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How the Streets of Los Angeles Became the Star at IPW's Opening Night

The opening reception for the U.S. Travel Association's IPW was a vibrant celebration of street art, cuisine, and music, offering thousands of global visitors a fresh perspective on the City of Angels.

Event producer Russell Harris noted that holding the event at the historic LA Coliseum—home of the 1984 Summer Olympics—was an intentional choice for the tourism board. “As we’re preparing to host the 2028 Olympics, it was so important to highlight a lot of different areas for this international audience,” he said.
Event producer Russell Harris noted that holding the event at the historic LA Coliseum—home of the 1984 Summer Olympics—was an intentional choice for the tourism board. “As we’re preparing to host the 2028 Olympics, it was so important to highlight a lot of different areas for this international audience,” he said.
Photo: Courtesy of Russell Harris Event Group

LOS ANGELES—The U.S. Travel Association’s IPW is one of the travel industry’s leading shows, with previous editions generating more than $5.5 billion in future travel by connecting travel exhibitors with buyers and media from around the world.

So, when the annual trade show came to Los Angeles in early May, the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board (LATCB) knew it was a chance to present the city in its best possible light—particularly through an opening reception to remember.

Held on May 4 at the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Exposition Park, the event immersed its 5,700 international guests into Los Angeles’ rich culture. The LATCB worked with Russell Harris Event Group on the gathering, which took on an “Eats, Beats, and Streets” theme that aimed to dig beyond LA’s well-known landmarks and celebrate the city's diverse street art, music, and culinary experiences. 

“Our whole purpose was to do something different,” explained the event production company’s founder, Russell Harris. “Everyone thinks, ‘Let’s show the Hollywood sign or Hollywood Boulevard’—but our idea was to go a bit deeper and showcase the melting pot of culture to this international audience.” The entrance moment was designed like a freeway to create the feeling of being transported to the various cities that make up LA County. “A lot of people stopped and took photos at the entrance because it looked so impressive,” remembered producer Jordan Abright. “Seeing that was a great moment for me and the team.”The entrance moment was designed like a freeway to create the feeling of being transported to the various cities that make up LA County. “A lot of people stopped and took photos at the entrance because it looked so impressive,” remembered producer Jordan Abright. “Seeing that was a great moment for me and the team.”Photo: Courtesy of Russell Harris Event Group

Throughout the space, guests explored interactive activations from sponsors like Visit California, Marina del Rey, Venice, and Pasadena. Russell Harris Event Group collaborated with the sponsors to bring the essence of their cities to life in immersive ways. In the Pasadena section, for example, guests were treated to a Rose Parade-inspired experience, while Beverly Hills offered a 360-degree photo op and Visit California invited attendees on a coastal road trip complete with fireworks and glow sticks.

Santa Monica, meanwhile, transported visitors to the beach with a lifeguard tower photo op that featured the iconic pier in the background—plus a lively performance by a local roller crew—while Marina del Rey provided a serene oceanic setting with a custom sailboat photo op and refreshing wellness shots. LA culture was explored via artwork from artists like Mister Cartoon, Smile South Central, and Art Rebel's Healing Heart.LA culture was explored via artwork from artists like Mister Cartoon, Smile South Central, and Art Rebel's Healing Heart.Photo: Courtesy of Russell Harris Event Group

Beyond the various cities, LA culture was also explored via artwork from artists like Mister Cartoon, Smile South Central, and Art Rebel's Healing Heart, along with entertainment like a stormtrooper parade—a nod to both the May the fourth event date (also known as Star Wars Day) and the city’s entertainment industry. 

Other highlights? Warner Bros. hosted a Batman-themed photo op and a custom bar serving creatively crafted cocktails; Travelzoo transformed the beer garden on Fourth Street into a vibrant hub with DJ Jihaari spinning tunes and an acoustic performance by Wais; and a space depicting downtown’s famed Olvera Street offered tacos, paletas, churros, and Leyenda dancers. 

“We brought the idea to life through interactive elements for guests to have fun, whether it was through interactive photo ops, entertainment, artwork, or the custom street signs representing each city,” said Jordan Abright, senior vice president of Russell Harris Event Group. “For an entrance moment, we designed it like the freeway—guests felt like they were walking onto the freeway and being transported into the various areas of LA.” In a fun nod to the city's entertainment industry and the date of May the fourth—often known as Star Wars Day due to the film's famous “may the force be with you” line—the event kicked off with a custom stormtrooper parade; later, the stormtroopers led guests to the evening's Diana Ross performance.In a fun nod to the city's entertainment industry and the date of May the fourth—often known as Star Wars Day due to the film's famous “may the force be with you” line—the event kicked off with a custom stormtrooper parade; later, the stormtroopers led guests to the evening's Diana Ross performance.Photo: Courtesy of Russell Harris Event Group

Various food stations also celebrated the culinary diversity of Los Angeles, offering street dogs, chicken and waffles, fresh sushi, Thai cuisine, Chinese food, and Korean barbecue. Bars featured special themed beverages, including a San Pedro port bar with custom cocktails. 

Toward the end of the evening, the stormtroopers led guests into the stadium for a performance by the legendary Diana Ross. Harris noted that when choosing an entertainer, the team considered who might impress the international audience. “They want old-school; they want iconic,” he explained. “Diana Ross happened to be available, and it turned into this once-in-a-lifetime thing. The LATCB realized that this whole party was meant to best represent LA, and the return on that is going to be big. People went crazy.” 'Diana Ross turned 80 shortly before this event,' said Harris. 'She's such a legend. It was epic.'"Diana Ross turned 80 shortly before this event," said Harris. "She's such a legend. It was epic."Photo: Courtesy of Russell Harris Event Group

As for lessons learned? “Don’t plug Diana Ross’ teapot into the wrong outlet,” said Abright with a laugh, recalling a stressful, but thankfully temporary, power outage moment. Beyond that, she stresses the importance of a good, experienced team and a careful plan—things that came in handy when the team faced timing issues due to lacrosse games being held at the stadium that cut into their setup time.

“We also found out last minute that a 10,000-attendee EDM festival would be taking place directly next door, so we were concerned about sound bleed and traffic,” added Abright, who noted the team worked closely with the venue and other vendors to develop thorough contingency plans. 

“Thankfully, it all ended up working out,” she said, stressing the importance of always being in “learning mode” when it comes to event planning and production. “There’s always this sigh of relief when you’re on site, and the doors open and people are impressed. That’s a really good moment for us.” 

VENDORS:
Event Design & Production: Russell Harris Event Group
AV/Staging: Technical Event Partners
Lighting: Lighten Up
Rentals: Town & Country
Furniture: FormDecor, Hire Elegance, AFR Furniture Rentals
Set Design & Builds: GC Event Pros
Entertainment: Asher Entertainment
Headline Act: AJL Talent
Event Videography: Knox & Company LLC 

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