2021 IAEE Innovative Business Solution Award Winner
By Mary Tucker, IAEE Sr. PR/Communications Manager
In the early stages of the pandemic, Visit Orlando made the conscious choice to be proactive in its efforts to lead the industry back to live, in-person events. Visit Orlando was asked by Orange County Mayor Demings to co-chair the Economic Recovery Task force, which was ultimately responsible for developing, reviewing and approving the reopening plans for the city’s attractions, hotels, restaurants and convention center.
Visit Orlando and the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) partnered with Orlando Health to create a medical concierge program that was among the first of its kind in the country, and provided every group with personalized medical collaboration, planning and support. They led the charge in opening up the industry after COVID in a safe and well thought out manner, and took the added step of publicizing these efforts during a time of fear and confusion among industry members. Its inventive and resolute process earned Visit Orlando the IAEE Innovative Business Solution Award last year, for which it was recognized this past December during Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition in Philadelphia, PA (watch Visit Orlando Chief Sales Officer Mike Waterman’s acceptance speech here).
IAEE President & CEO David DuBois, CMP, CAE, FASAE, CTA (left) presents the Innovative Business Solution Award to Visit Orlando Chief Sales Officer Mike Waterman (right) during Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition 2021 in Philadelphia, PA.
Here, Visit Orlando Chief Sales Officer Mike Waterman shares with IAEE how Visit Orlando took the helm in bringing back in-person events to its city, how its partnership with other organizations benefited its efforts, and the levels of success it achieved.
IAEE: When Visit Orlando took on the monumental task of bringing in-person events back to the city, what were some of the most challenging obstacles it faced and how did it approach resolving these concerns? Was there a defining moment when you knew you were on the right track with your approach?
Mike: How to figure out the safety protocols to conduct live, in-person meetings. We engaged Orlando Health, one of our members, and worked with them to develop a plan. They worked with our first live event, the AAU Girls’ Volleyball in July 2020. We knew it worked when we hosted 12,000 athletes, coaches and staff for seven days and had no spread.
IAEE: This plan involved elaborate collaborations with various organizations. What strategies did you use to keep it moving forward given all the moving parts?
Mike: We hired a video crew to film our fist several events and shared with our clients, members and media. Our clients wanted to see what the new protocols looked like firsthand. We also conducted blogs and webinars outlining what we were doing and the outcomes.
IAEE: Visit Orlando was very forthcoming and public about its efforts, which could be considered a risk. What swayed the decision in that direction and what responses did you receive from within the exhibitions and events industry as well as outside of the industry?
Mike: Visit Orlando and the OCCC choose to position Orlando as a leader in bringing back live events given the support we received from the state and county. We knew it could be done, we just needed to build the narrative. The response from our clients, members and counterparts has been overwhelmingly positive and appreciated. Many of our existing and new clients that have recently held their meetings in Orlando specifically told us they were watching Orlando and felt confident that we were doing it safely and productively.
IAEE: What were some of the greatest strides made as a result of this effort and to what do you attribute these successes? Now that you are two years in, what results has Visit Orlando seen from the effort overall?
Mike: The cleaning and service protocols put in place, as well as the collaboration with Orlando Health, have been game changers for us. Our citywide pace is back to pre-pandemic levels and our future pace for the next three to five years is ahead of our optimum pace versus prior years.
IAEE: What were some of the greatest lessons learned from this exercise and how have these carried over into Visit Orlando’s business practices today?
Mike: I all came down to leadership. Those groups that chose to move forward with live, in-person events had leaders that said, “We are going to have this meeting one way or another,” and stuck with the plan. Orlando is an amazing community, and all parts of the hospitality community rallied to make this all happen, and we are better for it today.
The Call for Nominations for this year’s IAEE Awards is now open! Check out all of the award categories here and be sure to submit your nominations by 31 August!