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A Look at Pandemic-Era Events in the Dallas-Fort Worth Area
It could be argued that Texas was one of the first states to welcome back a large, high-profile, in-person meeting amid the COVID-19 pandemic: MPI’s WEC 2020, held in November 2020 at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Texas, just 30 minutes outside of Dallas. More than 600 people attended in person, and another 1,000 tuned in virtually.
That week in November and the weeks after, WEC almost served as an industry barometer for in-person events, with questions posed to attendees who were on the ground such as: How comfortable did you feel while there? What made you feel safe? Was it worth the in-person trip?
Since the onset of the pandemic, the Dallas-Fort Worth area has adapted efficiently to serve clients who have wanted to continue safely with in-person meetings through 2020 and beyond. Dallas was even the first destination to earn the GBAC STAR accreditation, which is awarded to facilities for stellar cleaning, disinfection and infectious disease outbreak prevention protocols.
Accredited facilities include Dallas Fort Worth International Airport and the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, as well as a number of hotels and city-owned cultural institutions.
“This is my 40th year in this business, and throughout [this pandemic], it’s really emphasized the things we’ve always said about how our industry revolves around relationships,” said Brad Kent, senior vice president and chief sales officer for Visit Dallas. “We view Dallas not as a trademark but as a trust mark. People need to be able to trust that if we say we can’t have [an in-person event] or we can, that we really have everybody’s best interests at heart…There’s no cash registers at Visit Dallas. Our job is to work on behalf of all those folks who are stakeholders in the live events world.”
Visit Fort Worth echoes that sentiment, that solid relationships and flexibility have helped the area pull off successful in-person meetings.
“Those that have wanted to continue moving forward [with an in-person meeting], we’re so appreciative that they recognize that they can’t have the same meeting today that they were going to have yesterday,” said John Cychol, vice president of sales for Visit Fort Worth. “They also know that attendance is going to be different and that the revenue structure will be different. But this is also a way that we’ve been able to work with customers to say, ‘Hey, here’s how you can still have your meeting and do this or do that.’”
Below, we take a closer look at a handful of 2020 in-person events held throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and what planners can learn from their successes.
A Collector Car Auction in Dallas
Dallas is one of the annual homes of Mecum Auto Auctions, the world’s largest auction of collector cars that travels the country each year and is broadcasted on NBC Sports. Despite the pandemic, the show was held October 15-17, 2020, in Dallas at the GBAC STAR-accredited Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.
“At first it was going to be cancelled, but through collaboration with city leadership, county leadership, we were able to establish that with no more than 1,200 people in the building at a time covering 725,000 square feet, there was certainly proper distancing,” Kent said. “And Mecum was a terrific partner.”
Ahead of entering the auction floor, attendees were temperature screened and required to sign a medical release, as well as wear masks and to sanitize their hands. Inside, the auction arenas—usually theater seating—were set up with tables large enough for proper distancing for those who had signed up to be bidders beforehand. Tickets to the public, usually 80% of the events’ attendance, were not available.
“We found that the bidders liked that, actually,” said Dave Magers, CEO of Mecum Auctions. “They liked having the tables in front of them. They were able to stay in their seats longer. It actually improved our business, as well as provided the necessary safety protocols.”
Although the 2020 Dallas Mecum event was unlike its 2019 predecessor in many respects, Magers said it was all the more important to host it, with many Americans out of work—some who may have had to sell that collector car they’ve owned for 25 years to generate revenue to pay bills and support their families.
“You need to rethink the importance of events—why are you doing it and what are some of the unintended or maybe unthought-of benefits that might occur from that,” Magers said. “And of course, working with local officials early and just being upfront and taking advice from them is paramount to being able to have a successful event.”
A Rodeo Conference in Fort Worth
This year, the rodeo still came to town—to Fort Worth and Arlington, that is. The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association brought its National Finals Rodeo (usually held in Las Vegas) to Arlington’s Globe Life Field in early December 2020. Ancillary events were held in Fort Worth, including the association’s annual convention of about 300 people and Cowboy Christmas, a holiday-inspired retail extravaganza, at the Fort Worth Convention Center.
In a 90-day turnaround, Visit Fort Worth helped the association navigate executing a once turnkey event—being held in Las Vegas for more than 30 years—to all-new venues that needed to meet new health requirements.
“We had to work with this customer to reinvent their event, which has gone to Vegas for so many years,” Cychol said. “All they had to do [in Vegas] was flip on a switch, so to speak. So there were a lot of unknowns, certainly to us, and to the customer…There was a whole journey that had to be taken to understand and then execute those activities, those events throughout the destination.”
[Check this out: 2021 Meetings Today Trends Survey]
Along with complying with capacity requirements, distributing masks and gaiters and installing hand-sanitizing stations and plexiglass barriers, the Visit Fort Worth team also leaned into its proactive PR campaign that was launched in spring 2020, “Y’all Wear a Mask,” to build community consensus along with visitor compliance.
Mobile billboards were driven around outside of the rodeo events’ venues, along with traditional signage posted inside—not just the convention center but also restaurants and other attractions.
“More so in this environment, when you’re working hard to land business, more community members than ever reached out [to Visit Fort Worth] and said how can we help? Whether it was transportation services, restaurants, dozens of departments within the city,” said Mitch Whitten, vice president of marketing and strategy for Visit Fort Worth. “The Visit Fort Worth team has had unparalleled cooperation from the community in trying to bring business here safely.”
A Corporate Event in Plano
In November 2020, a mid-level corporate marketing group came to Plano for a weekend event that included education, networking and giving out awards to team members.
About 650 people attended each day of the event at the Plano Event Center, where safety protocols in place included a mask requirement, social distancing reminders, hand-sanitizing stations outside of all breakout rooms and increased routine cleaning of high-touch surfaces.
Bethany Hastings, director of sales for the Plano Event Center, said building a trusting relationship with the customer was paramount to pulling off the event safely.
“It’s important to have that relationship with the planner so that you can have some of those separate conversations about making sure everybody’s doing that they’re supposed to be doing,” she said, adding: “If they know that you support them, then they will support you…This is a time when everybody’s lost so much business, and you want those loyal customers to come back.”
MLB Postseason in Irving
The Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas, located in Irving, was selected as one of the sites for an MLB postseason “secure zone.” As well as hosting MLB staff and umpires, the property also hosted two MLB teams (in separate parts of the facility) at a time throughout the playoffs in October 2020, all the way through the World Series.
Along with Four Seasons’ Lead With Care health and safety protocols in place, meals were only grab-and-go, and meeting spaces were converted into areas of recreation for players and their families.
“We minimized contact but still delivered the Four Seasons experience,” said Lisa Garland, marketing communications manager for the Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas. “I think they felt really comfortable because they knew their health and safety were a top priority for us. But we also wanted to still give them that Four Seasons experience with the quality of food and making them as comfortable as possible within the environment.”
Visit Dallas | 214.571.1000
Visit Fort Worth | 800.433.5747
Visit Irving Texas | 972.252.7476
Visit Plano | 800.817.5266