ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The Orange County Convention Center started 2021 with the Surf Expo, bringing in 3,000 exhibitors and visitors in January.
“That was the largest business-to-business trade event since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Mark Tester, executive director of the Orange County Convention Center. “We are open, we are ready for business and we have shown that we can do shows safely.”
This comes after a devastating hit to the Orange County Convention Center in 2020 after 78 shows canceled, resulting in a loss of $2.1 billion dollars, that does not include the losses from the 47 shows that decided to reschedule.
Tester gives credit to Florida’s leadership with Gov. Ron DeSantis and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings allowing for the convention center to operate at a limited capacity. Because of that, convention center officials say 11 new shows have decided to relocate from other venues to Orlando.
According to records provided by the convention center, shows have relocated from Las Vegas, New York, Houston, Baltimore and Vancouver.
“The other destinations have struggled because they haven’t gotten the approval to re-opening,” Tester said. “Other states have gotten approval but for small amounts of numbers of people, which isn’t viable to run a larger event.”
He also said many convention centers across the nation are being used as mass vaccination sites, which is also happening at Orange County’s Convention Center, but Tester said it’s large enough to continue to book shows back to back and consistently through 2021.
“We are blessed being in a large facility in a large campus,” Tester add.
Not only that, Tester said having the conventions coming back drives economic development, a main mission for the convention center.
According to retired University of Central Florida professor and theme park expert Dr. Duncan Dickson, the convention center helps drive tourism in many ways, including jobs.
“Just think of the number of people that are now re-employed, the people that load the shows in, the truck drivers,” he said. “They are all local and wage earners.”
Dickson added the conventions also help bring in business during slower tourism seasons and on slower weekdays.
“From Christmas to Easter is a very slow period and the convention center really helps to spread that out and bring business,” Dickson said. “I don’t see us coming out of this until 2022 or 2023 but if we can get some of it back in 2021 to where people are back to work that is a going to be a positive.”
Tester also said he wouldn’t call 2021 a rebound, as much as it is a recovery.
“We are recovering,” Tester added. “What I see is a stair stepping up each month until we get to summer, that is really the starting point where I would say we would get back to normalcy. That is our hope.”