Manager of Guest Services and Security Operations Marcus Travis explains how the MCC is keeping safety and security top of mind for every client and visitor
November 30, 2021
As Manager of Guest Services and Security Operations at the Minneapolis Convention Center (MCC), Marcus Travis and his team are responsible for the well-being and safety of everyone in the 1.6-million square foot building. In his 17-plus years at the MCC, Travis has overseen major events ranging from the 2018 Super Bowl Experience and presidential visits to rock star performances and luminaries like the Dalai Lama – all in a building that is more public-facing than most. He sat down for a Q&A recently to explain how the MCC is keeping safety and security top of mind for every client and visitor.
Safety and security are always top concerns, both for event planners and venue operators. What has the MCC undertaken recently regarding to safety and security? One of the newer developments is that we relocated our Command Center to the ground level. It’s now more forward-facing as far as being connected with where guests walk through our north corridor. We are now more accessible and visible for our guests and can better help with creating a safe environment for events.
What sort of technology upgrades are a part of the new Command Center and how are they helping the team serve its guests and clients? I feel like technology is always evolving, especially in safety and security. We have upgraded our camera surveillance system and technology. We also have access to different networks throughout the city. We’re connected to over 60 different buildings through the [Downtown Improvement District] communications center which provides us with access to their cameras. But what good is technology if you don't have smart people that are passionate about servicing the community in the Convention Center? So, we work on homeland security training, suspicious activity training, customer service, and de-escalation, because it’s about connecting with people and meeting them where they’re at.
The MCC is unique from other convention center in that it’s skyway connected and it’s generally open to the public from multiple entrances. What challenges does that bring from a security standpoint? For most convention centers, their design and concept are to be open and accessible and we’re no different in that space. But one of the challenges we have is monitoring access because there are all these different access points. It’s more ground to cover to interact with people coming from different areas. It’s about staying connected. The best security that we have is folks saying, ‘Hello, how are you?’ and acknowledging people as they come through and then making pivots and adjustments where we need to. We’re a building about making relationships, making connections, and fostering partnerships and new business. The most important thing we can do that helps with our security and response is acknowledging and saying hello to people and making that contact that we’re here to help them and to be ambassadors for the city.
How do you balance maintaining a high level of safety and security while also providing a welcoming atmosphere for guests? It’s making that human connection and not creating a threatening environment. It’s no different than when people go to a restaurant or a movie theater. They want to feel safe; they want to feel welcome. That’s where our service partnership with our security provider comes in. Being accessible, present, and engaged with people is the balance that we need to have. Each event is going to be unique, so we’re always doing something different. It’s about being flexible and tailoring the needs to that event.
What should guests expect to experience from the security team when they come to the Minneapolis Convention Center? Guests should expect that we’re going to be engaged, that we’re going to be proactive to assist them in any way. Our command center, our security team, our guest services team and our concierge attendants are all here to serve the guests and make the best experience possible. We’re going to be responsive to help in any way and to manage all the dynamics that play out during an event.
What do you see as the primary role or roles of the building security team? It's to be a point of contact, a conduit, an information hub and working in partnership with our clients and their events. We look at the size of their event, the type of people that are attending their event, the subject they're talking about and take all those things into consideration to create a comprehensive safety and security plan.
How do you work with meeting planners and others in advance of events? We have a proactive Guest Services team that partners with the Sales team to work with the event planners on customizing a plan specifically to their event. A lot of that work is done with advanced research, reaching out to other venues where the event’s been hosted before to learn the finer details about the size, complexity, type of people, and maybe the subject matter they’re going to be talking about during their convention. Then we’re able to tailor and customize the plan to that event. We have to be flexible, and it really starts with the partnerships.
With any event, we’re dealing with humans and relationships, so we're going to need to make adjustments because things happen that are out of our control. The best thing we can do is invest in our relationships with law enforcement on the state and federal level. A good example is whenever we have a dignitary or president come here. There's a lot of partnership and collaboration that happens to make sure that it’s a safe event for everyone. It's really about being engaged, asking a lot of questions and using all the tools and resources that we have to stay connected with the client.
What has been the most challenging event or type of event that you have worked with in terms of safety and security? The most challenging ones are our high-profile entertainment events because you get all of these different aspects and energies coming together. You have people really excited to see a performer and a big production. You have lots of people, so you’re managing a crowd, you’re managing emotion. You’re managing all of these unexpected things. It’s really about being proactive and responsive. Most importantly, we want people to come here, and we want people to leave and get back to their family and friends. The Convention Center is an open canvas to a host of different type of events, so we welcome it. We want to make sure we can put on the best production possible working with their teams and to put Minneapolis on the map.
Gaze into your crystal ball and tell us the future of security and safety at the MCC. The future of security and operations at the MCC will involve technology. Technology is evolving from a surveillance perspective, so that will be a critical component that will supplement the overall safety and security plan. We’re keeping a pulse on that and continuing to learn what’s out there. In addition, convention centers may also change in how people access the building. It may become more like an arena or stadium where you have controlled access points versus where now where there are multiple access points.
What sort of training does your staff receive? We’re often training our staff to help give them the tools to be successful. We focus our training on crowd management, fire code, suspicious activity, emergency response and other areas. Our staff also does tabletop exercises on topics such as building evacuation, severe weather warning, or active shooter. No event is risk-free. The best thing we can do is to train folks so that when incidents happen, we can respond to ensure people leave here safely.
What do you love the most about being a part of the Command Center? What I love the most are the relationships. Getting to know the team and helping them be successful. As a leader, my job is to help our team be successful, giving them the tools and resources. I also enjoy playing a small part in the success of an event. The Command Center is the hub of everything – it’s a point of contact for clients, attendees, exhibitors and guests. I'm really proud of that. We saw that when we partnered with the state for the COVID vaccine and testing clinic. We got a chance to play an important role in the community. Our team was so critical to that from the standpoint of talking with guests and educating them on the questions that they had.
What are your feelings on the full return of events to the MCC? I'm excited to bring events back because we need that energy back in our city. Our employees are excited for that because they want new challenges, they want to use their critical thinking, to interact with these guests and to help create a safe experience. We’re really looking forward to bringing that business back here so we can get other aspects of the hospitality industry back to work and servicing the community.
How is the team prepared now for bringing events back? We’ve expanded that collaboration with our partners like the Downtown Improvement District through working with their ambassadors and their communication center. We’re partnering with city parking to create a comprehensive security plan because the experience starts when guests get in their car and drive down to Minneapolis. Do they feel safe when they park their car and walk throughout our skyway system? Our skyway system has intercoms, it has cameras. We’re also partnering with other building security teams so we can expand our network in how we respond to public safety issues. It’s about having all of these resources to help people if they have a need or simply have a question. We’re here to help people.
You have mentioned relationships several times. What does that mean from your team's perspective? Our team’s role with relationship building is that we’re in the people business. Everything we do has to do with the people. It starts with hiring great staff and working with them to foster those relationships that ultimately help them to make an impact here. We’re ambassadors for the city of Minneapolis. We’re helping to tell a story about Minneapolis and the Convention Center. We want people to come back here. Our team may be the first person they talk to on the phone, in an email or face-to-face when they come in our building. We may be the last person that they see when they leave and we have the chance to say, ‘Hey, hope you had a great time here. Hope to see you again. Have a safe trip heading home.’ It's really about relationships that makes this engine run and it always will be.