“At 10:05 p.m. on October 1, our lives and our industry were shattered,” said Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority during a press conference at IMEX America this week. He added, “But at 10:05 that same night, our lives were united by what has happened in the destination” in reaction to gunman Stephen Paddock raining terror down on concert-goers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip, leaving 58 dead and hundreds more injured.
“We saw heroic acts, people who put the injured in cars and trucks and took them to the hospital because of the challenges of this terrible act. We had busboys helping people; we had attendees at the event who shielded loved ones to protect them from this onslaught. The best of what we are was there that night,” he said, calling out the police, fire chief, security staff at the Mandalay Bay, medical staff who cared for the injured, and all who came out to take care of the victims’ families in the aftermath.
But in Las Vegas, as in any destination after a natural or human-caused disaster, there can be fallout on the meetings and convention business. That’s why Ralenkotter and the rest of the Vegas hospitality industry were relieved when Ray Bloom, chairman of the IMEX Group, said he had no intention of cancelling this year’s event, scheduled just one week after the mass shooting.
Bloom said it was gratifying to see “an enormous number of participants from 150 countries here to support our industry, and particularly Las Vegas. When we arrived here, we were greeted in a normal manner by our friends, people we’ve known since we started here seven years ago. Behind that, we knew they were hurting.”
Bringing the show back to the Sands Expo and Convention Center “also gives us an opportunity for solidarity in our industry for all those who suffered terribly over the past month through storms and other events that have taken place,” he added.
IMEX Being Here Is Really Beautiful
Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International, spoke about the 50,000 men and women who work for MGM Resorts in Las Vegas, and their families, all of whom rely on meetings and conventions for their livelihoods, “IMEX being here is really beautiful. It’s almost poetic right now given what we’ve been through over the past several days. In this one despicable inhumane act, there were thousands upon thousands of humane acts that I personally witnessed, acts of courage, and kindness, and service, working together across a community that has never been more bound together. I’ve never been more proud in my life of any organization as I am right now of my organization. Not because we try to deliver service at that excellent level, but because we try to help one another in ways that are unimaginable,” he said.
“We’re strong, we’re resilient, we’re unwavering in our commitment to this community. We’ve been working around the clock to do what is right, and what is best, to help those in need. We are heartbroken, but we’re not broken. We’re working together to heal this community, our city, our industry. And we know the meetings and conventions business is the backbone of our business model. So thank you all for being here, expressing your love and support. Your presence means more than you can imagine.”
A Strong, Yet Fragile, Industry
Roger Dow, CEO of US Travel, said, “I’m here to voice support for the $2.3 trillion, 15 million employee U.S. travel industry, an incredibly strong industry. And also, as we’ve found, [it’s also] an incredibly fragile industry” when hit by a natural disaster such as the recent hurricanes, fires, floods, and earthquakes, or “one-off situation like Boston, Orlando, or 16 years ago New York City and D.C., and nine days ago Las Vegas,” he said. Sometimes, it can take years for an affected destination’s hospitality industry to recover, especially when the disaster causes “a very powerful word, fear, to jump in. It can bring [the travel, tourism, and hospitality] industry to its knees.”
He added, “Las Vegas has refused to let fear and this one senseless act define them. I think we all have the responsibility to carry out the message that as tragic as this was … Each of us has a job to talk about every successful convention, every record broken, [to encourage everyone] to say, Las Vegas, you’ve been with us for the good times, and we stand with you in these toughest of times, and we add our voices to the 43 million voices [of those who visit the city annually] that say Las Vegas is stronger than ever, and we’re with you all the way."