2021 Catalyst Awards: Momentum

Catalyst

Introducing our Momentum Award winners!

Fletch Brunelle

Vice President of Marketing and Sales, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority

Editor’s Note: Brunelle and Las Vegas are coming back strong with new, massive venues and a more collaborative community of DMO and hoteliers.

Motivation: Excitement that face-to-face business is coming back!

Approach to supercharging experiences: Our resort and attractions partners are the experts on the hospitality experience in Las Vegas, offering our visitors world-class amenities, meeting spaces, dining experiences, entertainment and more. The innovation and growth throughout Las Vegas over the past 18 months have been phenomenal—from the $2 billion Allegiant Stadium, to three new resorts—Circa in downtown Las Vegas, Virgin Hotels Las Vegas at the former site of the Hard Rock Hotel, and Resorts World. We’re also thrilled to have debuted our 1.4-million-square-foot West Hall expansion at the Las Vegas Convention Center, as well as the Convention Center Loop, our underground transportation system, earlier this year.

Over the past couple of years, Las Vegas has also solidified our place as the sports and entertainment capital of the world. Prior to 2017, Las Vegas had a rich history of welcoming sports special events, but we didn’t have our own major league professional teams. Now, to have not only the NFL, the WNBA and the NHL, but the world-class venues where they play (which also serve as popular meeting spaces), Las Vegas has evolved into the Greatest Arena on Earth—and it’s a thrilling time to be here.

Moment of enlightenment: The return of business to the Las Vegas Convention Center with World of Concrete in June 2021 was a special moment. Not only was it the first major convention to return to Las Vegas and to the U.S. post-pandemic, but it also marked the debut of the West Hall expansion. After years of planning, approvals, preparation and construction, it has been so exciting to see the project complete and hosting meetings. At the end of September, we celebrated the return of an international show to Las Vegas with IPW at the West Hall.

Everyone at LVCVA worked extremely hard throughout the pandemic, and to now have meetings and events successfully returning to the destination is fantastic. From June through September, approximately 25 events were held at the LVCC, welcoming more than 310,000 attendees, and from October through January 2022, another 22 events are currently planned with more than 515,000 attendees expected.

Next advance pursuing: As a destination, we’re looking at innovative transportation solutions, including expanding the Convention Center Loop. The expanded project, the Vegas Loop, will start with a tunnel connecting LVCC to Resorts World, and in the coming years could connect the entire resort corridor going north to downtown Las Vegas and south to Allegiant Stadium and McCarran International Airport (LAS).

Elliott Ferguson

Elliott L. Ferguson, II

President and CEO, Destination DC

Editor’s Note: Ferguson and Destination DC have focused on the importance of authenticity, accessibility and connecting meetings with the diverse intellectual and cultural resources in the nation’s capital. It seems to be working. In 2022, 20 citywide conventions are planned, booking 390,000 room nights.

Boards: Chair, Tourism Diversity Matters; U.S. Travel Association (served as national chair from February 2019 to February 2021); U.S. Department of Commerce Travel and Tourism Advisory Board; Smithsonian National Zoo; DC Jazz Festival; Ryan Kerrigan “Blitz for the Better” Foundation; and the United Way of the National Capital Area.

Motivation: Knowing our industry is returning means people are back to work.

Approach to supercharging experiences: Having frank conversations with our industry leaders and stakeholders about what’s needed to continue getting back on track in 2022. We miss seeing conventioneers and are reiterating the importance of safe, in-person meetings. I’ve been traveling and attending industry events, and the value of face-to-face has never been more clear.

Moment of enlightenment: Washington, D.C., hosted U.S. Travel Association’s IPW in 2017. As part of the event, we held the Chairman’s Circle dinner at the National Cathedral. The look on people’s faces going into the National Cathedral, including D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, was incredible. When you’re doing something like that for people who travel all the time—that’s a defining moment that made me proud of our team.

Next advance pursuing: Getting beyond Covid-19. Continuing to urge vaccinations so we can put the pandemic behind us as we focus on DC’s tourism recovery.

Marc J. Garcia

President and CEO, Visit Mesa

Editor’s Note: Garcia and Visit Mesa’s groundbreaking work to become an Autism Certified City truly made the world a better, more welcoming place.

Motivation: I am motivated by my peers’ collective passion to be the very best.

Approach to supercharging experiences: To call this first-of-its-kind initiative a “marketing campaign” would be a gross understatement. This initiative had much higher aspirations to serve the underrepresented and relied on the collective efforts of countless city of Mesa entities to make it possible. While the idea to better accommodate our nation’s ASD travelers originated in and was spearheaded by Visit Mesa, the campaign relied on the hard work and collaboration of multiple municipal departments, local businesses and residents, even our mayor and council.

Becoming America’s First Autism Certified City was a journey of reflection that shined a light upon the underlying qualities that distinguish Mesa as a destination and challenged our city and hospitality community to define itself in new ways. This bold initiative is a proud expression of the inclusiveness and openness that are inherent to Mesa and demonstrates the powerful impact (and results) of an entire city coming together to make all visitors feel welcome.

