Meeting Mentor Magazine

November 2021

Las Vegas Leaders Weigh in on What’s Next for Meetings

From left to right: Michael Goldsmith, President, Magellan Marketing; Amy Riley, Director of Sales with Dreamscape; Michael Massari, Caesars Entertainment Chief Sales Officer and 2021 Co-Chair of the Meetings Mean Business Coalition (MMBC)

When was the last time you saw someone literally jump for joy? If you attended Meeting Professionals International’s World Education Congress (MPI WEC), held at CAESARS FORUM in Las Vegas in June, you may have spotted more than a few — or even done a few joy-jumps of your own — as meeting professionals who hadn’t seen each other for a year or more once again were able to meet face to face.

“The experience has been so uplifting,” said Michael Massari, Caesars Entertainment Chief Sales Officer and 2021 Co-Chair of the Meetings Mean Business Coalition (MMBC). MM took the opportunity to sit down face-to-face with Massari, along with his fellow Las Vegas thought leaders Michael Goldsmith, President, Magellan Marketing, and Amy Riley, Director of Sales with Dreamscape, during WEC to get their thoughts on everything from their experience over the past year and a half to how what we have learned will play out when the pandemic is finally no longer front-page news.

MM: So, how’s business?

Massari: We primarily kept our sales organization open, and we actually booked more future business during the past 12 months of COVID than we did at any other 12-month period in the history of our company. Our team spent the whole pandemic booking future group business, and now our calendar has never been stronger. Leisure has been busy since last summer, and our hotels have been running high occupancies on the weekends, and weekday occupancies are growing. We are all encouraged that Las Vegas is going to come out of this from 0 to 60 miles per hour — the resumption of meetings, events and business travel will accelerate that.

What’s different now?

Massari: Our duty of care to our team members and our customers, which has always been important, is even more so now. For example, when Las Vegas is completely unrestricted [as it was in June, prior to the rise of the Delta variant and a subsequent Nevada indoor masking mandate implemented in August for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals], we accommodate whatever our clients’ duty of care requires. For example, we could do rounds for 12, but MPI chose to do rounds of four. We could do a buffet if that’s what the customer wants.

Goldsmith: And you see obvious things, like the pre-entry temperature checks and wristbands, and ribbons indicating what level of contact someone is comfortable with, that MPI put in place.

How is technology changing on the facility level?

Massari: Facility technology, while important, is kind of boring to talk about. It’s the airwall system, it’s the layout, it’s the load-in. When people ask me this question, they usually want to know how many miles of Cat-5 wire we laid, but the important thing is that the facility can meet customer expectations. They expect to do what they want to do — to be fully wireless and integrated into a hybrid environment, and of course we can provide that, both indoors and outdoors. By the way, I think we’ll see more sessions being held outside. They may book their sessions inside and lunch outside, and then if the weather looks good, say, “let’s swap them.”

The longevity of CAESARS FORUM, though, is going to be its flexibility, which is born out of the airwall configuration and the divisibility of its space that enables it to be one thing in the morning, another in the afternoon, and something else entirely the next morning.

Goldsmith: Technology is becoming more integrated into everything. Now we know instantly how much overage we had from that lunch for 850 today, and we can learn from that real-time data. It’s an exciting time to be in the meetings industry because we now have the ability to deliver in new and better ways, both online and face to face. That said, Zoom is good for maintaining existing relationships, but not for establishing new ones. That only happens face to face.

Massari: I don’t think we’ll see a lot of core changes, but we will see a lot of change at the periphery. For example, I think touchless technology is here to stay — that falls into the mega-trend of increased duty of care. We’ve changed the way we bring product into the building and how we manage it once it’s here. Those changes are here to stay. Hand sanitizer stations, air purifiers and filters — those things are all now standard. I don’t know how much the average attendee will notice any of those things though. They are just now part and parcel of the overall experience.

What about in hotels — will robot room service become a thing?

Goldsmith: Maybe if I wanted pizza at midnight! But like most of us, I really value that human touch.

Massari: One thing we likely will see is that low-value transactions will become autonomous while the high-value transactions will stay human. The benefit is that we won’t have to rush the high-value transactions because the humans don’t have to spend time on those low-value transactions. For example, if you have a 15-person meeting with a roll-in lunch, you’re likely going to be able to buy that online without ever having to talk to a salesperson. A convention services person will set up your BEO and email it to you. But if you have 1,200 people with 14 sessions and nine tracks, a salesperson will call you and a convention services person will work with you for months. You’ll see more of an automation of the standard easy meetings to make them faster and less costly for everyone, and you’ll see more personalized effort going into the more complicated meetings.

With a year or more of going digital with events, how hybrid will we be moving forward?

Massari: People always want to move up the scale from written-only communication, to written plus verbal, to being present with each other for total communication. No one wants to move backwards. So if an attendee can’t make the conference or isn’t sure if it’s right for them, they can check it out online. But everyone knows the gold standard is to be there in person.

So I see the acceleration of expanding the tent via hybrid that we’ve seen also increases the funnel for face-to-face participants. I’ve been a believer for a long time that this is nothing but good for our industry.

Remember, Zoom and Microsoft Teams don’t replace face-to-face meetings. They replace telephone calls. People’s understanding of why they gather face to face has never been higher, and their desire to do so has never been greater than it is now after a year of not being able to do so.

We also have, out of necessity, had to slide back a bit on sustainability as we had to individually wrap everything due to COVID concerns. Is sustainability in the meetings industry going to come back?

Riley: Actually, sustainability has accelerated in some ways. While meetings and events were already getting away from paper, now you see even fewer handouts, if any, to reduce any contamination risks.

Massari: We phrase a lot of things as either/or, when we can make them “and.” Is it sustainability or duty of care? In the long run, we will find ways to do both.

The same holds true for the whole notion of “you can gather or you can be safe.” We can do both. Period. Our industry has figured out how to do this, and we have been gathering safely since last summer.

You all seem to see a lot of positives coming out of the industry’s experience. Do you think society as a whole is now gaining a better understanding of what this industry contributes?

Goldsmith: Another big positive is that the economic impact of meetings has become obvious. And not just the direct spending, but also how it supports the dry cleaners, the small restaurants, the mom-and-pop shops.

Massari: It’s been something we complain about in this industry forever, but now people have seen what it’s like when we have to do without meetings. And it’s not just the economic impact on the local and national economies. It’s also the societal impact — when doctors don’t gather, you’re not advancing medical treatments. When government groups don’t meet, you’re not advancing government actions.

Look for the Fall edition of MeetingMentor magazine for more perspectives on what’s next for the meetings and hospitality industry.

 

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ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 4,400+ associations, corporations, and sporting authorities through our 400+ global associates. www.conferencedirect.com

About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, is a business journal for senior meeting planners that is distributed in print and digital editions to the clients, prospects, and associates of ConferenceDirect, which handles over 13,000 worldwide meetings, conventions, and incentives annually. www.meetingmentormag.com

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