In this post: Visit Indy restarts events after $7 million in upgrades to the convention center to retrofit the facility to handle COVID-19. Indianapolis is the home of the NCAA. Quick response, communication, county health department engagement, zero attrition and risk mitigation or safety health plans were key.
Indianapolis, Indiana, the #1 Convention City in America, has led the charge when it comes to safely holding meetings and events. Visit Indy and Marion County’s Capital Improvement Board of Managers (CIB) (the later owns and operates the convention center, Lucas Stadium, a minor league ballpark and a sports and civic arena) didn’t wait for someone else, they took a lead role.
Having previously hosted the Super Bowl, the CVB and CIB had the ability to quickly put organizational infrastructure in place, make decisions and be pro-active in engaging and communicating with key players including county health department officials. Other action steps:
- The city was one of the first, if not the first, to offer zero attrition (a clause in a hotel group contract that obligates an event to pay for any unused rooms based on a fixed calculation), extending a helping hand to meeting planners and organizers. By supporting them, the Visit Indy under the direction of Leonard Hoops, CVB president and CEO, was able to sustain and book large groups during unforeseen circumstances, one could expect this will cultivate customer loyalty, trust and future bookings.
- A tourism recovery task force was created during April that engaged 50+ public and private organizations – the airport, hotels, venues, attractions, public spaces/transportation, restaurants and bars, and retail. Each silo created their relevant best practices and identified the applicable CDC, state and city mandates. This finalized information was forwarded to the CVB’s marketing department which crafted messaging. From here it was communicated to all levels of the hospitality industry. As mandates changed, updates were also dispatched.
- Under the direction of Andy Mallon, executive director of the CIB, $7 million dollars worth of improvements were spent while the convention center was closed from March to July. The updates were designed to reduce planner fears and concerns regarding health protocols and safety measures. The extensive updates touched visible and hidden areas: re-configuring the center’s space to accommodate various socially distanced set ups; revised map layouts are now used by operations, sales and planners; the HVAC was up-fitted to hospital grade – air is constantly circulated; designated traffic patterns are clearly marked to keep attendees moving in the proper direction; people are now funneled to a smaller number of entrances to assure temperature checks and mask mandates are being followed; traditional toilets and sinks were replaced with touch-less versions; and contactless point of sales equipment was installed.
- Event planners are required to submit a risk mitigation or safety health plan that details what they will be doing to satisfy the county health department’s requirements. The plan must address: 1) capacity limits, compliance measures for social distancing, sanitizing by all parties and required face masks; 2) method to enforcement for non compliance; 3) the communication mechanism to reach all parties while onsite; 4) how temperature checks and health screening will be conducted on and off site by trained individuals.
To date, the city’s biggest event, a sports tournament, had 9,000 attendees with 2,000-3,000 people per night in a very controlled environment. In addition to meeting the safety plan, players were only permitted into the facility for their event and had to leave immediately afterwards.
Every Indy group has a unique set of circumstances and the facilities work with each to address those needs. Because of the protocols in place some potential group business has reached out to the CVB requesting to move their event to Indy, helping improve the CVB’s in-the-year, for-the-year numbers. The sales staff is building upon this success as a way to continue to solicit and book new and returning business. Leadership sees the positive achievements as a way to incrementally grow the types of events they can serve moving forward.
Besides having hosted football’s premiere event, the convention center district houses numerous walkable hotels and attractions. Indy is also home to the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) but its key advantage is that interstates (69, 70, 74, 65) travel through the city, putting it within an 8-hour drive of 50 percent of the U.S. population.
In Indianapolis, the county health department is not considered an unsurmountable foe but rather a partner in the city’s economic vitality. The CVB and the CIB report no negative COVID results. However, the next step, as event attendance and bookings grow, is to deploy a contract tracing program.
To view the U.S. Travel Association’s webinar, Assessing Recovery: The Safe Return to Hosting Meetings & Events, click here.
To learn more about event and festival management, check out “Secrets to Successful Events: How to Organize, Promote and Manage Exceptional Events and Festivals.” For those with event planning experience, consider, “Secrets to Successful Events Resource Guide: 42+ Easy-to-Use Tools and Resources.” Both are written by internationally known author and speaker Lynn Fuhler and are available on Amazon and at major booksellers.
To obtain a copy of The Event Safety Alliance Reopening Guide, click here.