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Meetings Are Back Live! | Interview with Rob O'Keefe, President & CEO of Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau

December 2021 A-top

By: MPI Northern California Chapter | Dec 6, 2021

December 2021 (2)

Below is our interview with Rob O'Keefe, President & CEO of Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau .

1.     What events and city-wides are on the horizon for your area?

We are looking forward to various events heading into 2022, including the AT&T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, which kicks off January 31; the Carmel Art Festival in mid-May; and the Monterey Wine Festival in mid-June. Like many other destinations, in-person events were impacted over the past year and a half and we are anticipating returning to normalcy, as much as possible, in 2022. These events bring in both leisure and group travelers, and we look forward to the excitement they all bring to the destination. 

At Monterey Conference Center, we are seeing strong bookings and repeat clients – including a recent group that brought its largest attendance ever, with 1,400 people. Just this week the Hyatt Regency Conference Center is hosting the Organic Grower Summit, which is a key conference in the agriculture industry.  

One factor bringing in strong interest is an evolved indoor mask mandate that exempts groups/meetings, as long as all proper testing and/or vaccination verification precautions are taken. This makes Monterey County both a safer and less restricted place for groups and meetings in California. Our industry was able to collaborate with our county Board of Supervisors (BOS) on the policy, underscoring the importance of this valuable segment to the destination.

2.     What challenges is your destination still facing, especially with the rise of Delta and other variants; and the general uncertainty around how things will unfold?

The Delta variant and the new Omicron variant are definitely impacting certainty as it relates to booking future business.  However, Monterey County’s abundance of inspiring outdoor spaces, coupled with the destination’s mild year-round temperatures, have helped us fare better than many destinations during the pandemic. The challenge that we are tackling, like every other destination, is restoring larger and/or indoor events while continuing to take public health into consideration.  

We have proactively solved for some of those challenges by working with the county Board of Supervisors to arrange a mask exemption for meetings that have implemented other health and vaccination verification protocols to ensure attendants’ safety.  Monterey County is one of the only meetings destination in the state with this exemption

3.     What responses from your Conference Planners & Attendees are you seeing with the recent requirements (i.e., masks, vaccination proofs, negative COVID tests)? Has it been more positive/negative?

As with any changes to restrictions we expected to see a variety of reactions, but feedback has largely been positive. There is an appreciation of the steps our hotels and meeting facilities have taken – in fact, that appreciation extends to the entire state as California has been forward leaning as it relates to COVID safety. People realize we are navigating a ‘new normal’ and need to be more vigilant of health and wellness than we have ever been.  

Having attended several face-to-face meetings recently, it’s clear that comfort levels vary. Many are busily sourcing leads, while others are waiting to reassess in Q1 2022. By Q2 2022, I believe things will start to stabilize

4.     What changes have your destination and/or Hotels made that you’ll continue to implement beyond the restrictions? 

Many of our properties pursued above-and-beyond health and sanitation efforts as a result of the pandemic, which ranged from achieving GBAC accreditation to adding new roles dedicated specifically to these processes. Monterey Conference Center, for instance, became LEED Platinum Certified®, a designation that includes indoor air quality requirements – making it a well-ventilated and safer environment. Additionally, many of our properties underwent major renovations in 2020, implementing more indoor/outdoor blended spaces and adding hybrid meeting technology. These changes have served us well as meetings ramp back up and I don’t see them going away. If anything, we will continue to innovate in order to align with industry preferences and demand.

5.     What is your outlook for 2022 and beyond? How do you think our business has changed given all we’ve learned over the last year and a half?

The outlook is good for the industry and especially in Monterey County, given all of our efforts since the start of the pandemic. We are projecting that group business will return to pre-pandemic levels by 2023, and that is because our core offering, anchored by the wide-open spaces and all inspiring natural beauty that have attracted visitors and meetings professionals for years, hasn’t gone anywhere. What has changed, for the industry overall, is the proven ability to pivot and respond to unforeseen challenges.

 

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MPI Northern California Chapter

 
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