Exhibition Showcase Talks To Mark Tester, Executive Director, Orange County Convention Centre

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ES. Orlando is one of the most-visited cities in the world primarily driven by tourism, major events and convention traffic. Please share your key responsibilities for hosting safe and successful events at Orange County Convention Centre.

Mark. We presented our Recovery and Resiliency Plan to our Mayor Jerry L. Demings and the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force on June 3, 2020, right after our major theme parks presented. Strategies included:

  • Implementing our Recovery and Resiliency Guidelines – health and safety guidelines
  • Receiving the Global Biorisk Advisory Council’s (GBAC) Star Accreditation
  • Collaborating with a large established healthcare system in Central Florida

Orange County continues to have a countywide mask mandate. The Center has also implemented multiple health and safety measures to ensure attendees, exhibitors and employees are safe. Increased hand sanitizer stations, staggered attendance, specific entries and exits, extremely wide aisles for the courts with directional signage, floor stickers, temperature checks for all guests entering the exhibit halls and enhanced cleaning protocols are just some of extensive procedures put in place throughout our events.
Through proper social distancing between courts, we have proven that you can create a safe and controlled gathering for sporting events. We were the first convention center nationwide to host large-scale sporting events – safely and without incident.

ES. Orange County Convention Center is one of largest and most modern exhibition and convention centers. Tell us about the features and facilities that sets OCCC apart from other venues.

Mark. With our robust exhibit space of 2.1 million square feet across the West and North-South Buildings, the Center is positioned to be able to host live events and host them successfully with extensive safety measures put in place. The total 7 million square feet of space, including back of house areas like dock space and remote parking lots has enabled us to host COVID-19 vaccinations, testing and events. No other center in the country has the exhibit space, regional collaboration and support that we have from our elected officials, partners, hotels, theme parks and local businesses.

ES. How has the virus outbreak affected the operations at OCCC? And how have you dealt with the situation and geared up for trade shows resurgence?

Mark. We have a stellar reputation for customer service, flexibility, and for doing the right thing. We also have great relationships with our customers and have a very supportive community. We are an economic engine in Orlando and have demonstrated that we are an industry leader, affirming our competitiveness and reputation for excellence by safely hosting events from other convention destinations. We have hosted about 70 events since the onset of the pandemic and we look forward to hosting about 15 event relocations from other destinations for 2021, similar in scale to the MAGIC Pop-Up Orlando, OFFPRICE Orlando Market and WWIN Orlando.

ES. How many regional, national and international conventions, meetings and trade shows, are hosted by the OCCC?

Mark. The award-winning Orange County Convention Center provides approximately $3 billion in economic impact to Central Florida annually. In recent years, the Convention Center has averaged nearly 200 events, including 115 conventions and tradeshows that attract more than 1.5 million attendees to the region each year. For more information about the Orange County Convention Center’s events, visit www.occc.net.

ES. How do you overcome the challenges in conducting and initiating the events in the new normal?

Mark. We recently launched the OCCC Executive Studios, developed in partnership with LMG, the OCCC’s on-site preferred audiovisual partner since 1998. We have three locations to accommodate the virtual studios – two in the West Building and one in the North-South Building based on our client’s needs. The new virtual studio allows customers to execute their event remotely, while connecting to their audiences, speakers, and presenters through extraordinary audiovisual experiences. The Center continues to adapt to the emerging needs, expectations and technologies of conventions, trade shows and events. With our new Executive Studio, conventions and trade shows of every size can access digital equipment solutions to produce innovative and scalable hybrid events allowing customers to execute their event remotely, while connecting to their audiences, speakers, and presenters through extraordinary audiovisual experiences.

ES. What are your views on technology and to what extent has your venue embraced it?

Mark. First, we have learned that virtual and hybrid meetings support face-to-face meetings – they do not replace them. Virtual and hybrid meetings have kept the community engaged. Hybrid and virtual meetings essentially became a solution during the pandemic mainly because of time, budget and travel – when in-person attendance was not a possibility, but the need to show new products and prospects was still there. It has given the industry an opportunity to have meetings and do business virtually, but still have a face-to-face component.

ES. What are your views on hybrid events?

Mark. Our entire industry is continuing to reimagine and reshape the future of live events. At the OCCC, we are strategically modifying traditional operations, to prioritize the safety of attendees, exhibitors and employees.

ES. What are the aspects which will see drastic changes in event industry? What are your top 3 goals for 2021?

Mark. First, we want to partner with our customers and help and our industry recover – all with the goal of the Center maximizing and growing our market share. We have collaborated with industry partners like Go LIVE Together!, to show how the convention, trade show and live events industry can host shows with health and safety policies in place. Second, we are developing strategies to maximize the Tourist Development Tax (TDT) during the recovery, with careful control of OCCC expenditures. TDT is a tax paid by the guest for hotels and sleeping accommodations in Orange County, which are rented for a period of six months or less.Last, we are revising the Center’s long-range plan to develop the next steps for both staffing and our facility as we recover from the pandemic and come out on the other side.

“We want to partner with our clients to help our industry and the Orlando region recover. We know this is a team effort and we are doing all that we can with the sports industry to recover from the pandemic and come out on the other side. We are operated by Orange County Government and our mission is economic development. Our vison is for Orange County to have the healthiest and most robust economy in the nation. From January through December 2021, we have 103 projected events slated with 952,808 in estimated attendance with a projected $1.85 billion in economic impact. Here’s an example of the economic impact of a recent event that took place, Feb. 9-11, 2021. During the first weekend of March, we hosted a trio of sporting events in addition to the consumer Orlando Boat Show with 5,000 ordered attendees. The impact of these events in our community is tremendous. Sunshine Volleyball was hosted over two back-to-back weekends.”

ES. What are your upcoming plans? ‘Orange County Convention Center braces for busy summer’? What major events are in the pipeline?

Mark. We are an economic engine and have demonstrated that we are an industry leader, affirming our competitiveness and reputation for excellence by safely hosting events from other convention destinations. We have hosted about 70 events since the onset of the pandemic and we look forward to hosting more than a dozen relocations from other destinations for 2021. We have a robust spring and summer calendar filled with sporting events and conventions. Those relocated conventions will result in more than 63,000 room nights and an economic impact of $124 million in new business for Orlando. We hope to maintain those relationships so that they consider Orlando and the Center again in the future. New and current sporting events are dominating our spring and summer calendar at the Center providing an estimated $123 million in economic impact with close to 96,000 projected guests. Right now, our Sales Team at the Center is laser focused on the future and ready for our community to make its comeback because we understand how many businesses and local residents rely on activity at the Center for their livelihoods. Here in Orlando, more than 29,300 individuals are employed by activity generated at the Center. More than 1,200 businesses are impacted by the Center.

ES. What would be your message to the industry?

Mark. Our guiding principles come from our Mayor Jerry L. Demings. His vision is to have a culture of innovation, collaboration and inclusiveness, where a community comes together to solve problems by pooling resources so that we can lift up our citizens and be a good community partner. In being a host site for COVID-19 testing and vaccinations at our remote and offsite garage locations, we are responding to that vision as efficiently as we can with our community. We understand that this recovery is a team effort.