The hospitality and meetings industries are at a standstill as the COVID-19 crisis levels its crippling effect on travel and public gatherings of any size. Its top market, Las Vegas, is always a bellwether of the health of an economic segment that is one of the top drivers of the U.S. economy.

Meetings Today’s Tyler Davidson talks with Stephanie Glanzer, chief sales officer and senior vice president of MGM Resorts International, about the status of meetings and events in Las Vegas and the city’s substantial inventory of MGM properties.

Are meetings and events rebooking cancelled events, and in what time frame? What questions should meeting planners ask facilities to ensure their events enjoy the standard of service they are accustomed to as currently shuttered properties quickly ramp up to resume business?

Glanzer answers these questions and details MGM’s laudable efforts to help its employees weather the coronavirus crisis. Enjoying this episode? View more episodes of the Meetings Today Podcast!

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[Start Transcript]

Tyler Davidson: Hello, and welcome to this Meetings Today podcast. I'm Tyler Davidson, vice president and chief content director of Meetings Today, and joining us today is Stephanie Glanzer, chief sales officer and senior vice president for MGM Resorts International. Thanks for joining us today, Stephanie.

Stephanie Glanzer: Thank you for having me, Tyler.

Tyler: And I know we've talked in the past about a lot of things, but it's safe to say everything has changed everywhere in the last month in Vegas and everywhere else. How are you guys adapting to this—I guess new normal right now—with the COVID-19 virus?

Stephanie: Yes, I guess a whole new world is an understatement, and kind of similar how I can't look into my crystal glass of what's going to happen a week from now, whoever would have thought that we would have been in this position 30 days ago.

Stephanie GlanzerBut I will tell you that as a company and as an organization, we are trying to and have tried to stay as proactive as possible when it comes to things like guests and employee safety, and how we're handling our sales operations. And I say that because, you know, we made a proactive decision to close our properties prior to the state shutdown. That was a decision that senior leadership made for a number of reasons and then obviously, you know, the rest of the city in the state followed a couple days behind.

And at that time, we made the decision from a sales standpoint to make sure that we still had a full sales, convention services and catering operation working remotely out of everyone's home. So within a matter of days, I have had every global sales and property salesperson as well as CSM, catering setup from their homes.

It's amazing what you can do when you have to do it quickly. And we are running day-to-day operations, from responding to RFPs, moving and shifting groups, to helping those that are planning their future-year business. So, again, trying to be as proactive as possible.

Tyler: And I guess I should preface this, too, by saying I as we're taping this, it is April 2, 2020. So, just so everyone knows that in case you're listening to it a month from now, and all your properties are open—hopefully in a month or two—as you said, no one has a crystal ball to predict this. But it's nice to hear that you guys are really on top of the situation. And I think from what I hear from a lot of our meeting planner readers is that, you know, once everything does get back to normal, they do want to be assured that a ramp-up period to servicing their events will be as seamless as possible. And it really sounds like MGM Resorts International is taking that into account.

Stephanie: Yes, again, not just in the planning and preparation, but also we understand that we're entering sort of a whole new world when we relaunch and ramp up, and we have a number of different task forces being put together of what does that look like? What are the different internal processes and policies that will be followed, whether it comes to the cleanliness, sanitation and safety of our guests, as well as, quite frankly, how meeting spaces are set? So those are things that we are already talking about, sort of in the T-minus phase, when we open, but yes, it will be a whole new world that we're preparing for.

Tyler: You know, when I'm covering this, one thing that is really amazing to me and kind of heartening is in this terrible time where we're all trying to navigate this crisis, there's so many people that have been furloughed or have lost their jobs in all aspects of the industry. And I'm really trying to get those stories out there of folks like you—planners, suppliers, everyone—kind of chipping in for charitable efforts, and you guys have an Employee Emergency Fund set up. Why don't you tell people what that is?

[Related: Inspiring Stories from the Meetings Industry During the Coronavirus Crisis]

Stephanie: Sure, something that I am very proud of and love to speak about. And, you know, before I get into the details of today, I think it's important to know that, one, we have always had an MGM Resorts Foundation, where the majority of our employees, whether it is small or large donations, make a donation to every single year.

So that is something that has always existed, and again, proud that we were again set up to be able to help those in need for a time like now.

The other thing, Tyler, and you've heard me say this, is as an organization that does a lot of things, we were already preparing for 2020 to be the year of focus on what matters. And you know, everybody knows that we in Las Vegas, and every hospitality company, can do amazing things and ‘wow’ events.

