As I sit here reflecting on the past three-plus weeks, I realize that I've witnessed more in meetings, events and hospitality than I ever imagined I would in my career. Leisure travel came to a halt; South by Southwest and Miami Music Week were canceled; the NBA (followed by all major sports) went dark; the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic; and the Olympics were postponed.
I canceled my first conference in more than 10 years and watched Las Vegas, the city that never sleeps, go into complete hibernation. "Stay Home for Vegas" was the new campaign that launched before I touched down back home in South Florida after pulling the plug on a client's annual conference. It happened so fast that I couldn't even process everything until a shelter-in-place order was declared in my hometown and I finally had time to sit down.
My first thoughts are for my friends on the sales side and the thousands of furloughs and job losses. The uncertainty is lingering in the air, so much you can almost feel its human-like presence. It didn't feel like reality, and at times it still doesn't. The largest names in hospitality have closed their doors for at least a few months, and we still don't have a firm sense of opening dates. Who even knows if we've hit the tip of the iceberg yet?
Planners are scrambling trying to answer "how soon is too soon to cancel," and hotels are pushing back on force majeure for events scheduled days after their expected open date. It's everywhere right now and has quickly become a main topic in most of the planner groups on social media. Sadly, with all the panic, instead of working together it seems like the only thing being posted is groups fighting with hotels and not nearly enough working together. All of this reminded me of something former President Barack Obama once said, "When disaster strikes, it tears the curtain away from the festering problems that we have beneath them."
Now more than ever, during this time of trying to find the new "normal," we can stop being on "one side of the industry or the other" and come together to hit the reset button on things that have stalled our trade instead of excelling it.
Hoteliers, planners, logistic and production companies, third parties and more, because at the end of the day we all make up this industry. Big-box brands have to stop worrying about giving an extra 3% commission to people who bring them numerous clients and/or events and value those relationships as they once did.
More than ever, planners can lean on large intermediaries like Maritz Global Travel to work with GSOs while sales managers and sales teams are changing daily. This has proven extremely beneficial during the pandemic to keep open lines of communication and business moving. A huge misconception is that intermediaries will take a planner or group's benefits for themselves or raise room rates when in actuality, the large ones have pre-negotiated agreements with brands that typically include a rebate for the organization. Again, this is extremely valuable during a time of uncertainty, or even worse, a loss of event income.
Direct relationships between planners and hotels are equally as important, especially with unfortunate forced cancellations. Due to force majeure, Caesars Entertainment released one of our clients from their contract without penalty. It was so refreshing to work with such an honest team that without any obligation, we signed a future contract hoping to help keep business on their books. That's what partnerships are all about.
Las Vegas Expo, who we partnered with for the first time, reacted the same way and we were able to sign three future agreements at various U.S. locations. Just the uplifting email exchanges knowing business is still moving put everyone’s spirits back in the right place. These partnerships, built on loyalty and trust during the most unprecedented times, are those that last and excel the industry as a whole. They enable funds to keep flowing through all organizations involved and even trickles down to being able to make usual deposits with AV and smaller vendors so everyone across events can feel the benefit. If a hotel drains an organization in cancellation fees, they can't or won't rebook. The hotels get hurt, more people get furloughed and nobody wins.
So how long can all of this really last? As Las Vegas initiated the major shutdown, it also raised spirits on April 1 as hundreds of tourism and hospitality workers drove in unison along the length of Las Vegas Boulevard, beginning at Town Square Las Vegas and concluding at Fremont Street. The "Light Up Las Vegas" car parade was been planned to show the world Las Vegas’ tourism and meetings industry will recover. With the unfortunate events that occurred in sports, leading to sportsbook closing, only made a stronger case for an early opening of Vegas as the virus itself never stormed through the properties. We have witnessed the strength of Las Vegas overcoming tragedy and they always rise up.
None of us will forget COVID-19. But instead of remembering the negative, we can all come together and make positive changes to benefit our industry going forward.
Hospitality was the last to fall and it will be the first to rise. Business is a necessity. Meetings will begin again and we will set the bar. Sporting events will start up and lead the way for people to be comfortable congregating, and leisure travel will pick up. We are resilient, passionate go-getters, and it is up to us to raise the industry again and bring it to a stronger place than it's ever been.
When this ends—and it will—ballrooms and hotels will be filled to capacity; every game will sell out; airlines will be flying high; kids will never complain about school; the stock market will sky rocket; houses will get toilet papered; you'll sell $50,000 hand sanitizer sponsorships; and we'll embrace and shake hands. That's going to be a great day. Hang in there, friends.