By Kim Insley
Marcus Travis walks through the Minneapolis Convention Center with an easy smile and a friendly greeting for both visitors and staff. As Guest Services Manager, his job is anything but easy. Travis and his team are responsible for the well-being and safety of everyone in the 1.6-million square foot building.
“We play our part in ensuring the public feels safe,” said Travis, who has overseen major events ranging from the 2018 Super Bowl Experience and presidential visits to rock star performances and luminaries like the Dalai Lama in his 14 years at the convention center – all in a building that is more public-facing than most.
“Because we are a public building, we allow access for those who don’t necessarily register for a convention or purchase a ticket to go to a show,” Travis explained. “We’re the connection between the neighborhood and the city’s skyway system.” With its own coffee shop, inviting park benches and tree-lined plaza, the building is also a gathering place.
The Minneapolis Convention Center is located in downtown Minneapolis and is part of a neighborhood that includes high-rise apartments, office workers and churches providing social services for people in need. The building hosts more than 800,000 guests at events each year, providing public spaces that could be shared by both conventioneers and someone who’s just coming in to take a break from the summer heat. Travis and his staff balance the whole spectrum, all while keeping the venue safe and welcoming.
“Building security is a critical topic right now for venue managers,” said Jeff Johnson, Executive Director of the Minneapolis Convention Center. “The discussion centers on ‘How do you maintain both a high-level of security and a welcoming atmosphere for meeting attendees and the general public?’ Do you need airport-style security, or is there something that can better serve the function of the building and the people in it?”
“I think we do a great job with awareness and collaboration with our command center,” added Travis. “Our building security team is highly visible and their role is multi-faceted. To the general public, they’re greeters, saying ‘Hello’ to people. It’s important to acknowledge them and be consistent with that, whether they are attending an event or just passing through.”
Travis believes that is foundational to any safety plan. Those greeters also serve as the eyes of the security team and each one is positioned in plain view of every public entrance. If you enter the building, someone will see you.
People are the critical factor in any security equation. Travis believes learning about another person’s story helps him evaluate and properly respond to a situation. Empathy for others is deeply ingrained in Travis, thanks in part to homelessness he experienced as a teenager. That life experience is valuable in his current work and helps him whether he is encountering a vulnerable adult, a conventioneer, a visiting dignitary or protest groups. “I think the first step is being intentional and aware of how you’re going to interact with an individual or a group and take an approach of empathy and compassion,” said Travis.
A third pillar of Travis’ safety plan is gathering intelligence and history about each event at MCC. His team conducts extensive research, collaborating with planners, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to assess possible concerns. Even local businesses are involved. “Safety is a shared responsibility,” explained Travis. “We partner with a program called Radio Link. We’re in radio communication with downtown businesses, so we can communicate with each other when we have incidents or threats.”
Travis believes one size does not fit all when it comes to event safety. Flexibility allows his team to create the most effective security plan for each event while maintaining the Minneapolis Convention Center’s central role in the community, including large public shows like the Twin Cities Auto Show, and the Minneapolis Home and Garden Show, each attracting tens of thousands of visitors.
As an IAVM 2018 Venue Excellence Award winner, the Minneapolis Convention Center is recognized among its peers for excellence in management. For Travis, that means working to exceed the expectations of every client and visitor. “I’m passionate about the role we play in everyone’s safety, making sure people come here, and that they return as well.”
At the end of the day, Travis’ goal is to ensure guests feel safe and also have a great time at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Kim Insley is public relations and communications manager for Meet Minneapolis, Convention & Visitors Association.