Behind the Scenes: We’re the Helpers

When bad things happen around the world, the business-events industry can do much good.

Author: Michelle Russell       

Michelle Russell

As I came into town on the Sunday evening before IMEX America got underway, I noticed that the Las Vegas Strip didn’t seem nearly as bright as I remembered it. I quickly learned from my driver that the casinos had dimmed their marquee signs, exactly one week after the Oct. 1 mass shooting. They remained dark for 11 minutes, the amount of time it took for the gunman to claim so many lives.

That orchestrated show of respect for the victims and heroes of the tragedy was the first of many somber reminders I saw during the week, conveyed with a strong sense of resolve in the numerous #vegasstrong signs around the city.

Throughout the IMEX exhibit hall at the Sands Expo & Convention Center, the mood was upbeat and the floor was bustling. Yet there was no escaping how this international show is a microcosm of the world. Our host city wasn’t the only destination reeling from tragedy, although other places were dealing with disasters inflicted by Mother Nature rather than a crazed gunman. While IMEX was in progress, uncontained wildfires were raging in California’s Napa and Sonoma counties. And it had been only a few short weeks since Hurricane Maria had pummeled Puerto Rico, Hurricane Harvey had ravaged Houston, and an earthquake had rocked Mexico City. All of those places were represented at IMEX America, by the people responsible for bringing group business to them.

So much heartache in such a short span of time. But the events industry isn’t in the business of handwringing, and one of the stories that I don’t think gets told enough is the important role we play during crises and as part of the recovery process. It’s the relief funds that spring up overnight to help those in need. It’s how you bring your much-needed events to recovering destinations, so hospitality, transportation, and catering professionals can get back to work.

And it’s also our industry’s physical infrastructure — convention centers and hotels — that shelter and sustain evacuees and first responders. In this issue, Associate Editor Casey Gale shares how Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center took in and cared for more than 10,000 hurricane evacuees over a three-week period, how the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center at Dallas sheltered nearly 4,000 evacuees from other parts of Texas, and how the Puerto Rico Convention Center has served as first a place of refuge and then a command center for government officials, the U.S. military, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency since Hurricane Maria hit the island.

Fred Rogers — Mr. Rogers himself — once said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” You don’t have too far for them in our industry.