ConferenceDirect’s spectacular last night’s festivities at CAESARS FORUM almost made one forget that this event had been postponed twice, confirmed just three weeks (Sept 29) prior, and held during a global pandemic that has suspended the entire live events industry. This was also CAESARS FORUM’s true maiden voyage, its first real meeting, its inaugural group.
“We finally were able to officially open up CAESARS FORUM,” says Don Ross, vice president of meeting operation for Caesars Entertainment Las Vegas. “We executed this very well, and it was great to partner with such a host as ConferenceDirect,” he added.
Held at Forum Plaza, the 100,000-sq.-ft. outdoor dedicated event space connected to CAESARS FORUM, adjacent to LINQ Promenade, the final night celebrations included a Sight ‘n Sound Disc Jockey, Planet Hollywood’s Tenors of Rock, and numerous acts and talent from Caesars Entertainment’s resident show Extravaganza.
This hybrid four-day event, originally scheduled for May 2020, eventually had more than 130 attendees and associates in-person, with another 900 attendees joining via the virtual component. The trade show allowed people to meet by appointment, so there were no lines at 10-foot tables set with deliberately wide aisles. The program itself was live streamed to attendees, and virtual speakers were beamed in. “This was the most complex show we have ever done,” states J.J. Wills, senior vice president, Marketing Programs & Business Development at ConferenceDirect, adding that AV partner, Encore Productions, was brilliant.
ConferenceDirect’s APM (Annual Partner Meeting) is all about education, networking, and recognition of top performers. And Caesars Entertainment was anxious to host the group and work out the inevitable kinks and quirks associated with an opening.
“It didn’t feel like it was their first event as the whole experience was seamless, and we experienced no first-day jitters,” said Wills. “Doing it in a smaller fashion was a great way to do it for the first time. We met in a huge and amazing new building, and our attendees were happy to be there, fully cooperative and mindful of all the procedures we had in place to keep them safe,” she adds.
CAESARS FORUM, the $375 million, new, 550,000-square-foot conference center located on the Las Vegas Strip, features the world’s two largest pillarless ballrooms, each measuring more than 110,000 square feet. Ross is quick to admit that despite the venue’s endless preparations, it was “still kind of like kicking the tires.” With that said, Ross admitted he is excited and proud to say that “the building is living up to its expectations.”
The event maintained most of the elements of the original program that included an educational component, a trade show, awards banquet, and reception. However, strategic modifications were implemented to keep everyone safe.
Partnering with HealthShield, screenings were performed before attendees could enter the venue. “Brianna,” an A.I. Chatbot sent attendees a text each morning with a link to complete their screening. As attendees arrived at the show, CAESARS FORUM security confirmed the attendee had completed their HealthShield and had received a green check. Those that had not completed their screening were required to do so before entering the automatic temperature check lines. At each station, Caesar’s FORUM security again confirmed a green HealthShield check, observed the temperature being taken, and then provided the attendee with their wristband. Attendees then proceeded into the venue.
Ross admits it was heartbreaking to have literally worked for years planning CAESARS FORUM’s grand opening, including the five-week “All Roads Lead to Caesars Roadshow,” moving across the country to promote the new venue, only to have the opening stymied by COVID-19. “We had the food in-house for the opening celebration, the A/V in place, and had even done some rehearsals with the team, and then we were shut down due to the pandemic,” says Ross. “Fortunately, ConferenceDirect was extremely flexible and kept moving their target date until we were able to go ahead and have the event.”
Both Ross and Wills were pleased to see everyone following protocols. “Wearing a mask all day isn’t as horrible as we thought it would be,” Wills admitted. “It just wasn’t that bad.” Wills was delighted that the FORUM went over-and-beyond, giving attendees tables for one for dining.
The ballroom was set up with 130 assigned “tables for one,” set six feet apart. “I thought it was crazy to do tables of one, but I’m now recommending this to other groups,” Ross says, adding that providing solo tables gave people their own safe space with attendees staying at their same table throughout the conference. “It gave people a real comfort level.” For meals, attendees sat by themselves at a table and were attended to by a masked and glove-clad server. Orchestrating a conference as successful as this was a team effort, and an integral member was Imprint Events, a Las Vegas-based destination management company.
“We provided the type of service and quality of food we are passionate about, but in a different fashion. During the vendor fair, we did a take-off on dim sum where servers came by with carts and asked guests what food items they wanted,” explains Ross.
During the closing general session, Michael Massari, chief sales officer for Caesars Entertainment was recognized by Jerry Horan, the president of ConferenceDirect with the President’s Award for being a supportive partner for years.
Jerry Horan also accepted an honorary key to Caesars Entertainment for hosting the first conference at CAESARS FORUM.
“We have always admired the work that Brian Stevens and the team at ConferenceDirect do. We enjoy a long-standing partnership and are pleased that we hosted this important event,” said Massari.
ConferenceDirect’s Wills has advice for her fellow planners. “Communicate openly and candidly with your venue; let them be the experts on what the rules are as the rules are different everywhere. Lean on them, collaborate with them, and then communicate with your attendees on what to expect. All this helps set you up for success. I walked away realizing it’s possible to have successful meetings today.”
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