Brad Paisley entertains ASAE attendees and others at Express Live!, a venue near the Greater Columbus Convention Center, during the 2019 annual meeting & exposition.
When Columbus was chosen as the location for the American Society of Association Executives’ (ASAE) 2019 Annual Meeting & Exposition, Experience Columbus President and CEO Brian Ross called the event a “game changer” for the city. The destination came together to host the conference — held Aug. 10-13 at the recently renovated Greater Columbus Convention Center — which welcomed nearly 5,500 event professionals. Experience Columbus’ theme surrounding the event was “more is possible,” emphasizing the impact of the conference, which showcased some of the newest developments in the association world, from health and wellness initiatives to inventive food distribution methods.
Throughout the LEED-certified, 1.8-million-square-foot conference center, there were water infusion stations for attendees, which used daily herbs from the center’s onsite Smartfarm. Lunch on the expo floor was also innovative in that delegates built their own meal from different items — including something for all food preferences — packaged in compostable containers. Amy Ledoux, CAE, CMP, ASAE’s senior vice president of meetings, expositions, and special events, said it was “the most unbelievable food and beverage design and delivery by Levy,” adding that she’d never “seen anything as spectacular in quality and presentation” in her career. All leftover perishable items were donated to those in need throughout Columbus after the event.
For the conference, Experience Columbus worked with a record 600 community volunteers, who filled 1,000 shifts throughout the event, and 50 dedicated community partners. Plus, Columbus hosted the most successful Classic, an annual fundraiser for the ASAE Foundation, to date, generating $372,800 — the most the event has earned in the organization’s 13-year history. Attendees could also volunteer during the conference, and those CSR activities raised a total of $30,188.
Despite being within walking distance of some of Columbus’ best restaurants and entertainment options — including COSI, Nationwide Arena, and Express Live! — ASAE attendees didn’t have to leave the convention center grounds to see some of the best of what the city has to offer. In the 10,000-square-foot Arnold Plaza outside the venue, Experience Columbus built a pop-up featuring animals from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Delegates could pet adorable baby penguins or participate in giveaways from local shops. Other attractions in the city that offer mobile experiences like these include the science center COSI, which offers pop-up science experiments, and the Columbus Idea Foundry, a community workshop that hosts make-and-take projects for attendees.
Ledoux also praised the ease of getting around the conference venue during ASAE. “The convention center is honestly a dream layout,” she said. “Both attendees and staff said that the center was so easy to navigate.”
In addition, the convention center is the first in the world to earn the designation of Sensory Inclusive Certified through KultureCity, making it extra accessible to people with autism and other sensory needs, according to the organization’s website.
And for women visiting the center, Columbus-based Aunt Flow contributes 100 percent organic and biodegradable feminine hygiene products for all of the bathrooms.
By the end of the 2019 convention, it was clear Columbus had made a real impression on ASAE attendees, 20 percent of whom are likely to plan a meeting in the destination within the next five to 10 years, according to ASAE.
“We appreciate all the care and attention [the city] paid to our members and attendees,” said Ledoux. “I guarantee they will not forget their incredible experience in [the] fabulous city of Columbus.”