Virtual GMID Highlights Industry Collaboration Amid Uncertainty

April 15, 2020

More than 13,000 attendees came together online for Virtual Global Meetings Industry Day on April 14. While the message from industry experts was optimistic and hopeful, the celebration was tempered by uncertainty on when it will be safe to meet in person again.

The 30-minute grassroots #GMIDGoesVirtual event attempted to break the Guinness World Record for largest audience for a virtual conference, and while it did not quite hit the 15,000 mark that was needed, the turnout was impressive. Hosts Miguel Neves and Jennifer Spear kept the audience engaged with conversation and polls, and talked about two industry foundations providing financial help for event professionals affected by the pandemic: The Above and Beyond Foundation and SEARCH Foundation.

MPI’s 12 hours of live virtual programming, which included participation in the record-breaking attempt, ran the gamut from factual to predictive. In the State of the Industry Panel, industry leaders shared their stories on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting their associations and business, and discussed what the future may hold. The panel, moderated by Annette Gregg, senior vice president of experience for Meeting Professionals International, included:

·  Roger Dow, president and CEO, U.S. Travel Association

·  Steve O’Malley, division president, Maritz Travel; Board chair, Meeting Professionals International

·  Paul Van Deventer, president and CEO, Meeting Professionals International

·  Susan Robertson, president and CEO, ASAE

·  Amy Calvert, CEO, Events Industry Council

·  Jason Dunn, group vice president, Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau; Chair, National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals 


The panelists were frank about the current state of the industry and the plight of associations, but optimistic about the future. Calvert emphasized resilience and helping industry members cope as the primary focus for now, and all panelists agreed that this should be a top priority. Putting this into action, Dunn mentioned that NCMBP is calling every member to check in and see how they are doing. 

Losses Impacting the Events Industry and Associations

Dow provided sobering numbers on travel and hospitality industry losses. “Put in perspective, our industry has 5.9 million unemployed people out of 14 million in the U.S,” he said. “That is 40 percent of the [overall unemployed statistic], but only 3 percent of the GDP. [However,] loss in revenue to our industry directly will be well over $400 billion — that’s $900 billion to the GDP.” 

These losses are hitting associations hard. “A lot of associations are in survival mode,” Van Deventer said. “We have to worry not just about our community and our members but how we sustain ourselves to be around for the next generation of professionals.”

The hit to the hospitality industry was originally projected to be six times that of 9/11, but Dow said that has now increased to seven times. He noted that the USTA is lobbying to increase the amount of government aid funds allocated to the industry and promoting the importance of fast recovery. 

Turnaround Time Remains Unclear

Dow mentioned (uncited) research saying that 83 percent of people want to meet again, and 78 percent want to meet even more often. But it is not clear on when this can (or should) happen.

MPI’s World Education Congress is scheduled for June 6-9 in Grapevine, Texas, and O’Malley said that Maritz still has more than 300 programs on the books for the month of June, many of which are still live events. He added that many of their cancellations have turned into rebookings, and he's hopeful they could see demand generate in the near future. O’Malley also said that events for healthcare and financial services industries appear to be coming back the fastest.

However, participant comments indicate concern that June may be too soon for people to feel safe traveling and meeting, even if restrictions are lifted.

Virtual is Not a Threat

After the 2008 market crash, virtual events were seen by many associations and event organizations as a threat to live events. This was the same time that the Meetings Mean Business Coalition was formed to protect and advance live meetings as a crucial part of business initiatives and revenue generation. 

Now, COVID-19 may end up changing the face of meetings irrevocably. A poll taken during #GMIDGoesVirtual, however, indicates that the majority of participants believe that the future is virtual — however, the panelists believe hybrid events are a more likely result. 

MPI poll

Calvert stressed that virtual is not the enemy: “[Virtual event technology] is not any kind of threat to us,” she said. “It is a way to expand our offering by layering on that digital offering almost every time going forward.”

O’Malley said that he felt digital or virtual events are filling a gap, but that hybrid events may be the way of the future. There is an opportunity for us to get more sophisticated in how we are sharing things more broadly than for just those who can actually attend face to face, he added.

Robertson also said hybrid events are the way of the future. This crisis, she noted, is a catalyst to revisit traditional association and event models and ways of going to market.

“We have the ability to use technology more than before, particularly as we engage our volunteers,” she said. “We need to think about how to do that and complement ways we conduct meetings and conferences. Some events might be smaller, but then it is our job to make the experience as rich and deep as it can be.”

Van Deventer quoted an analogy he attributed to Brad Dean, CEO of Visit Puerto Rico, calling this time a “George Bailey moment.” The world is learning what it is like to be without hospitality and live events, he said, much like Bailey learned what his town, and the people in it, would be like without him in the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The result, he predicts, will be a greater appreciation for face-to-face meetings and events. 

Calls for Collaboration and Leadership

Dow called for the industry to come together and “control its destiny” by defining new standards around things like how many people can sit at a round table, how far apart chairs should be set and how many people can congregate in any given space. 

“It’s so important to have one industry, one voice,” he said.  “One plus one can equal five or six or seven. It is so important for us to come together and really show people the value of what we do.”

Calvert said that the EIC is focusing efforts on becoming a repository of resources on relief efforts, as well as providing support for the organization such as ASAE and USTA that are spreading the message about the impact of COVID-19 on the events industry.   

She couched leadership in terms of teamwork and collaboration. “Together, we are stronger,” she said. “[When] you are faced with leading through a crisis or being part of a team through a crisis, it is a unifying moment for your team. You need to be comfortable with not necessarily having all the answers at one time, but understanding the importance of being present and leading with both your heart and mind.”

Robertson stressed the need to embrace more collaboration — and different, innovative types of collaboration a la Apple and Google teaming up. She also encouraged everyone to be a leader, no matter where they may sit within an organization. “You have an opportunity to step up and help the organization in ways you have never before,” she explained. 

Resources/What’s Next?

MPI is making its entire MPI Academy library of recorded webinars available to everyone as a free resource, and offering special membership discounts:

•  Sign up for a 3-month complimentary MPI membership with promotion code GMID3Mos

•  Get $100 off a 12-month membership and receive $100 off your choice of one certificate course with promotion code TrustedResources2020

Visit the GMIDGoesVirtual What’s Next page to:

•  Share your ideas on how we can help the meetings and events industry move forward

•  Learn more about The Above and Beyond Foundation and SEARCH Foundation, and find out how you can help, or if you qualify for assistance

•  Share videos or photos on social media promoting the events industry with the hashtag #WhyIMeet

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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.