By Sarah Beauchamp and Katie Kervin, Assistant Editors
What's new for meetings and conventions at your venue that you're most excited about?
The Orange County Convention Center [OCCC] has expanded five times in its 30-year history — we're turning 30 in February — so now it is time for us to reinvest and update some of the spaces that have been here. We're in the process of a major capital-improvements project for the next five years, which is about $187 million.
We're going to completely update the West Building, we're adding another ball-room adding furniture groupings in the concourses to make it a little more relaxed and less industrial-feeling, and also updating all of our air-conditioning units, all of our power, and putting on a new roof. And we've recently upgraded the wireless system, so we can handle more attendees on cell phones, tablets, and portable devices with much better coverage.
What are meeting planners asking for now that they weren't asking for a year or two ago?
Clients have been asking for additional ways to be sustainable. We do a lot of recycling, and we're just trying to make sure that it's visible. We just added brand-new recycle cans throughout both buildings and signage that explains that we recycle everything off-site. We also coordinate client donations that are left over from events, such as tote bags, paper, pens, and food donations — it does make a difference. Events hosted at the OCCC have donated an estimated $2 million this year in items to local charities here in Orlando.
Who has been your mentor in the meetings industry?
Since I've been here at the convention center, it really has been Tom Ackert, who is retiring; and Bill Peeper, retired CEO of Visit Orlando. And when I first started in the industry on the hotel side in New York City, my director of sales — her name was Kathy Girard.
What are you most looking forward to in 2013?
There have been so many changes with the new management team, new events, and the capital-improvement program that I'm really looking forward to all of it.
What is the biggest challenge — and the biggest opportunity — facing the meetings industry today?
The biggest challenge is the perception that conventions and meetings are not business-related by government organizations. The biggest opportunity is to engage attendees all through the year with the use of technology and social media so that it's almost as if the meeting goes on and on and you can always reach your audience.
Executive Director, Orlando's Orange County Convention Center