But it's important to us right now to be able to tell the story about those people that execute those events, for what we do for the community, what the employees of MGM Resorts do for the community, our CSR initiatives and everything around that. So it is ironic timing that we're dealing with this, again, in a year that it was something that we need to tell that story of more deeply, and again, tell the story of MGM Resorts.

So with that, to answer your question, we over the past 10 days have done a number of things to help those in the community, and specifically those that have been laid off, furloughed within MGM Resorts. There was an immediate decision to take $1 million out of our employee foundation and put toward an Employee Relief Fund, again for those that needed the help, and [they] can apply through the company to get assistance.

On top of that $1 million, Bruno Mars, who is one of our resident entertainers, immediately offered another $1 million. And on top of that, the estate of Kirk Kerkorian—who again was, as everybody knows, the majority shareholder initially of MGM Resorts—his estate donated another $2 million.

So within a matter of days, obviously a very large amount to help those of the company. Since that time, we are continuing to get executive donations from all of our leadership team as well as a number of other local supporters.

So very, very humbling. But as you add all the numbers up that I said, it completely will go to help those employees of MGM resorts that need the assistance right now.

Tyler: That’s a really great story. I'm so glad you're sharing that. One thing that I've noticed, having covered the hospitality industry for so long, and through all the different Facebook groups, and really just seeing people's stories, especially in the hotel industry, is just seeing everyone pull together and how it's really a tight-knit community. And I'm sure that's the same way you feel also.

[Related: Live Events Community Launches Coalition to Lobby for Coronavirus Aid]

Stephanie: It is. I will tell you that we—as a Las Vegas community—we've always been a small niche group. And even though we're friendly competitors, we are friends and we do work together. And I will tell you that during the past few weeks we are actually communicating and talking more than we ever have, just again from a united front on behalf of the city of Las Vegas. From a meetings industry standpoint, when you are, you know, the number-one destination for this segment, we need to make sure that we're united, stick together and helping each other. So I couldn't agree with you more.

Tyler: And what are you seeing on the ground there in general with perhaps business rebooking, and then at MGM properties also? I mean, everyone wants to see this turn hopefully in a more positive direction. Are you seeing people rebook?

Stephanie: We are. So a couple things on dates and the rebooking process for us is when we closed our properties, and initially we were opening in the middle of April, we made the decision to actually not take group business until the middle of May, for a number of reasons, as I mentioned, from an abundance of caution; aligning with CDC guidelines and being able to truly service these groups as they deserve to be.

And I will tell you that the rebooking process, like I mentioned, is I am so proud of our sales teams and our leaders and our managers for working with every single group on A.) Is there an opportunity to postpone, reschedule, get them back? Whether that is coming three, four or five, six months from their originally scheduled date, or making sure that we are earning their business for future years.

Or if they are unable to rebook again, still making sure that we're in contact with those groups that had every intention in good faith coming to us in the month of March or April and due to the circumstances can't.

So our mission right now as an organization is really just to be in constant communication to see how we can help our customers as far as rebooking.

As far as rebooking? Yes, the majority of our business I'm proud to say is postponing for those that are able. The larger groups are really looking anywhere from August and beyond. I just had a large group reschedule for the last week of August right now, which is a great sign, believe it or not—and I shouldn't say, “believe it or not”—again, it's hard for us to look at our crystal ball. But we still have groups that have every intention of trying to come in June right now. And groups that are still scheduled for May that are going through that decision process.

So I think that the postponing/cancellation timing of rebooking is really dependent on the size of the group, the type of the group, the segment of the group, how they're being impacted by this time. And again, our process is really just how do we get every single piece of business back in the future?

Tyler: And do you have any tips for meeting planners who are in this process right now, especially if they decided we do have to postpone. When they talk to someone like you or your sales team, what are concerns they should have and questions they should ask? What sort of advice do you have for them?

Stephanie: Well, I think that, you know, no matter what, there has to be some flexibility. If you can imagine our Q3 and Q4—we're extremely busy as it was, and now we're trying to put in a lot of business that wanted to postpone and reschedule, and I think that the flexibility of whether it be pattern, space, any of those things, I think that that is first and foremost.

We're fortunate to have our internal MGM Event Productions able to help groups if we need to repurpose a room or do a unique, different setup from what their originally planned program was. We are trying every which way possible to make the business work.