Moment of enlightenment: As part of Mesa’s collective achievement as the nation’s First Autism Certified City, we tallied millions of impressions and engagement resulting from our campaign launch. The news we broke was getting noticed, and there’s a reason—this movement was worthy of attention. We have since helped other DMOs on their path to autism certification, including the Arizona Office of Tourism staff. When we were approached by both Mesa police and fire departments to follow our footsteps of autism certification, I knew we were sparking change.

We welcome our visitors with red carpets and open arms, and now our entire community is dedicated to the health and wellness of our citizens and guests on the spectrum. We have no choice but to look forward and continue to design a destination that will always be in demand and attract new market segments. We will be steadfast in ensuring Visit Mesa’s brand reflects Mesa’s diverse and eclectic population. We strive to reflect the community we are so proud of here in Mesa.

Next advance pursuing: We are championing equity, diversity and inclusion efforts within the visitor industry and guiding hospitality leadership on these critical issues that impact all we do and all we represent here in Mesa. Visit Mesa will donate our time and staff resources to the newly formed Mesa Regional Foundation for Accessibility, Diversity and Inclusion and pave the way for a sustainable future workforce in our city.

Charles Harris, CDME, CTA

President and CEO, Reno Tahoe

Editor’s Note: Harris is promoting a destination in transition as Reno Tahoe diversifies and reintroduces its natural, cultural and urban riches to the world.

Boards: U.S. Travel Association; Commissioner, Nevada Commission on Tourism; University of Nevada; Reno Sports Management Executive Board

Motivation: Stay curious and always be open to learning something new.

Approach to supercharging hospitality experience: One thing about the hospitality industry that will always be true is that the guest experience is driven by people. From our resorts to our restaurants and attractions—and with the Visit Reno Tahoe team—it’s important to attract and retain talented and motivated individuals, and then support them professionally and personally.

We’re on a perpetual mission to find new ways to create excitement about authentic, Northern Nevada experiences. Reno Tahoe provides many opportunities, with a unique blend of entertainment, nightlife, and gaming against a backdrop of Sierra Nevada lakes, rivers and forests. Maximizing the potential of our destination can only be attained through a shared focus on customer service and embracing a common goal to deliver authentic and unexpected experiences that tell the story of Reno Tahoe. We will continue creating fond memories for people who will not just return to the destination but will also tell their friends and family about what they think makes Reno Tahoe truly special.

Moment of enlightenment: In June, Reno Tahoe was the first DMO in the country to host an in-person Customer Advisory Board since the pandemic. This took a lot of planning and consideration, as well as trust on behalf of our new CAB members. It felt amazing to say, “You’re invited,” and then to welcome planners and potential customers who had the confidence to come to Reno Tahoe and meet face-to-face.

The most remarkable and gratifying result is that we were building bridges and creating champions for our destination. CAB members who had never visited, some who had never considered the destination, told us the experience opened their eyes. They were no longer a planner with an idea for a Reno Tahoe meeting or trade show; rather they had connected with something emotional and endearing about Northern Nevada. Now, they said, they were ambassadors, and they were excited to tell their membership and colleagues about the potential of Reno Tahoe. It’s a tremendous feeling to know that, in just two-and-a-half days, we were able to refine our messaging, provide a diverse customer experience and elevate the perceptions of these experienced industry professionals.

Next advance pursuing: We’re working toward finalizing a new, three-year strategic plan, incorporating the lessons from an ongoing DestinationNEXT study, and ensuring Reno Tahoe reaccreditation through Destinations International. That said, we strive to build on the momentum and continue setting new records for industry KPIs, as we’ve done these last six months. We’re working to effect positive changes to the infrastructure and amenities surrounding the convention center, as well as the downtown corridor. The next step is bigger than just the DMO, but I believe Visit Reno Tahoe will be a big piece of the broader destination transformation for years to come.

Mark Anthony Herrera

Director of Safety & Security, International Association of Venue Managers

Editor’s Note: Herrera chairs a committee that brought all facets of the industry together regularly throughout the pandemic to share safety updates and learn best practices from each other.

Boards: Chair, Department of Homeland Security Public Assembly Facilities Sub-Sector Council

Motivation: Accept challenges head-on, learn to let go, move forward.

Approach to supercharging experiences: Creating better experiences within the venue industry inclusive of all facilities is more important now than ever before. It is knowing that the world challenged by a health pandemic requires empathizing with people to assure we focus on what they desire most: guest experience and customer service.

To provide better guest experiences, we must understand guest DNA today and continue benchmarking the industry through our guest X committees, guest-service town halls, and by surveying the industry.

The goal is to create exceptional, safe and extraordinary guest experiences by training frontline teams through skills-based workshops and networking sessions that create the levels of competency needed to positively impact the overall guest experience. We will lead the charge by creating innovative strategies and education through a conference known as GuestX.

Moment of enlightenment: Life is challenging, and I have been practicing my level of awareness and understanding of people’s states of mind through my own personal challenges. I have learned the most powerful ways to guide, teach, and inspire people but also to establish connections among people—as well as between people and their ideas that help unite humanity.

