At MPI WEC 2021, held June 15-17 at CAESARS FORUM in Las Vegas, Association Conventions & Facilities Publisher Harvey Grotsky spoke with Michael Massari, Chief Sales Officer for Caesars Entertainment Inc. and Co-Chair of Meetings Mean Business, about the status of the company and the industry in the wake of the pandemic.
Michael Massari: What comes to mind is resilience. The first thing I think about is my team, sales, catering, banquet operations and marketing. I am so proud of each individual and even for myself. I am proud because it would have been so easy to just give up and say, ‘I am just not making any progress.’ We moved forward and then backward. We had no idea how long this would be going on for. I am also proud of everyone in our industry, who every single day got up and continued to work hard to get through this difficult time. We encouraged each other and gave each other support. The industry organizations such as MPI, PCMA, HSMAI and CEMA and so many others provided and incredible resource and a place for everyone in the industry to belong. No one gave up, everyone endured. The pandemic was a Herculean headwind. The meetings businesses had restrictions while hotels had opened, restaurants opened, airports opened, ball stadiums opened, and the meetings business was restricted to less than 10-, 15-, 25- or 50-person caps, depending on the location. It was only on June 1 that all restrictions were lifted in Nevada. And Atlantic City even later. We were deeply impacted.
MM: There was a time that no one would have questioned why people meet face to face, because as humans, we have always met face to face, since the beginning of time. This was challenged somewhat after the great recession … and this has been challenged now during this pandemic. While spending time in person was not permitted, everyone missed this tremendously. Today, people’s understanding of why they meet in person and their desire to be together has never been stronger. We will continue to use platforms such as Zoom, the phone and email, but nothing will replace the quality of interaction you have with people when you gather in person — the impromptu conversations, the camaraderie and the bonds you make happen when you are together. Relationships are built in person and trust is established; the foundation of doing business together. Virtual meetings happened, but quickly Zoom fatigue was a reality. Business was on hold.
MM: Like everyone else in the industry, we implemented safety protocols and focused on these to make sure attendees felt safe. We reviewed and fine-tuned our offerings and processes to assure that we would be ready to welcome guests back with an even greater experience. Having said that, I wouldn’t say that any real new initiatives have come out as a result of the pandemic. Perhaps we now have an even greater awareness of how people feel. We’ve always been there to help people execute great meetings. We’ve always focused on the discovery process to really understand where our customers are coming from and what their objectives are. If anything, the time we spent with customers during this time reinforced the importance of being close to your customers and the value of building genuine and long-term partnerships.
MM: My response is, meetings mean business. In addition to my role with Caesars Entertainment, I have been involved with the Meetings Mean Business coalition since its inception. Currently, as co-chair for Meetings Mean Business, one of my goals is to help people to understand the value of professional meetings and events. And now, our message is to make sure that those who are not in our industry understand that professional meetings and events are not super-spreader events. Business gatherings are controlled environments. We know who is in attendance as attendees register, business is done and deals are made. Those attending meetings follow the rules that are in place. As an operator, we can stagger arrivals, stagger departures. We can organize large-scale events in a pandemic and do it safely. These are not mutually exclusive thoughts. In Las Vegas, during the pandemic, I met with my counterparts regularly. We worked together on guidelines and protocols. The Meetings Mean Business coalition part of USTA and Caesars Entertainment are working hard to communicate this. We want to separate professional meetings and events from other types of gatherings. The layered safety protocols we put in place will help mitigate risk. I hope that the next generation of meeting professionals never have to manage anything like this, and should they find themselves in a situation like this, will have a stronger footing.
MM: For the meetings industry in Las Vegas, it is not as big of a challenge as in many other parts of the country. The positions we have are well compensated and Caesars Entertainment provides a positive working environment with great benefits. We have lots of longevity. On my team alone in the meetings and conventions business, we have 5-year, 10-year, 20-year and 30-year employees. That says it all. Our hotels and conference spaces are beautiful, and our customers are loyal. Our culture has always been about treating our employees well and providing great customer service. This is one of the reasons so many of our team members have come back and are coming back.
MM: Working remotely has been a big change for everyone. Fortunately, everyone has a cell phone and even when you’re working remotely, you are still reachable with access to their email and, of course, there is LinkedIn and Facebook. Everyone is so connected.
MM: The fourth quarter of 2021 and beyond are very strong. I would even say outstanding. We made a strategic decision to keep our sales team working for the duration of the pandemic. Our sales teams are located around the country and are a staple in their communities. They stayed close to their customers and worked incredibly hard during this time. These were hard times for everyone as colleagues, friends and family members lost their positions. Everyone was affected in some way. Because we stayed so connected, we were fortunate and contracted more future business in the 12 months of the pandemic than we had in any other 12-month period in the history of the company. I hope that when we look back on this time that we ask ourselves that it’s not “meet or be safe,” but that it’s “meet and be safe.” How are we going to meet and be safe? It’s not “travel or not get sick.” It’s “how will we travel and not get sick?” We need to demand both and figure out how to do both. There are risks in life, and we need to mitigate those risks while still moving society forward. As people, we are meant to gather and exchange ideas, and there is no better way but to do this in person. | AC&F |