Meeting the challenges of Covid-era conventions and conferences

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The Sands Expo & Convention Center recently staged a mock trade show in which new setups and protocols were tested.
The Sands Expo & Convention Center recently staged a mock trade show in which new setups and protocols were tested. Photo Credit: Sands Expo & Convention Center.
Paul Szydelko
Paul Szydelko

While it's too soon to know how quickly some semblance of Las Vegas' convention and meetings attendance will resume after a loosening of crowd restrictions on Oct. 1, large and small facilities have implemented a number of health and safety protocols in anticipation of a restart.

The importance of the industry, dormant because of the pandemic since March, is in the numbers: An estimated 6.6 million people attended conventions in Las Vegas in 2019, a 2.3% increase from the previous year, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau. The direct and indirect impacts of meetings, trade shows and events in Las Vegas totaled $11.4 billion and supported 68,000 jobs.

Hoping to alleviate concerns about large gatherings, the Venetian Resort Las Vegas and Sands Expo & Convention Center recently staged a mock trade show to demonstrate physical-distancing protocols and sanitization procedures.

The exhibit hall worked with government partners, public health experts, other resort companies and industry vendors on the project. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak and meetings industry professionals were invited to tour the setup.

The 296,000-square-foot exhibit included redesigned areas for arrival and registration, exhibitor booths, educational sessions, food courts and general sessions.

"The Venetian Resort has established protocols to safely host meetings and events, part of our Venetian Clean Commitment, in compliance with Nevada Guidance for Safe Gatherings," said Chandra Allison, senior vice president of sales at the Venetian Resort Las Vegas and Sands Expo. "In response to the governor's update, we are partnering closely with our groups in 2021 to plan their upcoming meetings using these protocols as a guide. We continue to work with our government officials on the next steps to continue the safe opening of our state."

The Venetian also recently created a "bubble" to host the production of the ABC TV show "Shark Tank." A number of safety protocols were implemented, including frequent on-site Covid-19 testing. After more than two months, the 1 million-square-foot bubble was a success and free of Covid-19, a spokesman said.

More details on the Venetian's extensive plan can be found here.

MGM Resorts International's Convene With Confidence Plan also is designed to facilitate the safe return of meetings and conventions. Its options include using on-site testing that promises results in 20 minutes. Another option is Health Pass, which links a guest's verified identity with a real-time health questionnaire, Covid-related test results and temperature checks via integrated on-site kiosks. The process was used in the National Hockey League's return to play during the Stanley Cup playoffs in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta.

"Convene With Confidence represents the culmination of everything we've learned, cutting-edge technology and months of consultation with experts," MGM Resorts CEO and president Bill Hornbuckle said. "With this program, we are taking another step forward in safely providing a level of entertainment, amenities and service not seen since before the pandemic began."

Wynn Resorts, which doubled its massive meetings space this year, is setting up its own Covid-19 testing lab to be operational by Thanksgiving.

The Las Vegas Convention Center, in the midst of its own expansion, was awarded the Global Biorisk Advisory Council STAR facility accreditation by ISSA, a trade association for the cleaning industry, earlier this year. The program, considered the gold standard for safe facilities, was designed to control the risks associated with infectious agents, including the virus responsible for Covid-19.

Large conventions remain on hold until 2021, but smaller gatherings are already underway. The Plaza Hotel & Casino downtown announced its #MaskOnMeetOn initiative for its 30,000-square-foot event space.

The Plaza partners with production company PSAV to offer customized meeting technologies, including live web streaming of session content, archiving video content and enhanced social media interaction for on-site and remote attendees.

A spokeswoman for the Plaza said it hosted a corporate group of 15 and a larger event of 650 on Oct. 13. The larger group was divided into two groups of 249 and one of 152 guests to comply with the state's regulations.

"We have a handful of repeat, loyal guests that were already on the books with groups of over 250," said Michele Evans, director of sales, catering and Core Arena at the Plaza. "These groups were waiting to hear the latest directives in hopes they could still convene. They are all pleased to know that they will be meeting face to face in the next few months and have retained their first-choice dates."

Evans says she has noticed that groups are beginning to plan their upcoming events within a six-to-nine-month window instead of more than a year out. "Overall, barring any unforeseen circumstances, Q2 and Q3 2021 are moving in the right direction with groups that were pushed and existing groups holding out for some good news."

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