A year after welcoming back events, Orlando has now successfully hosted nearly 100 events. President and CEO Casandra Matej reflects on their recent success stories, how the role of the DMO is changing, and what sets the country’s most-visited destination apart when it comes to meetings.
Of the groups who have met in person in Orlando in the past year, how have they relied on the Visit Orlando team in ways that they have not before?
As a destination, we’ve been welcoming meetings again since last summer. Visit Orlando continues to have the most up-to-date information on healthy and safe events, allowing us to assist groups in creating functions that not only reassure attendees, but also meet county and state safety guidelines.
One newer aspect of our assistance is a first-of-its-kind partnership we created with Orlando Health. Through this connection, planners gained valuable insight from local experts to achieve successful and safe events. At Visit Orlando, we know that new protocols have added a layer of complexity to planning, so we focused on increased communication with our clients, providing accurate destination updates on our restaurants, attractions, hotels, and airport. Another new service we’ve provided in the last year is creating marketing content pieces for planners to share with their attendees that inform and assure a safe and healthy experience in Orlando.
Visit Orlando’s goal is to assist with creating successful, memorable meetings in Orlando, and we continue to provide innovative solutions to meet our clients’ needs, from virtual site visits and safety precautions to custom hybrid events and beyond.”
Do you think the role of the DMO is changing in the eyes of organizers? Do you think that will reshape how organizers and DMOs work together in the future?
While Visit Orlando has always been a partner to meeting planners, we recognize that events continue to evolve, and with them, how we service our clients. For example, over the past year we’ve developed successful virtual site visits for planners unable to travel here themselves. This new model was created as a workaround during the pandemic, but the benefits of such flexibility are obvious for future planners as well.
We have also enhanced our expertise in virtual and hybrid events, which we expect to remain popular long after normal travel resumes. For example, the Orange County Convention Center now has three studios to allow conventions and trade shows of all sizes the ability to seamlessly integrate hybrid components to their events. Regardless of the type or style of event, we are constantly adapting with the trends and technology available, as demonstrated in the last year.
What are a couple of recent in-person meeting success stories that Orlando has safely hosted? What were their unique challenges and how did Visit Orlando work with organizers to help solve them?
There can still be some hesitancy as restrictions around the county have varied. In Orlando, we’ve been open for more than a year, but for those who haven’t been, it can be tough to visualize what the experience is like in Orlando now. We utilize our virtual site visits and virtual tours, but as we all know in the meetings industry, there’s nothing like the in-person experience.
Surf Expo, for example, had questions about how to implement safety messaging and strategies to keep attendees safe. Orlando is home to some of the most respected tourism companies in the world who moved quickly to implement new safety measures and therefore served as perfect examples. We had Surf Expo planners visit Orlando to see for themselves how other brands even outside of the meetings industry implemented safety measures. Seeing this in person provided a comfort level and also served as an inspiration for everything from signage to intercom announcements to communicate to attendees.
Another example of a successful event is VMX (Veterinary Meeting & Expo). VMX is a legacy group, one that has been coming to Orlando for many years and always in January. One new challenge was to have their attendees consider a completely different time of year (June). When you shift dates, the marketing becomes extremely important in order to raise awareness among potential attendees — to educate them on the new date and provide compelling reasons to attend.
Safety was also a top priority for the planners of VMX, and Visit Orlando served as an ongoing resource for up-to-date information on local guidelines and connected them with organizations for special expertise. The partnership with Visit Orlando, Orange County Convention Center, and Orlando Health was a first-of-its kind collaboration to benefit planners as they navigate creating safe meetings. VMX used the Orlando Health medical concierge as a consultant as they put together that framework for the show.
From having hosted larger in-person shows like VMX, what are some of the more important takeaways that your team has learned that organizers should know as they restart their larger in-person events?
It’s important for planners to reevaluate their top priorities for an event, as they may have changed since the last time this event was held. Sharing those priorities with the DMO partner is vital to creating a successful event.
For example, we see more and more planners recognizing that many of their potential attendees haven’t traveled in a long time and events this year may be their first. These trips can serve double duty, offering an opportunity for education and connection with colleagues or new industry contacts, and provide a unique opportunity to add on leisure time with family or friends.
We are also seeing that some of our groups have fewer staff members to execute events yet remain under pressure to make things happen with less. Clients are leaning on us more than ever to help in all aspects of events, and we are happy to be that resource for them. Planners should not hesitate to share with a DMO partner where they need help. Even if they think it may be beyond their role, we appreciate the opportunity to work closely with our clients to overcome challenges.