Lights, Camera, Action! How the Pandemic Ramped Up Georgia World Congress Center’s Y’allywood Business

March 15, 2021

Since the pandemic brought the live events industry to a screeching halt one year ago, convention center staff across the country have been working overtime to find creative ways to keep their spaces occupied and employees working. Some have repurposed their expo halls into overflow COVID hospitals or mega vaccination sites, while others have been able to host smaller, socially distanced events, depending on the health and safety criteria in their state. Then there are those venues that have been in the fortunate position of being able to attract alternative kinds of business to keep their lights on and employees on the job. 

Case in point: the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta has been hosting an array of film and TV production business since COVID emptied its events calendar last spring.

According to Lidija Ahmetovic, sales manager of the Georgia World Congress Center Authority the facility’s TV and film business has been booming since June 2020. She said 19 productions either filmed or are confirmed to film there, and approximately 10 more opportunities are in the pipeline. The facility receives an average of about two leads per week.

“Due to trade shows and meetings cancelling and rescheduling, we’ve had more space to offer productions looking to film,” Ahmetovic explained. “GWCC has always been a popular location because of our space, but due to our busy roster of events, it was just hard to coordinate with filming schedules.”

Ahmetovic added that because of the pandemic, film and TV productions are having to use more space than they normally would in order to accommodate new mandatory protocols such as social distancing. And few spaces are as large and versatile as a convention center, particularly GWCC.

“GWCC has more than 1 million square feet of contiguous exhibit space, making it the perfect venue to accommodate any need,” she said. “Likewise, with the majority of our team members working remotely, we are able to repurpose offices, hallways and internal gathering spaces that otherwise wouldn’t be available.”

She added, “Also, the fact that our exhibit halls are a blank canvas gives [productions] a lot more room on the creative side and they can use it for whatever they want.” 

Show Business

So how did the GWCC get so lucky? The facility’s relationship with the $9.5 billion Georgia film and television industry dates back to the early 2000s, when the GWCC and the (now-demolished) Georgia Dome began attracting minor shoots. But it wasn’t until 2011/2012 when the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office, a division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, reached out about filming “Hunger Games: Catching Fire” at the facility, that things, well, began to catch fire.

At the time, Georgia didn’t have the state-of-the-art soundstage facilities that it has today, so there was a need for the kind of large and flexible spaces that the GWCC possessed.

“We were able to move some trade shows around and that’s how it all started,” Ahmetovic said. “Adding an additional revenue stream made good business sense, plus it drives awareness to our meeting planner audience.”

The facility quickly discovered that production companies were attracted to the venue’s 3.9 million square feet of film-friendly spaces, ranging from exhibit halls and ballrooms to tunnels, parking decks and outdoor spaces such as Centennial Olympic Park. 

Some of the more popular films, TV shows and commercials that have been shot at the convention center include “Spider-Man: Homecoming;” “Baby Driver;” “Venom;” “MacGyver;” “Sleepy Hollow;” “The Game” and The Rock X Siri Dominate the Day.

Fast Forward

With Georgia now ranked as one of the busiest shooting locations in the world, being able to lure in this lucrative business to supplement its bustling meetings and trade show schedule has proved to be a huge side benefit for the GWCC. But now, with the event industry on pause, that side business has become a bigger focus, not to mention a lifeline for the facility’s hard-working staff. 

“With the majority of meetings and trade shows canceled or rescheduled, the last nine months have provided us the opportunity to host the film and television industries like never before,” Ahmetovic said. “By doing so, it has brought in unplanned revenue and helped to keep many of our team members working. Our ability to partner with the film and television industries truly has brought optimism and reassured us that things are on a positive track to recovery.” 

So what will happen to all this “Y’allywood” business once events and trade shows return full force to the GWCC? Ahmetovic believes the facility’s long-standing, successful working relationship with the film and TV industry will continue for years to come, pandemic or no pandemic.

“Film and television is part of our fabric and we are grateful that productions continue to keep GWCC top-of-mind,” Ahmetovic said. “This, along with several other opportunities we have been able to cultivate during the pandemic, are what have kept our doors open and team members working in a time when a lot of our colleagues in the hospitality industry have been out of work.”

She added, “As we wait for meetings and events to return to campus, word has gotten out in the film and television industry that GWCC is available. Availability, coupled with our ability to be flexible and offer unparalleled spaces, creates a win-win for everyone.”


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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.