A Gem of a Show in Orlando

A trip to Orlando in April for the PCMA Road Show highlights the buzzy SAPPHIRE NOW tech conference.

orlando sapphire

Sponsored by the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) and Visit Orlando, the one-day PCMA Roadshow in mid-May in Orlando gave a group of association and corporate event organizers — along with Convene — two back-of-house tours. First on the itinerary was a trip around the buzzing SAPPHIRE NOW show floor — considered the world’s largest global business technology event — given by Keegan Hooks, CMP, senior director of SAP Events. Then, that afternoon, we took a look at how the OCCC is bringing its ambitious Capital Improvement Plan to life.

We were hosted at the lovely Four Seasons Resort at Walt Disney World Resort, where we enjoyed an evening welcome reception on the Capa Rooftop Spanish Steakhouse Restaurant, a sumptuous breakfast buffet in the Lobby Bar, and a delicious final dinner in a private room at Ravello, the property’s elegant Italian restaurant.

As were being led into SAPPHIRE NOW’s million-square-foot open-space exhibit hall in the OCCC’s North/South building the day after we arrived, I expected to be greeted by a cacophony of noise, bright lights, and overflowing throngs of attendees. But the 19,000-attendee event was anything but chaotic. With its subdued lighting, innovatively designed engagement spaces, and plush carpeting, SAPPHIRE NOW was stimulating in a controlled rather than overwhelming way.

The environment gave Roadshow participants plenty of elements to consider for their own events. All of SAPPHIRE NOW’s “big pieces — content, meeting centers, a keynote, and lunch room … the whole show floor — is one huge piece of a painting that we try to put together and produce every year,” Hooks told Convene, “and every piece is just as important as every other piece. The lighting is what seals the deal for us.”

In fact, the lighting is one reason why it takes SAPPHIRE NOW nearly two weeks to move in to the OCCC. “We kill the fluorescent lights and put up six miles of truss,” Hooks said. “We light the show like an art gallery.”

As much space as SAPPHIRE NOW consumes, there was still plenty more of the OCCC for us to explore. After a yummy lunch spread at the OCCC’s Sunburst B room, we saw for ourselves new developments taking shape at the 7-million-square-foot center, part of the multimillion-dollar, five-year Capital Improvement Plan that is expected to wrap up next year. Among the new additions: the International Drive bridge, which will connect the West Building to the Hyatt Regency Hotel, and the South Concourse’s tech-savvy, 7,000-square-foot Destination Lounge, opening next month.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.