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Meeting Industry Stands United at IMEX America After Deadliest Mass Shooting in U.S. History

IMEX America Event

A week that began with somber reflection and a moment of silence to honor the victims of the Las Vegas shooting ended with a sense of unity and strength for the meeting and event industry.

IMEX America, the largest U.S. meeting and event industry trade show, concluded its seventh annual event in record-breaking fashion, however, a more important message was delivered not only to the city of Las Vegas and its juggernaut conference business but to the many communities that have recently been impacted by disaster and tragedy.

“During the months, even the week, leading up to IMEX America, it has been so very sad to see the devastation caused by natural disasters in the U.S., the Caribbean, Mexico and the tragic loss of life in one of our second homes, Las Vegas,” Ray Bloom, chairman of the IMEX Group, said as IMEX America closed with a record 12,000 attendees. “At the same time, it has been inspiring to see the resilience of those communities and the supportive fellowship of the industry’s response to those whose regions and cities that are now faced with rebuilding—both physically and emotionally.

“[The meeting and event industry] has an ability to come together with determination and resourcefulness unlike any other. It has the power to pull destinations out of crisis; events and meetings are vital sources of regeneration, re-inspiration and renewal.”

The week began with a similar message when Paul Van Deventer, president and CEO of MPI, a strategic partner of the IMEX Group, welcomed attendees to MPI’s Smart Monday education. He was joined on stage by Bloom; Brian Stevens, CEO of Conference Direct and chair of MPI’s International Board of Directors; keynote speaker Janet Sperstad; Carina Bauer, CEO of the IMEX Group; Chandra Allison, senior vice president of sales at The Venetian | The Palazzo Resort Hotel & Casino; Bradley Kent, senior vice president/chief sales officer for Visit Dallas; Richard Harper, executive vice president, HelmsBriscoe; and Michael Massari, senior vice president, Caesars Entertainment.

“I’m here on the stage with friends and colleagues, all of whom are leaders in this great industry of ours, to demonstrate the strength of this community and the importance of standing strong and standing together,” Van Deventer said. “Over the last year, our industry has been impacted by an unprecedented number and scope of natural disasters and terrorist attacks. These senseless incidents have occurred throughout the world but the most recent occurred only a week ago right here on the Las Vegas Strip in the heart of the meeting and event industry. Our community has come together to stand strong and be with each other.

“As a community, we need to continue to advocate and promote the value of live events and face-to-face experiences, even as we work together on the safety and security of our attendees. When we meet, we change the world, and you are the inspiration and the catalyst behind those live experiences that change the world. Thank you for what you do for us, for this industry. Thank you for what you do to change the world. Together, we must stand strong, Vegas strong.”

Throughout the week, the solidarity within the community was reinforced as the industry’s leaders, meeting professionals and city officials reaffirmed their commitment to face-to-face meetings, all just blocks away from where a shooter on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino opened fire on the Route 91 Harvest festival across the street on Oct. 1, killing 58 people in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Another 500 people were injured.

At the nearby iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign, thousands by the day joined in a somber procession past wooden crosses honoring the 58 victims, many leaving tributes at each cross including flowers, candles or handwritten messages.

As a city dependent on meetings, events and tourism, industry leaders, after first reaching out to support those impacted by the tragic event, turned their concern to how the shooting would impact an important economic driver. More than 85,000 jobs in Las Vegas depend on the hospitality and meeting and event industries with a US$12 billion economic impact.

Cathy Tull, senior vice president of marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, reported the 12,000 attendees at IMEX America generated $24 million for the Las Vegas economy.

“IMEX being here is really beautiful, almost poetic, given what we’ve experienced in the last few days,” said an emotional Jim Murren, CEO of MGM Resorts. “We are heartbroken, but not broken, and we are working together to heal this city, this industry. I don’t know if anyone can be fully prepared for this, but I can tell you I never felt alone.”

Murren said he was asked many times what could be done to help Las Vegas and the “everyday people” working in the hospitality and tourism industry in the city who rely on visitors, meetings and events to support themselves.

“Your coming here and supporting this destination is helping those families take care of themselves,” he said. “They’re like anyone else. They have a job with you, and without you they don’t have a job. The meeting industry is the backbone of this entire business model. Without that, everything else falls away.”

Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, which advocates for the travel industry, was nearly in tears as he spoke of the tragic shooting and the impact to Las Vegas.

“I’m here simply to voice the support of the $2.3 trillion, 15 million-employee U.S. travel industry,” he 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.”

As the week in Las Vegas ended, wildfires in northern California had reached 100 miles wide and claimed the lives of 40 people. The areas impacted include Napa and Sonoma counties, home to thousands of wineries that include hotels, restaurants and meeting and event venues, in addition to thousands of jobs in an industry that generates more than $15 billion in taxes annually.

The meeting and event industry will be tested yet again.

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About the Author

Rich Luna

Rich Luna is director of publishing for MPI and editor in chief of The Meeting Professional.