So I think that’s the first thing, is understanding the flexibility. And I think the second thing is face-to-face meetings is always our priority, and our mission is to get back as much meetings business as we can. And I think, as an industry, we absolutely will come back. However, we understand that for the short term, there is going to be less attendance and people may not feel comfortable traveling right away.

So what I am asking and what we're working with our planners on is how do we help those solutions?

You know, again, we have the capabilities through our own MGM Event Productions, through Encore Technologies and other areas to be able to virtually host and send these meetings to attendees that may not come.

One great example of that is at Park MGM. As you know, and we've told the story about, is we have the ideation and the Cisco Learning capabilities to again be able to host meetings and use that technology. So now more than ever, talking about solutions we have four groups that still will host their meeting but may have less people come, and we understand that.

[Related: COVID-19: Complete List of Coverage - New Content]

Tyler: It really sounds like, of course, MGM has their act together and will be ready to kind of go full-steam when all this is over. But, you know, in a general sense, what should meeting planners be asking facilities really in terms of making sure that they're ready to handle their groups, and to take care of any of those loose ends, because there's a lot of people furloughed or laid off throughout the industry. How can they make sure that they're going to get the level of service that they deserve for their meeting? What questions should they ask?

Stephanie: I think exactly, with some of the things that you just said, on ensuring that whatever is important to their group, whether it is using food and beverage outlets, whether it's just having the meeting space available, whether it is having entertainment available, is making sure that that property will be fully up and running in order to accommodate those needs.

And you know, look, when you have properties of these sizes all throughout the country that right now are dark and there is nothing going on, it doesn't just happen overnight that the lights get turned on and every single thing is full. So I think that making sure, specific to the needs of the group, that the hotel is able to accommodate those needs, understanding that the hotels may not be fully functioning, and quite honestly, if it's an area that doesn't impact the group, understanding what these properties are going through.

I think also working with the properties on what is expected from an attendance standpoint, and I mentioned it before that every type of group is a little bit unique and different. And if you're an industry or a company that has been more or less impacted, understanding that your attendance may be less or more, so working with the hotel ahead of time to be able to say, even though this was my initially contracted numbers and we moved dates, how do we work together to lessen the risk and prepare for that fallout?

The one thing that I will say is I love to talk contracts, and I love educating and teaching and negotiating contracts. And the one thing about contracts is usually there is a black-and-white answer in most cases, and this is a time that as an industry, I think we have to understand that, you know, is there a date right now that we can say this falls under force majeure, or this doesn't? And I don't know that in today's world we have that answer.

And I think this is really about how do we work together as an industry to not set a standard that it's okay to cancel every single group through a certain date. It really has to be what truly falls under making it impossible or illegal versus partnering with a hotel as a business decision on when it is possible to have that program.

So again, we're in a little bit of a world that there is not exact clarity. And I think it's really important that planners in part and hotels work together to make sure that they have to share the burden and share the risk. The hotels, obviously, are just as impacted—or more impacted in some cases—as everybody, so it's about making sure that we understand what each other's risk and burden is.

Tyler: And I think it's kind of the old saw that this is a relationship business and, you know, you're looking at the long term and there's a lot of these groups that are maybe coming back year after year or want to book something, three, five, 10 years out. So I think as you said, it's important on both sides to really, especially in these times to partner together and be understanding everyone's needs and concerns.

Stephanie: I absolutely agree. And I said this in the beginning, but I couldn't be more proud of our sales organization and sales teams that are asking the questions, taking the long term into consideration. Because really, for us, that's what it's all about.

We're not going to give up a long-term opportunity in order to deal with a situation that's happening now. So that's not to say that, again, we still have to run a business, but it is to say that we're going to make decisions on how do we get every piece of business back in the future. And again, be a company that people want to work with.

Tyler: Well, great. Thanks for joining us today, Stephanie.

Stephanie: Thank you so much, Tyler, and thanks for all you do sharing the news for us and the rest of the hospitality and meetings industry.

Tyler: And thank you guys, too, for taking care of your employees and all the generosity and helping everyone weather through this unprecedented time. So thank you.

And that was Stephanie Glanzer, chief sales officer and senior vice president of MGM Resorts International. And thank you also for joining us today for this Meetings Today podcast. Feel free to head on over to MeetingsToday.com, where we have a number of podcasts with industry thought leaders on a variety of subjects, including managing the coronavirus crisis, which is what everyone is talking about at the moment now.

So thanks for joining us and have a great rest of the day.

[End transcript]

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