Long Beach's Convention & Visitors Bureau has unveiled an approach and facilities blending in-person and virtual participation in meetings and conventions in a bid to keep business in the city.
Dubbed Long Beach Live, the effort involved close cooperation with the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center operators to develop capability for interactive online connections throughout the center in downtown Long Beach. The result has created a studio-like level of technology, according to Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach CVB.
"We had been getting requests for virtual or blended conventions since COVID shut us down in March," Goodling said. "We took the time to do 12 weeks of research to see exactly what it would take to create a first of its kind department in charge specifically of internet, interactive production.
"We have the interactive technologies to offer multiple ways for people to participate virtually — chat, question and answer sessions, screen capture, you name it. Presenters can see people participating remotely and vice versa… This will permit clients with virtual content to double their attendance and extend their reach."
Goodling said Long Beach is the first convention city in the country with this kind of capability. The idea was planted years ago when the city hosted the high-end TED conventions, which used technology earlier than others. But the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the process.
"COVID accelerated (development and use of) technology by a decade," Goodling said. "Now we're seeing people who want to participate."
The good news of interest in these blended conventions was desperately needed. The shutdown in March required by the state trying to slow the coronavirus spread shut the convention center down in a single day. Not only has the city lost the last six months of convention business, Goodling said, most of the conventions scheduled for the next six months have been cancelled as well.
Goodling said current projections are the convention center won't be open again until June next year. Conventions are large gatherings, and are in the yellow, or fourth, level of COVID infection, which requires the lowest infection levels.
"A coalition of convention bureaus sent a plan to the governor for earlier opening," Goodling said. "It was a well-detailed plan, but we're still in the last phase of opening because we're bringing people in from the outside.
"Conventions were still booking in August, but at the start of September it all slowed down. I think everyone wants to see the outcome of the election and development of a vaccine."
Goodling's staff has continued to book conventions for the future, he said, with about 88,000 room nights booked for events through 2026. The CVB also has created marketing videos for all its member hotels and is working on restaurant videos now.
Considerable time also has been devoted to training the staff in digital and online solutions. They have received certification as Digital Event Strategists so they can not only answer questions but also offer additional components to meetings and conventions.
A Director of Creative Initiatives position has been created as a bridge between the CVB and the center operator, ASM Global (formerly SMG). Improvements to the center to accommodate online broadcast and production include more robust bandwidth all over the property, increased lighting capabilities, an array of remote-controlled cameras and a stand-alone studio, along with other improvements.
For more information on Long Beach Live, visit www.LongBeachLive.TV.