Meetings Today Senior Contributor Jeff Heilman touched base with Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA) Executive Director David Gibbons on the MCCA’s increase in group business and the future of the facility.

MT: The year 2017 was a strong one for MCCA-hosted events. What were some prevailing factors?

DG: While we are very happy about today’s success, it follows the good deeds from the BCEC’s opening 14 years ago. With an average booking window of seven years, that means some associations are meeting here for the first time or second time. With that long horizon, which for some groups can be 15 or even 30 years out, we must be conscious of making the right moves to sustain the cycle; 2019 could be a speedbump, based on what people did in 2011 coming out of the recession.

It’s a different wavelength of thought. With prime time locked up in both the BCEC and Hynes Convention Center for most of the future years, getting into our cycle could be a challenge, especially for emerging industry groups created by today’s accelerated innovation culture.

We are also addressing imbalance in the location of hotel inventory. While smaller than the BCEC, the Hynes has the biggest group of rooms. The new 1,055-room Omni Boston Seaport Hotel now under construction across from the BCEC will help rebalance that room geography and free up more opportunities for concurrent events.

With its diverse and expanding economy centered around technology, medicine and the life sciences, Boston is the think tank for the 21st century. As a corporate magnet and academic stronghold with a strong financial backbone, it’s a destination for the meeting of minds and wallets. This is a favorable time for Boston.

Everybody is on the same page, and there’s a fair wind with us.

MT: What steps is the MCCA taking to maintain momentum?

DG: We are presently studying master planning ideas for the next decade or so, including growth options for the 30 undeveloped acres on our 70-acre campus. Topping the competition on exhibition space is a driving metric of our industry, but in “think tank” Boston, our higher priority is being able to offer multiple smart meeting rooms for brainstorming, strategy sessions and versatile networking.

The rate of acquisition and consolidation in certain industries is also changing exhibition floor dynamics and planner expectations. It’s about wider aisles and pavilions, not booths. They want excitement and experiences.

At some shows here, you forget you’re in a convention center.

Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, Credit: Signature Boston
Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, Credit: Signature Boston​

We expect to report on the study in spring 2019. Meanwhile, we are focused on enhancements including four- and five-star hotel level service training for our employees, improving our F&B offerings and building on the huge success of our outdoor Lawn on D event space.

The innovation and technology industries are big customers, so our people who engage their people must be on the same level. That means ensuring that both our enterprise, and our clients have the best tools available. I am proud of our talented IT department, which we’ve really fine-tuned in the last three years.

Another strength not normally associated with Boston is our stagecraft. People don’t want a two-dimensional convention or tradeshow. They want to be entertained. That makes our strong IATSE community, going hand in hand with Boston’s theater revival, another backbone of our service culture.

We are good at the show business side, too.

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