How Visit Fort Worth Pulled Off a Successful Hybrid Event

March 22, 2021

As the event and tourism industry begins its slow journey toward post-pandemic normalcy, it has become clear that hybrid events – those with both socially distanced in-person and virtual components – will be a vital part of the return of live meetings and conventions. Thus, many hospitality communities across the nation are doing their part to adapt to this new reality, including CVBs.

Case in point: Fort Worth, Texas and its tourism bureau, Visit Fort Worth, which successfully hosted its 8th Annual Meeting & Breakfast in hybrid format on February 5. Held at the Omni Fort Worth Hotel, the event attracted approximately 350 in-person and 308 virtual attendees. Though participation had dropped from its typical attendance of a little more than 800 attendees, that didn’t stop the CVB’s first-ever hybrid gathering from achieving its goals.

According to Stephanie Rodriguez, Visit Fort Worth’s senior convention services manager, the annual meeting has traditionally been an opportunity for the community’s key leaders to reflect on and celebrate the past year in tourism, with an itinerary of engaging keynote speakers, thoughtful discourse and the unveiling of new CVB marketing collateral and campaigns. However, this year’s hybrid version followed a different trajectory, concentrating on post-COVID recovery while still creating an uplifting experience for participants.

“The pandemic led us to think differently this year, as the safety of guests from arrival to departure was imperative,” Rodriguez explained. “The event is meant to inspire pride in our city and though this year’s annual meeting looked a little different, we still achieved that ultimate goal.”

“Surprise and delight” lobby activations of years past, including a donut wall, caffeination and mocktail stations, an on-site tattoo parlor and photo opps, were replaced with health and safety signage reminding guests of policies such as temperature checks, face masks and spaced seating, while a DJ played upbeat music. 

Also reconfigured to reflect health and safety was Omni’s ballroom, which re-imagined seating options to maintain social distancing, while the maximum room capacity was lowered to adhere to the rules and regulations implemented by the venue, city and state. Meanwhile, the event’s AV company managed the Zoom feed to make sure digital attendees didn’t miss any of the action.

During the event, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Visit Fort Worth President and CEO Bob Jameson welcomed attendees alongside local Chef Tim Love, who whipped up a surprise cocktail for the crowd. Keynote speakers included Gloria Loree of Destination Canada, local artist Michelle Cortez Gonzales and Jess Pryles, founder of Hardcore Carnivore

Kicking the event’s inspirational component into gear, Tokyo Cafe Chef Kevin Martinez was awarded the 2021 Beyond Award for his grassroots campaign to supply more than 48,000 free meals throughout the pandemic, and civil rights activist Opal Lee, who recently garnered 1.5 million signatures to make Juneteenth a national holiday, was honored with the much-deserved 2021 Hospitality Award. 

According to Rodriguez, planning for the 2021 event began in July 2020, four months after the start of the pandemic — when much was still unknown about where the country would be by showtime. From there, the CVB’s event team met bi-monthly via Zoom and Microsoft Teams to discuss changing regulations, monitor COVID numbers, discuss floor plans, determine food distribution, chat about ticket sales and weigh the benefits of an in-person versus a hybrid meeting. 

“The hybrid event was confirmed later in the planning stages as in-person ticket sales neared capacity,” Rodriguez said. “Our audiovisual partner quickly added the virtual component and we booked musical entertainment to welcome the online group — just as the DJ was welcoming guests in-person — so no matter where guests were viewing from, the experience remained the same.”

Understanding that clearly conveying the meeting’s safety protocols from the start was key, the CVB outlined rules on a dedicated webpage as well as in emails and on social media. The site also featured a floor plan to allow guests to familiarize themselves with the space ahead of time. 

“We also sent multiple email communications to ticket holders in advance, noting general meeting details, social distancing efforts, masks requirements and mandatory temperature checks, which every guest immediately received upon arrival,” Rodriguez said. 

On the morning of the meeting, guests were directed to the Social Tables digital check-in station, and then to a table to pick up a lapel button (red, yellow, green) stating their comfort level with in-person interaction. Red meant no contact, yellow signified elbows only and green cleared the way for high fives and handshakes. 

During the meeting, ballroom doors were kept open for airflow, meals were served in packaged containers for enjoyment on-site or to-go, hand sanitizing stations were placed around the lobby and individual hand sanitizers were placed at each seat.

Event materials were digital-only, which helped lower the event’s carbon footprint, Rodriguez added.

“The Visit Fort Worth Annual Meeting team has executed this event eight years in a row [and] each individual owns responsibility for specific areas [such as] programming, logistics, creative, content and social, registration, sponsorship, etc.,” she explained. “Flexibility was key to ensure that this event ran smoothly and was a success.”

So what is Rodriguez’s advice for organizations looking to dip their toes into the hybrid events space? Don’t forget the meeting’s main focus and overall goal, and make sure the programming is well-balanced for both the virtual and in-person audience to ensure that everyone stays engaged, she stressed. 

“Virtual attendees appreciated our efforts to greet them the same as those in-person,” Rodriguez said. “We had over 900 hundred comments from virtual attendees that mentioned they felt like they were right there with us.”

She added, “Ultimately, Visit Fort Worth wanted to lead the way in executing a safe meeting and provide local partners an example to follow. We think we succeeded.”


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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. 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Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.