How Experience Kissimmee Has Served In-Person Events for the Past Year

June 3, 2021
How Experience Kissimmee Has Served In-Person Events for the Past Year

Experience Kissimmee Senior Director of Meeting Sales and Services Michelle Moore couldn’t believe her ears at a recent meeting at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center. In a pre-event meeting, the key players were discussing dine-arounds, branding activations and entertainment options. 

“It was wonderful,” Moore said. “For the first time in over 14 months, we actually talked about non-health and safety stuff.”

Of course, COVID-19 was the elephant in the room. But significant vaccination progress and relaxed CDC guidelines have shifted the conversation from when, and not if, conventions, trade shows and other events will begin to resemble their pre-pandemic counterparts.

While each destination has a different vantage point of the recovery, Experience Kissimmee’s viewpoint is particularly interesting. Some cities and regions are only just now readying to welcome groups back. But the Central Florida region’s full stop was far shorter than most. In fact, it was more of a pause.

Open for Business

As remarkable as it is to imagine, these examples of face-to-face events held during the pandemic will be stories local hospitality workers remember all their lives. 

  • Margaritaville Resort Orlando reopened on May 15, 2020, and held Kissimmee’s first hybrid meeting June 3-4, 2020, with 26 in-person attendees and additional virtual participants.
  • In November, Embassy Suites by Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista South welcomed 120 attendees for the Florida League of Cities for its 2020 Legislative Conference. 
  • Gaylord Palms hosted Southeast Natural Products Association’s (SENPA) SOHO Expo in December 2020, just as it has since 2009. About one-third of the regular attendance came to the hotel.

“We all went through survivor’s guilt, I guess you would call it,” Moore said. “A lot of my counterparts in other destinations were not so fortunate.”

Yet the CVB had its own challenges, with budget shortfalls following a record year in 2019 causing painful cuts. Creativity, communication and collaboration were three Cs the community seized upon to ensure that those who were willing to meet in-person had a destination available to them.

Experience Kissimmee’s website became a portal of information about safety measures, openings and local business news. 

“Everyone was committed to doing whatever we needed to do to get back in-person,” Moore said.

Keys to Success

Some key factors in keeping the doors open included:

  • Florida Gov. Ron Desantis’ push to very prominently remain open as much as possible, freeing hotels, attractions and restaurants to welcome at least a percentage of the guests they are accustomed to.
  • Hospitality is in the blood of Kissimmee, home of Walt Disney World. The community understands what it takes to welcome guests.
  • In October 2020, Experience Kissimmee announced a new partnership with major healthcare system AdventHealth to provide resources to ensure safety and planners’ bullet points to comfort attendees about travel.
  • Early pandemic conversations with meeting planners paid off, as Moore noted many first-time groups have made their way to the region because typical host sites were not available due to restrictions or venue closures.
  • Kissimmee has always relied on many in-state groups, which proved beneficial with the rise of drive-to meetings and events.
  • Medical meetings are naturally drawn to the region due to AdventHealth Nicholson Center, a medical research and training center, and other similar facilities that also interest technology companies.

Moore also credited the work of the Kissimmee Sports Commission for keeping the destination afloat with events like:

  • American Youth Football and Cheer; December 2020; 5,250 Participants
  • National XBall League (Paintball); November 2020; 2,935 Participants
  • Major League Fishing; November 2020; 75 Participants (including the top anglers in the world)

Fourteen other sports events are on the books through Sept. 18, 2021.

Signs Pointing North

Meanwhile, the number of flights and out-of-town visitors has dramatically increased. By fall, once everyone has found time for family vacations, Kissimmee will start hosting larger in-person events like association meetings and trade shows, Moore noted. 

A key enticement, “It Pays to Meet in Kissimmee,” offering up to $10,000 cash back to qualified meetings, remains available throughout this year.

“We’re starting to see bigger numbers again,” Moore said.

Photo Credit: Experience Kissimmee

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Partner Voices

As event professionals and destinations adjust, adapt and evolve in these uncharted waters, it is imperative that substantial resources be put in place for all of the people responsible for planning and executing trade shows, expositions and conventions. An example is Mohegan Sun, which built an industry-leading, COVID-19 Resource Center with a combination of pictures from recently held successful events (the property reopened on May 1, 2020) along with several widely available and informative documents, such as an evolving operational framework: