ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. — Disneyland is not the only Anaheim business entity calling for the governor to release health and safety guidelines to reopen.
The head of the agency responsible for booking meetings and conventions at the Anaheim Convention Center is also urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to issue safety guidelines to resume events and conventions not just to Anaheim but at convention centers across the state.
“Just like Disneyland, we’re still waiting for the governor to send us guidelines and protocols,” Visit Anaheim President and CEO Jay Burress said. “There have been some convention centers around the country that are reopening. It’s time for our governor to at least send us reasonable and attainable guidelines to reopen. Even if we have to start with smaller events. We need to build back up to where we were. We need to start that process.”
Until then, as a way to drum up new business and keep existing clients, the Anaheim Convention Center is going virtual.
With live conventions, conferences, and in-person meetings and events on hold, Visit Anaheim, the city’s marketing and tourism arm, has teamed up with SelfieX Media to host live video tours of the 1 million square foot convention center to clients around the world.
This is the latest example of a company using new technology to adapt to the changes due to the coronavirus-catalyzed downturn. But this isn’t the 3D virtual tours that one would typically see on a home listing on Redfin or a home listing site. These are live curated videos that last one to three hours long, Burress said.
Visit Anaheim has had to pivot to using innovative technology solutions to market the Anaheim Convention Center due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has halted travel and business clients from coming to Anaheim and checking out the facility in person.
The convention center is one of the city’s biggest tourism draws, hosting more than 80 meetings, events, and conventions that attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Many of these event organizers and visitors stay at nearby hotels that have now shuttered since the pandemic began. The longer the convention center stays closed, the more workers at the convention center and nearby hotels remain unemployed or furloughed, Burress said.
So far, 199 groups have canceled or postponed events, conferences, and meetings that were slated for this year and next year, Burress said.
This year, the convention was slated to host the Star Wars Celebration and Wondercon, both of which were canceled and would have brought in a combined 100,000 visitors to the city. The National Association of Music Merchant or the NAMM Show, the largest gathering of music professionals in the world that annually attracts 120,000 people, recently canceled its January convention in Anaheim.
The global pandemic has wiped out the convention center industry and the businesses that rely on those visitors. Earlier this week, the mayor of San Diego urged the governor to reopen the city's convention center. San Diego has lost more than $700 million in revenue that usually comes from conventions, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.
The governor has yet to release any guidelines to reopen convention centers or theme parks.
Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster said the city has also asked Newsom to reopen the convention center. On a normal year, the Anaheim Convention Center generates about $30 million from transient occupancy tax or the visitors that stay overnight at Anaheim hotels. The money helps cover the convention center's debt and gets placed into the city's general fund.
"The convention center is one of the city's economic engines that we have that drive people here," Lyster said. "We are feeling the economic impact from the loss of business."
Burress said a lot of local businesses rely on the conferences and conventions hosted at the convention center.
“It’s not just the hotels and restaurants that benefit," Burress said. "A lot of event organizers are using local businesses, the florists, the photographer, and the print shop for their booths and events. It’s also the workers. There are more than 177,000 people employed in the tourism industry in Orange County. Their lives have been turned upside down.”
Pre-pandemic, if a client were interested in booking the convention center, a group of them would come in, walk the premises, take a tour of the facility, check the meeting rooms and the grounds and book whatever amount of space is needed for their meeting or convention.
With not many clients traveling these days, Visit Anaheim is hosting live video tours.
With the clients on the other end of a live video stream watching from their home or office, SelfieX Media and Visit Anaheim officials use high definition cameras and walk around the areas of the convention center such as the ballroom, meeting rooms, or the convention halls the clients are interested in booking.
Since the two sides are communicating in real time, the on-site videographer is able to shoot exactly the area that is being discussed at the time, and can make adjustments based on questions that come up during the tour, Visit Anaheim officials said.
The tours are recorded and shared with the client after each tour’s conclusion. This live video and recorded process allows everyone involved in the virtual planning process to see and view the space.
Visit Anaheim has so far hosted four video tours. None has booked so far, but it's early in the process, Burress said, adding that it costs about $250 to host a tour.
Burress said this is just one of the many ways the Anaheim Convention Center is preparing until the pandemic passes and live events and meetings and conventions come back. The Anaheim Convention Center has also increased its cleaning and sanitization and recently received the Global Biorisk Advisory Council Star accreditation, the highest certification from the cleaning industry association.
"Our big point is there will be a tomorrow, and we have to be there for when it is ready," he said. "We have to keep selling the future as we do now. This allows us to continue selling; continue showcasing our destination and great convention center."