The future is Orange

EW discusses the return of Orlando conventions with Orange Country Convention Center (OCCC) executive director Mark Tester.


What is your outlook for Orlando and the OCCC for 2021?

We were one of the first convention centres in North America to release our safety polices and host large-scale conventions safely and without incident. We have a very supportive community.

We are an economic engine in Orlando have been safely hosting events from other convention destinations. We have hosted about 60 events since the onset of the pandemic and we look forward to hosting 15 event relocations from other destinations for 2021, similar in scale to the MAGIC Pop-Up Orlando, OFFPRICE Orlando Market and WWIN Orlando. The convention and tradeshows that have relocated from other destinations will result in more than 63,000 room nights and an economic impact for $124m in new business for Orlando. We hope to maintain those relationships so that they consider Orlando again in the future.

We have a robust spring and summer calendar filled with sporting events and conventions. We know brighter days are coming with wider distribution of the vaccine.


mtWhat is the projected timeframe for a return to ‘normal?’

The Center has a very busy fall and winter 2021 calendar for exhibitions. It’s looking like a record year for 2022 due to pent-up demand on the buyer and supplier side. Business to business sales and face-to-face networking will come back once we have a full rollout of the vaccine and travel restrictions are lifted.

The new standard of hygiene and cleanliness is here to stay.

Right now, our team is laser focused on the future and ready for our community to make its comeback because we understand how many businesses and local residents rely on activity at the Center for their livelihoods. Here in Orlando, more than 29,300 individuals are employed by activity generated at the Center. More than 1,200 businesses are impacted by the OCCC.


How did the OCCC reopen and pivot due to the global pandemic?

The Center never closed. We presented our Recovery and Resiliency Plan to the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force on 3 June, 2020, right after our major theme parks presented. We focused on our three-pronged strategy to safeguard clients, attendees and employees which included:

1. Implementing and releasing our Recovery and Resiliency Guidelines to the industry and general public

2. Attaining the Global Biorisk Advisory Council’s (GBAC) Star Accreditation

3. Collaborating with a large established healthcare system in Central Florida.

The Center also reassigned 55% of our workforce to other areas of Orange County government. We have an estimated 190 employees who were transferred to other areas of need through reassignments. There are also more than 60 vacant positions at the OCCC.


How does recovery look now for your business?

We are operated by Orange County government and our mission is economic development. From January through December 2021, we have 103 projected events slated with 952,808 in estimated attendance with a projected $1.85bn in economic impact.

During the first weekend of March, we hosted a trio of sporting events in addition to the Orlando Boat Show with 5,000 registered attendees.


How was business prior to Covid-19 and what about future goals?

Pre-pandemic, the OCCC provided approximately $3bn in economic impact to Central Florida annually. In recent years, the Center has averaged nearly 200 events, including 115 conventions and tradeshows that attract more than 1.5 million attendees to the region annually.

As of 16 February, 2021, the OCCC had 53 rescheduled conventions with an estimated economic impact of $972m and 73 convention cancellations with an estimated economic impact of more than $1.85bn.

We want to partner with our customers and help our industry recover – all with the goal of the OCCC maximising and growing its market share. We have collaborated with industry partners like Go LIVE Together!, to show how the tradeshow and live events industry can host shows with health and safety policies in place.

We are also developing strategies to maximise the Tourist Development Tax (TDT) during the recovery, with careful control of OCCC expenditures. And we are revising the Center’s long-range plan to develop the next steps for both staffing and our facility as we recover from the pandemic.