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AI Takes Center Stage at Cvent Connect in San Antonio

Cvent CEO Reggie Aggarwal on stage at Cvent Connect 2024

Skift Take

Cvent swapped Las Vegas for San Antonio for its user conference this year, with 4,000 attendees taking part and generating an estimated $7.1 million in economic impact for the city.

After a run of 11 years in Las Vegas, Cvent brought its Connect conference to the Henry B. González Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas, June 10-13. Approximately 4,000 gathered there, with 6,000 tuning in online. 

“This year’s gathering is 10% bigger than last year,” said Reggie Aggarwal, Cvent’s CEO. “It is our largest hybrid event ever. A powerful reminder of how technology has changed our industry for the better.”

The conference was a citywide for a destination this size. Welcome signs were placed in the airport, billboards were placed, and projections were placed on hotels. The Cvent welcome was widespread. This would be a relatively small conference in its previous home of Las Vegas.

This was the third Cvent Connect for Amy Forgette, CMP, DES, director of event technology and strategy at Vizient, a healthcare company. She was excited to be in San Antonio. “This event should be a road show. Planners want to explore different cities and what city wouldn’t welcome a group like this?” she asked.

Big Business

From the main stage, Aggarwal said Cvent has sourced a record-breaking $8 billion so far this year through May.

Cvent estimated the direct economic impact on San Antonio to be more than $7.1 million. Marc Anderson, president and CEO of Visit San Antonio, expressed his appreciation as the 4,000 in attendance, who book an estimated $6 billion worth of meetings business annually.

June 15 marks the one-year anniversary of Blackstone acquiring Cvent for approximately $4.6 billion. Jennifer Morgan, Blackstone’s global head of portfolio operations and former co-CEO of SAP, was a featured keynote speaker during Connect.

“I’m just a big believer in the power of human connection. Here at Cvent Connect you’re creating experiences that make people better when they go back to lead their teams or run their businesses, or go back to their day jobs,” said Morgan.

AI Took Center Stage

Artificial intelligence was a big focus, with Aggarwal revealing that Cvent has dedicated 200 of its employees to AI innovation. The company also launched more than 20 AI-powered products across both its Event Marketing and Management platform and its Hospitality Cloud platform. Just prior to the conference, Cvent also announced the acquisition of AI-powered suppliers’ sourcing platform Reposite.

“AI has been quietly reshaping our world for years, but today, it’s no longer behind the scenes,” Aggarwal said. “AI is more accessible than ever and has the potential to revolutionize every single industry, including ours. At Cvent, we embrace this new reality.”

AI dominated many of the conversations. When Brett Fitzgerald, Cvent’s VP of product management, was asked about Apple’s AI announcements made during its Worldwide Developers Conference on June 10, he said they were good for the industry. “They are investing in tech. We are addressing industry-specific tech. Our goal is to eliminate the mundane tasks in event planning,” said Fitzgerald.

AI was not just on stage. It was also used by Bizzabo, a Cvent competitor, in a poking way starting Thursday before the conference. It created virtual billboards superimposed on iconic San Antonio locations that it shared on social media. “Tired of venting? Let’s Connect!” one said. Another, “Quit venting. Start eventing.”

Creating a Connected Experience

Human claw activation at Cvent Connect 2024 (Source: Andrea Doyle/Skift Meetings)

Anderson described Cvent Connect as more than just a meeting or event. He argued it is a brand experience. There are many facets to it. It is a user conference, a trade show, behind-the-scenes technical and production tours, an innovation lab, and a place to network with other event planners.

“Cvent Connect is a place for users and the industry to come together,” said Rachel Andrews, head of global meetings and events at Cvent.

A one-day trade show was held with exhibitors running the gamut from destinations, hotel chains, event venues, convention and visitors bureaus, tourist boards, gifting firms, and more. 

A popular activation in the innovation lab was a human claw. Attendees had to visit multiple exhibitors to get a card punched that served as admittance into the claw. They were lowered into a pit where they could grab as many gifts as they could. A few lucky winners snagged Bose wireless speakers. “We decided to make this area really interactive,” said Andrews.

Many of the attendees are young and active. More than 100 attendees joined Go! Running Tours at 7 a.m. for a running or brisk walking tour while learning about the sights of San Antonio.

Planner registration cost up to $1,299, but each situation was unique. Some planners paid full price; others were hosted but had to commit to several appointments. Some even have admission to Connect in their Cvent contract.

San Antonio Shows Off Credentials

The evening included a River Walk parade, drone show, neon rodeo theme party at Smoke BBQ & Skybar, and Lone Star Jam at the Espee, a live entertainment venue. 

San Antonio River Walk (Source: Andrea Doyle/Skift Meetings)

San Antonio volunteers dedicated 800 hours to the conference.

Visit San Antonio invited about 60 attendees to an exclusive event at The Alamo. Dinner was served in the Ralston Family Collections Center, where British rock star Phil Collins’ artifacts surrounded them.

Planners Share Constructive Criticism

One exhibitor complained that sessions overlapped the trade show hours, making foot traffic light.

Conversely, overcrowding in sessions was a pain point for some. Meeting planner Lee Caston complained that there weren’t any seats when she got to the sessions she signed up for. “Why have pre-registration if everyone gets let in,” she asked.

She was also perplexed as to why only 200 cowboy hats were given out during the rodeo theme party when there were 4000 attendees. “The hats should have been a gift to each attendee who registered for the conference,” she said.

Two other improvements she suggests is putting home states on attendee badges. “I got a bit exhausted asking other attendees where they were traveling from,” she said. “I also think the trade show should have been more than one day. It was overwhelming trying to make all my appointments and several exhibitors canceled on me or didn’t respond at all.”

Photo credit: Cvent / Cvent