments to contribute budget to the initiative, which will provide street safety tools to small businesses and mobilize residents to call upon local supervisors for better street cleaning.

“San Francisco is a world-class city, but it’s no secret that we need to address the challenges we see on our streets,” Breed said. “We want everyone who lives, works and visits here to experience the best that San Francisco has to offer.”

San Francisco Travel is also taking steps to help ensure Convening Leaders’ attendees experience the best of the City by the Bay.

“We work with city hall, public works, the police, the department of public health, the mayor’s office,” David says. “Efforts are definitely stepped up to make it cleaner, safer, have a more visible presence of police, people picking up the garbage, power washing in the streets, etc. for large conventions.”

San Francisco Travel also provides walking maps from each of the major hotels for citywide conventions to make it easy for attendees to find their way to Moscone along the safest, cleanest and most direct routes.

San Francisco Activities for PCMA Convening Leaders

Convening Leaders attendees will get to experience far more of San Francisco than just the Moscone Center and nearby hotels.

The conference welcome reception will take place at Pier 48, a Giants Enterprises venue near Oracle Park. The event will showcase highlights from various areas of the city, including the Mission, Chinatown, the Castro and more of San Francisco’s legendary neighborhoods.

The early-morning Fun Run/Walk will start at the ballpark’s Willie Mays Plaza and traverse the open-air promenade level. Participants will have views of the Bay Bridge, the Ferry Building, Embarcadero waterfront and San Francisco piers.

The fundraising Party With a Purpose will be at The Masonic, an auditorium that is part of the California Masonic Memorial Temple complex. Live music will be provided by PDA Band. Often used as a public concert venue, the mid-century modern Masonic was built in 1958.

The final evening’s networking reception will be held at the Chase Center, San Francisco’s newest venue. Pop band Maroon 5 will perform. The new arena, home to the Golden State Warriors, opened Sept. 6, 2019.  

“Chase Center is available for groups for concerts, shows or large-scale general sessions,” David says. “It’s really a phenomenal venue. The building itself and the area around it is not like typical arenas that I’ve seen before. It’s very user-friendly and gives guests a great sense of arrival when they walk in the door.”

In addition, a number of organizations are hosting by-invitation events and receptions in various locations throughout the city.

“I think the Convening Leaders group is going to love San Francisco,” David says. “They’ve got a really strong hotel package. The conference has great programming, and I think people just being able to see and experience the new Moscone Center will be a big hit. And we’ve got these great evening functions happening as well.”

San Francisco Travel Association has put together a San Francisco activities and city guide to help Convening Leaders attendees plan their visit.

Main photo credit: Amogh Manjunath on Unsplash


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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.