The newly built Caesars Forum conference center welcomed its first large meeting Tuesday afternoon — a debut delayed by almost 15 months because of COVID-19.
Michael Massari, Caesars Entertainment’s chief sales officer, said it never anticipated business abruptly halting the same month it was expected to open its doors.
“We had a very full calendar,” said Massari. “We worked with our customers trying to extend our contracts and pushed them out, and we’ve done that for the last 14 months. And we’re ready now.”
An estimated 2,000 conventiongoers gathered inside one of the center’s ballrooms for the Meeting Professionals International World Education Congress, which brings together meetings and events professionals.
“To have nothing but meeting professionals in here as our first large conference after the restrictions have let up — it’s ironic, or poetic, I would say,” said Massari.
Attendee Jon Brown of LEO Events Memphis said he’s looking forward to reconnecting with colleagues he hasn’t seen in more than a year.
“This would be the first conference I’ve attended since the pandemic,” said Brown, who arrived Tuesday from Tennessee. “We’re an event agency here to attend this event to learn and connect with as many people as possible.”
He said the last time he visited Vegas was in 2018 and he’s looking forward to seeing what’s new.
“It’s always fun to come to Vegas so I’m super excited to be here,” said Brown.
Just the beginning
Caesars Forum, located at 3911 Koval Lane, near The Linq’s High Roller, was expected to open its 550,000-square-foot space in March 2020, booking more than 170 contracts. Massari said that while the pandemic brought business to a temporary halt, its team continued booking future events.
“We booked more new contracts for our company during the 12 months of the pandemic than we did in any other 12-month time in the history of Caesars. The sales team did a really good job,” he said.
The conference center includes 300,000 square feet of flexible meeting space and two 110,000 pillar-less ballrooms, each able to accommodate up to 10,000 people.
Inside the massive Summit ballroom, guests cheered as opening keynote speaker Paul Van Deventer, president of MPI, welcomed attendees.
He recounted a recent trip to Seattle to celebrate his 34th wedding anniversary and attend his daughter’s college graduation.
“All those first interactions — the hugs, the handshakes, the gatherings without facial coverings — were unsettling. They were also reassuring. They were exhilarating,” said Van Deventer, noting that it meant a return to normalcy. “It just felt really good.”