Often, I have seen teams create obstacles that get in the way of teamwork by focusing solely on their own pursuits and goals rather than selflessly devoting their time to ensure others have the tools to succeed. My arduous work came together when I found success in helping others achieve their goals and satisfaction is in knowing I was an integral part of their development.

Next advance pursuing: I want to help others build elite teams within their organizations focusing on developing diverse cultures surrounding themselves around safety, security and health awareness. To develop the most important assets: front-line teams and young professionals to be the leaders of tomorrow. Training them to forecast and expect those unexpected challenges in the future with the tools to mitigate the risks our world delivers daily. It is shaping the minds and souls of others, teaching them to never give up and to tap into all available resources to shape their lives and their respective organizations.

Stephen Revetria

President, Giants Enterprises

Editor’s Note: Revetria stepped up to lead the industry through his involvement on numerous boards and mentorship in the industry.

Boards: Chairman, MPI; Treasurer, U.S. Travel Association; U.S. Department of Commerce Travel and Tourism Advisory Board; University of San Francisco Board of Trustees

Motivation: Challenging ourselves to create memorable and innovative experiences.

Approach to supercharging hospitality experience: My approach has always been to look for inspiration from your own experiences and play into your passions. While the concept itself isn’t new, it leads to new ideas every time. I frequently encourage my team to be creative and build upon what excites them, what drives them and what will ultimately lead to an unforgettable experience.

And if we are struggling for ideas, that’s our cue to leave our comfort zone and seek out new inspiration. I’m looking forward to leaning into this as we get ready to host Meeting Professionals International’s (MPI) annual World Education Congress (WEC) in San Francisco next year!

Moment of enlightenment: I’ll start with the Giants’ World Series parades in 2010, 2012 and 2014. I began my Giants career as the team was getting ready to move into the new ballpark at 24 Willie Mays Plaza. To watch the incredible postseason runs this team has made since was a highlight for us all, but to culminate that with a parade down Market Street and a celebration outside city hall for over a million people was special. With only a couple weeks to plan, and not knowing if any of our hard work was going to be realized, I was ready for this to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Fortunately, we got to do it two more times (albeit with some added gray hairs in between)! It was truly a surreal experience each year.

I would be remiss if I also didn’t address two of our more unique endeavors—bringing the Rugby World Cup to San Francisco at Oracle Park in 2018 and being a part of the first team to ever ticket shoreline experiences for the America’s Cup, the oldest trophy in sports, in 2013.

Next advance pursuing: My next step is going to be motivating those around me and encouraging the next generation to take over, be creative and move the meetings industry forward in the years to come. If I can play even a small part in that, I’m confident the new ideas and our industry’s continued success will follow.

Donald Ross

Vice President Meeting Operations, Las Vegas Region, Caesars Entertainment

Editor’s Note: Ross and Caesars have hosted a series of industry events to bring everyone back together safely and joyously.

Boards: Anti-Defamation League, Green Chimneys and Three Square

Motivation: “Developing my team and creating memorable experiences for customers every day!”

Approach to supercharging experiences: With 32 years with Caesars Entertainment, I have so many experiences to draw upon and so much has changed over the years. Being in Las Vegas has given me the opportunity to be super creative as events are large and we have access to so much. I grew up in the non-profit world as my parents founded a nonprofit called Green Chimneys, 73 years ago, in Brewster, NY. They were pioneers in human-bond, animal-assisted therapy. Their legacy continues today, with the school providing services to 120 residents and 150 day students on the 200-acre farm and school campus. I currently serve on the board.

Being in catering and convention services, I have had the opportunity to work with many of the local non-profit organizations in Las Vegas. The desire to personally give back to the community is something that Caesars Entertainment instills in all of us. Unbeknownst to many, the Caesars Foundation is a big part of the Caesars Entertainment culture. The Foundation has donated more than $75 million to support older adults, sustainability, health and wellness in the communities where we operate.

Moment of enlightenment: In March 2020, days before the pandemic landed on our doorstep, we were getting ready for the grand opening of CAESARS FORUM, the 550,000 sq. ft. conference center, the latest addition to the Caesars Entertainment portfolio. We worked for more than 2 years on this project in preparation of opening the state-of-the-art facility. We spent months recruiting talent and were training the team right up until the day we closed. Our goal with CF was to create a residential-feel and provide restaurant quality food and beverage.

In the last 18 months we experienced a plethora of changes and opportunities. Through each and step, we grew and adapted. This culminated with the excitement and jubilation of seeing in-person 1,500 attendees, from all over the country, walking through the corridors and pre-function space. Seeing the kitchens fired up and hundreds of staff in uniform, at long last, was an incredible moment long awaited.

Next advance pursuing: We are excited to execute nationally recognized events, including the NFL Draft in April 2022. Additionally, we are thrilled to offer customers not only the space inside of CAESARS FORUM, but also the adjacent outdoor Plaza, and the neighboring surface lots, which provide just under 1 million sq. ft.! This customizable outdoor space offers planners ultimate flexibility and capitalizes on Las Vegas’ 320 days of sunshine a year.

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