Anyone who’s ever organized and designed a conference knows how hard it can be to attract and engage attendees. And as the events space grows more crowded and more complex, the task is only getting harder. That’s why some of the world’s biggest companies seek a true hospitality partner to help them think outside the box–and the hotel ballroom. Take Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) popular conference, re:Invent. In 2016, AWS hosted around 32,000 attendees across five days at the Venetian Las Vegas and the resort’s adjoining conference facilities. As the five-year-old conference has grown by leaps and bounds, re:Invent has tapped the Venetian’s expertise, working hand in hand to achieve the sort of creativity and innovation that has established re:Invent as a model event.
“We’re experts at serving and entertaining people,” says Chandra Allison, senior vice president of sales for the Venetian and the Palazzo. “And we have a lot to work with–luxury hotels, retail, dining and entertainment, meeting and convention facilities–all in one place. We’re passionate about understanding our partners’ objectives, then utilizing our amenities to bring them to life in new and creative ways.”
According to Ariel Kelman, vice president of worldwide marketing at AWS, the conference uses the Venetian and the adjoining Palazzo as a “blank canvas,” creating shareable experiences that today’s attendees demand. “We really pride ourselves on making re:Invent not only a great learning environment and experience for attendees,” says Kelman, “but also a place to network, have fun, and collaborate with their peers.”
Here, Kelman discusses the most compelling conference trends and how AWS is using them to raise the bar on their own event.
“If you’re going to ask customers to give you days of their time, they can’t just be in one technical session after another,” says Kelman. Re:Invent breaks up the vast venue (the world’s second-largest hotel) through branded spaces such as the re:Invent Park, an outdoor area where attendees can relax between sessions. They watch speakers remotely, connect over a beer, listen to a live DJ, or play one of Amazon’s interactive activities, like Dead Computer Junkyard Mini Golf.
There’s even a nightlife area dubbed re:Play and a grub crawl that encourages attendees to mix, mingle, and eat their way through some of the Venetian’s dozens of restaurants and lounges, instead of corralling them into a single dining hall.
Re:Invent has a dedicated mobile app, featuring a live map, push notifications, and instantaneous attendee reviews on speakers and workshops. “Things change, locations move, or we add new sessions,” says Kelman. “The app allows us to give people their schedule in real time and, if we know they’re interested in a particular topic, we can push a notification about a new session.”
Attendees have the opportunity to RSVP to sessions up to two months in advance, allowing organizers to adjust accordingly. “We might have planned one session for 300 people,” Kelman says, “but if there are actually 700 who want to do it, we can add some repeats and keep everyone happy.”
Once on site, attendees wear conference badges outfitted with RFID chips, creating a seamless check-in and allowing re:Invent to track and react to session attendance midweek as needed.
And while a tech giant like AWS is naturally skilled at responding to data, the conference couldn’t adapt so quickly without the flexibility of the facility itself. “We have the space and the skilled teams to make on-the-fly changes based on that rich real-time data,” says the Venetian’s Allison.
Five days of multidisciplinary programming can be overwhelming. So re:Invent allows attendees to customize their experience through “mini-cons.” These single-day, fully immersive mini-conferences focus on re:Invent’s most popular topics.
“We take ideas like the internet of things or machine learning, then build out a mini-keynote and plan three or four sessions around it, all in a dedicated place,” says Kelman. “Attendees interested in a particular topic can have a continuous experience with others who have similar interests.”
Optimized for Networking
“We focus on creating networking opportunities so attendees have time to form new relationships,” says Kelman. Re:Invent makes use of the huge number of entertainment amenities the Venetian offers (this is Vegas, after all), with playful activities such as a wing-eating contest and DJ parties at night.
The conference also invests in high-quality remote viewing. “Instead of attendees coming late to a session and sitting in the back with a bad view,” Kelman says, “we’ve created spaces with big screens, food, and beverage, like a sporting event.”
Health and Sustainability
“When you’re busy rushing around a conference, it can be hard to make good choices about what you’re eating,” says Kelman. “We make sure healthy foods are readily available.” Re:Invent offers minimally processed meals, and even an optional 5K run.
With the Venetian’s help–the resort’s parent company, Las Vegas Sands, was named the “greenest hospitality company in the world” in the 2016 Newsweek Green Rankings–re:Invent has also improved its environmental footprint. Recent changes include using mostly local suppliers, offering grab-and-go “snack-size” meals to reduce food waste, and giving attendees refillable water bottles. All unserved food is donated to a local charity.
At an event with so many attendees and activities, small problems can often have a ripple effect. But not at re:Invent, which speaks to AWS’s and the Venetian’s partnership. “It’s about our shared value of making sure customers have a great experience,” Kelman says. “They help us plan around all the risks and details.”
Ultimately, AWS sees the Venetian as more than a venue–it’s part of their team. “At Amazon, we have a long-term perspective,” says Kelman. “The Venetian’s team is the same way. While we’re focusing on this year’s conference, we’re also working with them on what’s happening several years in the future.”
And with more than 40,000 attendees expected at this year’s re:Invent, it’s clear that long-term perspective and partnership is paying off.
For more information, visit venetian.com.
This article was created for and commissioned by the Venetian.