Meetings industry heavyweights gathered at IMEX America for a packed press conference Oct. 10 to reflect on the Las Vegas mass shooting, and how the destination, its workers and the groups meeting in it are pulling together to both remember the tragedy and stay resilient to ensure their common future.
“At 10:05 on October 1, life as we knew it was shattered. At 10:15 our lives were united,” said Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority to the large crowd of attendees packing the Sands Showroom at the Venetian Las Vegas, connected to Sands Expo Center, host of the IMEX America exhibition.
Ralenkotter joined other local and national tourism and meetings industry leaders to note the heroic acts of Las Vegans and the attendees at the concert, from people pushing victims into cars to take to the hospital and hotel and area tourism business staff rushing into help the injured, to nearby business owners who provided shelter for those escaping the horror and the bravery exhibited by those who used their own bodies to shield loved ones from the automatic rifle fire.
“The best of what we are happened that night,” Ralenkotter told the rapt audience, adding that area businesses and others immediately pitched in to aid the victims, such as Chili’s restaurant, which donated meals, and the donation of 800 sleeping bags to those temporarily housed at the Thomas & Mack Center, which is located on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and was put into service as a shelter. “Everyone rallied.
“We are connected at the hip and we have been in constant contact with everyone so we can move forward and get through this terrible tragedy,” he added.
Ralenkotter was joined by Ray Bloom, chairman and founder of IMEX Group; Roger Dow, president and CEO of U.S. Travel Association; Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International; and David Peckinpaugh, president of Maritz Global Events.
IMEX Groups’ Ray Bloom said there was never any doubt that IMEX America would go on, and was joined by others that said the exposition actually served as a sort of tonic during the last week.
“We think it is very fitting that we came to Las Vegas this week, and all of the industry leaders are here this week,” Bloom said, reinforcing the sentiment that Las Vegas, right at this moment, is the best place for the meetings and hospitality to come together like a family to express their solidarity and move forward. “The world sees Las Vegas as a city of lights, but for those of us in the hospitality industry it’s also like a village. For the industry to come together this week is very important for the city of Las Vegas and the industry to show that it is back to normal.”
Roger Dow, president and CEO of U.S. Travel Association, which advocates for the travel industry in the national political arena, validated Bloom’s statement, and seemed on the verge of tears as he addressed the audience.
“I’m here simply to support the $2.3 trillion, 23 million-employee travel industry,” Dow said. “Fear and one senseless act; Las Vegas has refused to let that define them….Las Vegas is strong. Stronger than ever, and we’re with you all the way.”
Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International, was perhaps most acutely affected by the mass shooting, in a business sense, as MGM operates Mandalay Bay, where the gunman unleashed his attack.
“I don’t know if anyone can be fully prepared for this, but I can tell you I never felt alone,” Murren said, adding that the people who staff the hotels and other tourism businesses in Las Vegas were everyday people that rely on tourism to feed and shelter their families, and that meetings and tourism must continue so they can continue.
“They’re like anyone else. They have a job with you, and without you they don’t have a job,” Murren said. “IMEX being here is very beautiful. It’s almost poetic, being what we’ve been through in the last few days. “I’ve never been more proud my entire life about any organization as I am today about my organization.
“We’re strong. We’re resilient. We’re unwavering in our commitment to this community,” he added. “We’re heartbroken but we’re not broken. The meetings industry is the backbone of this entire business model. Without that everything else falls away.”
Murren ended with an exhortation to those in the meetings industry who are asking how they can help.
“You’re coming here and supporting this destination is helping those families take care of themselves,” he offered.
Peckinpaugh, president of Maritz Global Events, closed out the press conference by lending his unconditional support of Las Vegas, and asking his colleagues in the meetings and tourism business to do the same.
“Las Vegas has been under attack,” he said. “The question is, will Vegas ever be the same? The answer is no, but it will be better. Make sure we’re educating our clients, and informing them of the facts, and getting rid of the incorrect facts out there.
“We need to continue to support the destination under attack,” Peckinpaugh continued. “I think it’s important to know we stand behind MGM and Las Vegas, and continue to bring business into this destination.”