Jobs lost, hundreds of canceled events: Anaheim Convention Center hopes to rebound from pandemic

ANAHEIM, Calif. (KABC) -- A year ago this week, the signage was up and the stages were set at the Anaheim Convention Center for the city's second largest show, the Natural Products Expo.

But the day before, organizers made the difficult decision to cancel because of coronavirus concerns. At the time, Visit Anaheim, the organization that handles convention and meeting sales, thought it was only temporary.

"I was stunned. I've never seen that happen in my 33-year career in this industry," said Jay Burress, president and CEO of Visit Anaheim. "OK, we'll lose a couple of weeks or a month and then maybe two months, and then we'll be right back in the game. And here we are a year later."

In the past year, they've had to cancel over 300 different events - an economic impact of more than $2 billion. That includes the hotels on campus. The Hilton, which used to employ 1,200 people has been shut down since April. The Marriott has remained opened, but instead of employing 800 associates, they have only about 100.

"The toughest thing for me personally is these folks, just trying to keep them motivated and hopefully help them with how they can get their unemployment insurances as well," said John Kalinski, the general manager of Anaheim Marriott.

He says it's traumatized the hospitality family they've built through the years.

"Forty years in the business, I've never had the kind of emotional ups and downs that this last year has brought to all of us in this greater community," said Kalinski.

The city of Anaheim is hopeful to eventually rebound from a budget deficit of about $115 million.

"We're actually at the brightest spot yet during the pandemic and the reason why is cases are coming down and vaccinations are going up," said city spokesman Mike Lyster.

Tourism officials have called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to issue guidelines for their industry.

"These events are planned years, months in advance and so they've gotta make plans, so getting the guidelines we think would send a great message to our clients to say, California's serious about it and here's what we're doing," said Burress.

In the meantime, Visit Anaheim is trying to innovate for a brighter future.

Many events have already chosen new locations that have eased restrictions like in Florida, Texas and Nevada.
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