2022 Catalyst Awards: Fusion Award

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image of lisa messinaLisa Messina

Chief Sales Officer, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA)

Motivating force: My background in hospitality comes from a place of service. It gives me joy to help others achieve their goals—whether growing their career or pleasing their constituents by delivering fabulous events.

Elements of a stellar hospitality career: I am one of the crazy people who went to hotel school. My uncle was a restauranteur in Colorado and I started as a DMO (Dish Machine Operator) at age 12, working and skiing. I learned to respect every job in the organization and saw through his eyes that hospitality plays a vital role as the backdrop for other people’s celebrations. I met my husband when I was at Hilton sales and moved to trade shows and events. When I call and say I will be entertaining four nights in a row, he understands he needs to fend for himself.

The diversity of my career helps me find new ways to deliver value. I have lived all over and worked with teams of all sizes and people with different personal styles and learned from all of them. I have been in Vegas for 12 years and look forward to calling on that experience to creatively serve in this new capacity.

Next advance pursuing: I am proud to be the first female chief sales officer at LVCVA. I am excited, humbled and honored, knowing that we are coming out of Covid with possible economic headwinds. But I know what a force for good we can be when we work together.

Reintroducing Las Vegas, The World’s Top Convention City

Despite experiencing some of the most volatile existential shocks imaginable over the last three years, the convention capital of the year is leading the way back to meeting in a big way and a familiar face has taken on the chief greeter role for Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Lisa Messina donned the Chief Sales Officer title in September after more than four years as senior vice president of sales at Caesars Entertainment.

This year’s Fusion Award winner is hyper-focused on welcoming convention attendees back. We caught up with her just as IMEX America brought 12,000 industry professionals to her town for the biggest meet and greet of the year and asked her to share her experiences during those literally dark months and of the bright future she sees ahead for Las Vegas and the industry.

That Time When the Industry Flatlined

“It was devastating,” said Messina about the impact of Covid on the world, the meetings industry and individuals who suffered, lost loved ones, jobs and a sense of security about how the future will unfold. “The eeriness of walking down The Strip when all the lights were off, cars were gone and no one was on the street was otherworldly,” she recalls from her new office at Las Vegas Convention Center. “This is a town that was never meant to close.”

The next moment, in classic Messina style, she blinked, shook her head, flashed a wide Julia Roberts smile and “pivoted,” pointing out the silver lining. “Typical of Vegas Strong mentality, relationships never were stronger between the brands and the customers we serve,” she said.

“It was all hands on deck to educate people about the value we provide in jobs, economic impact and in delivering meetings that produce business outcomes.” The wide-ranging stakeholders, including the hospitality community, residents, elected leaders and visitors Messina now interacts with on a regular basis all share one thing: “A passion for the city.”

Even in the recovering fiscal year of 2021, Las Vegas delivered $60.6 billion in economic impact. To put that number in perspective, it is larger than the entire 2021 GDP of Costa Rica or Belarus. During those early transition months of the pandemic when gathering was, as they say in Friends “on a break,” leadership in Las Vegas respected that there were a lot of unknowns and didn’t want to put employees or visitors in an unsafe situation, but also needed to band together to understand how to bring business back to put the community to work safely. “We wanted to help those who were less risk-averse meet sooner and share with others how meeting was being done so when they were ready, they could do so safely,” she says.

In July of 2021, the industry and city welcomed back World of Concrete as the first major convention at the expanded Las Vegas Convention Center. Like dominoes, each venue followed with its own signature event—MPI World Education Congress at the still shiny new Caesars Forum, Money 20/20 at The Venetian and IMEX returned to Mandalay Bay Convention Center at the other end of the strip.

“We were all launching from this place of nothing to pent-up demand to get back,” she says painting a picture of a dynamic recovery that still has some heads spinning. “Las Vegas is back with nuances. We are still trying to welcome international guests back. Some customers might still be at 70% of pre-covid. Some industries are doing better than others. But we are going in the right direction.”

“Las Vegas is back with nuances.”

Time to Get Back to Promoting Bling and Business

Messina is excited about all the new and different experiences that came online over the last three years. After taking a conservative marketing approach and focusing on safety, she is eager to shift to promoting “sexy Vegas” and all the new sparkling development, including Las Vegas Loop, Resorts World, Caesars Forum, Las Vegas Convention Center expansion, Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, Circa Resort & Casino Las Vegas downtown, funky AREA 15 immersive entertainment and events district and Allegiant Stadium, which hosted the opening reception for IMEX America.

“A lot has happened,” she quipped as the ultimate understatement. A lot more is still to come. Rising from behind The Venetian is MSG Sphere, a $1.66 billion, 875,000-square-foot entertainment venue being built by Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp., with plans to flip the on switch for the world’s largest man-made globe in 2023. And the much-anticipated Fontainebleau Las Vegas will open the same year with 550,000 sq. ft. of indoor-outdoor meeting space and a 90,000-square-foot theater in the center of The Strip.

“That is the easy part of the story, telling about all the new tools that can be used to design events,” she says. Messina is focused on telling the bigger story as well about the growing sports offerings (Hello, Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix in 2023), natural beauty and serious sustainable business mindset.

“Some people have outdated ideas of the city and say they won’t come to Vegas because they think we aren’t the best place to do business,” she says with a bewildered look on her face. “We are a business destination with powerful sustainability programming to conserve water and offset carbon emissions. We have diversity equity and inclusion priorities,” she says, pointing to the abundance of women leaders in key roles all over town. “They see the neon lights and the glam and glitter, but there are humans who drive the community forward who have the same wants and needs of every community. It hurts our feelings when people say they don’t want to come here because culturally we don’t support what they are trying to do. We are a great partner in business who can deliver exceptional creative experiences and check all the boxes for sustainability, diversity, cultural relevance and deliver ROI on the financial side.”

“There are humans who drive the community forward.”

Her approach to supercharging Las Vegas meeting experiences is to start with an understanding of organizations and their audiences. She knows that different groups have different needs. Sales organizations have a different definition of “supercharged” than a group of orthopedic surgeons. “Once I understand that, I can inject Vegas in a way that is meaningful. It starts with the conversation about budget and what they are trying to achieve.”

Back to 2022 Catalyst Award winners page.

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