ORLANDO, Fla. – When client calls began trickling into the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) regarding concerns stemming from a new and unknown virus, show organizers trusted the assurances provided by the OCCC team, and the high standards of cleanliness and sanitation at the center.
The OCCC quickly worked with convention leaders to ramp up efforts with contracted on-site medical providers to deliver care for the safety of guests attending shows in the spring. Still, those efforts were no match for how extensive the effects of COVID-19 would be on the global events industry.
COVID-19 has had a rippling effect across all sectors of the economy, including Orlando’s world-class theme parks, restaurants, and entertainment attractions. With an estimated $3 billion annual economic impact and supporting more than 1,200 local businesses and 29,300 jobs, the OCCC’s mission of economic development has never been more important than it is today.
The OCCC has withstood many economic challenges like 9/11 and the recession of the late 2000s, but nothing can compare to the repercussions of COVID-19.
For almost four decades, the OCCC has served as an economic engine for the central Florida community. It propels business for local restaurants, attractions, entertainment venues, and jobs across the Convention Center District and International Drive.
Postponements and cancellations were soon felt by on-call and seasonal employees in the district.
OCCC cancellations first began with the HIMSS20 Global Health Conference and Exhibition, which was due to welcome more than 44,000 attendees and feature U.S. President Donald Trump. Other large-scale events with thousands of expected attendees followed suit, and the effects of COVID-19 began to reverberate throughout the convention industry.
As of Wednesday, March 25, the OCCC had 14 rescheduled conventions with an estimated economic impact of $371.5 million and also 14 convention cancellations with an estimated economic impact of $446.4 million.
To assist its own employees, the OCCC leadership team quickly implemented plans to bring back seasonal workers with social distancing procedures for maintenance, additional cleaning, and repair projects scheduled for completion later in the year. And behind the scenes, the OCCC sales team continues to work remotely to accommodate and reschedule conventions, keeping the safety of clients and guests a top priority.
“Our goal with every convention is to reschedule their dates… if at all possible. The majority of our clients have rescheduled for the fall and winter,” said OCCC executive director Mark Tester. “Our priority now is to reschedule our long-time clients, but we also have potential business knocking on our doors because of our reputation. Our industry and our clients understand after we flatten the curve together, the OCCC will be ahead of the curve for our clients and convention attendees.”
The OCCC team has increased precautionary measures and communication throughout the facility to safeguard future guests and current employees. In an effort to control the spread of germs, additional sanitation measures have taken place across the center.
And despite the challenges, the generous spirit of clients and team members has not waned.
Donations from past events at the OCCC, such as food, office supplies, and pet items, were recently gifted to Second Harvest of Central Florida, A Gift for Teaching, Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, and Habitat for Humanity.
“Although the OCCC and the industry have never experienced this magnitude of cancellations or setbacks in one stretch, the OCCC has always bounced back and this time will be no different,” said Tester. “[We are] dedicated to flattening the curve, with a goal of coming back ahead of the curve and stronger than ever.”