The Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center is expected to resume operations as usual next month after a year and a half of being closed to the public during the coronavirus pandemic.
The installation did not remain completely empty during this time; in January, city officials opened a mass vaccination clinic there, and in April, the federal government began using the site as a temporary shelter for migrant children who crossed the border without parents.
But the vaccination site closed on Friday July 30, a week after authorities announced the closure of the migrant shelter.
So the people in charge of the Convention Center are now focusing on what comes next: conventions.
Long Beach’s first convention since the start of the pandemic, the Graphics Pro Expo, is slated for August 12. This event and two more conventions later in August are expected to bring in $ 6.9 million to the city’s economy, Convention Center officials said, drawing 10,600 attendees who will stay in Long Beach hotels and dine and will go shopping in the city.
The establishment has reserved 14 conventions until the end of the year. These events will attract approximately 74,300 visitors who will add approximately $ 48.7 million to the local economy.
The return of such events is significant for the Convention Center and the city as a whole, with tourism being a major sector of Long Beach’s economy. But events booked at the end of 2021 are still only about half of the facility’s five-year average for the same period, according to Convention Center officials.
âIt is increasing,â said Kenya Stamps, vice president of sales and administration for the Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau, in a telephone interview on Thursday, July 29, âbut it is certainly far from pre- pandemic “.
This is largely because most of the organizations that host traditional conventions – like Long Beach Comic Con, for example, or the California Democratic Convention that the establishment hosted in 2019 – are still recovering. even from the pandemic.
Much of this year’s Convention Center events are consumer shows – the types of industry exhibits that showcase new products. These events are a good start for the facility upon exiting the pandemic, but they are not enough to bring the site back to its normal operating level.
And, at least for the near future, the coronavirus will still have an impact on these events; Long Beach and Los Angeles County both have indoor mask warrants, and those requirements will likely remain in place until coronavirus transmission measures improve dramatically.
However, many event planners are eager to get back to business and are ready to comply with all necessary health regulations.
Long Beach Grand Prix Association President and CEO Jim Michaelian, for example, is getting ready for the annual racing event, scheduled for September 24-26, which includes a lifestyle exhibit. at the Convention Center.
“It is difficult for us, right now, to be able to predict, like everyone else, what these conditions will be,” he said earlier this week of the COVID-19 restrictions. âBut if they’re similar to what we’re going through now, in terms of the demand for people to wear masks when they’re indoors, that’s definitely something we’d be prepared to welcome.
âIf that requirement is in place,â he added, âwe will do what we can to help facilitate that and provide masks and any other protocol in place. “
And beyond the shorter-term impacts, it looks like the coronavirus pandemic has changed the long-term future of the convention industry.
During the public health crisis, the Long Beach Convention Center launched Long Beach Live, an initiative that enables virtual and hybrid events. The platform hosted the Long Beach Economic Forum, the state of the city, and the annual Christmas tree lighting. The platform also made this year’s July 4 fireworks display accessible to people at home.
“July 4th has really illustrated that hybrid events are an opportunity,” said Convention & Visitors Bureau President and CEO Steve Goodling in a statement, “to increase attendance and viewership.” .
Even though this year’s fireworks display was available online and drew 41,000 viewers, the number of people who saw it in person – 50,000 – still broke a record.
âPeople now want to see things online and participate online,â Goodling said earlier this month, âand our experience of July 4 is an example where it didn’t decrease attendance; it was an aggravating multiplier effect on those who could participate, whether in real life or virtually.
The consumer shows that dominate the establishment’s calendar for the rest of the year are inherently face-to-face. But Convention Center officials say they think the types of events organized by national associations are much more likely to be hybrid experiences in the future.
âOnce you let the horse out of the barn, you can’t put it back,â said Samantha Mehlinger, spokesperson for the Convention & Visitors Bureau. “For Gen Z and millennials in particular, once you open up a new part of the on-demand economy, you can’t take those options away.”
In the meantime, Stamps said, officials are working to bring convention activity back to what it was before the coronavirus hit.
“(This year) is going to be a year of rebuilding for a lot of associations,” she said. âWe’re looking at 22 as our first solid year, I think. “
Beyond that, Stamps said, the outlook is even better. The number of events booked in 2023, and especially the following two years, already exceeds the five-year average of the Palais des CongrÃ¨s.
The start of the resumption of the facility, however, begins next month, with its first event since the start of the pandemic.