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Thread: Do conference centers bring tourists?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Do conference centers bring tourists?

    Hello,

    I am working on a research project for the city of Santa Cruz, CA. I am trying to find ways we can boost our hotel occupancy rates during the off season. Building a conference center hotel seems to be the most obvious idea. Does any one have any experience with such a project. What worked? What didn't work? Other ideas on boosting tourism would also be appretiated.

    Thanks
    Last edited by Gedunker; 17 Nov 2006 at 9:31 AM.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    Conference centers are often used to boost off-season hotel occupancy, but you should have a feasibility study conducted to make sure there is a strong local/regional market for such a facility in the first place. A feasibility study could also help you identify the dimensions for such a project - e.g., number of rooms, amenities - as well as likely target markets and other factors to make the project more competitive.

    As far as other ideas for boosting off-season hotel occupancy, I would consider special events and festivals, if you haven't already gone that route. Many hotels are successful with special package deals in the off-season - e.g., combining a hotel stay with dinner for two at a local restaurant, offering spa services, etc.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Convention centers can bring lots of activity to a city for a few days at a time, but that depends if you get some large desireable conferences. The APA conference is very well attended but moves around year to year. If you had a convention such as GenCon, Otakon, FDIC, or anything that can be a yearly huge draw, Star Wars, NASCAR, Beer making etc etc etc. Something that attendees will be willing to travel 6 + hours for. These type of conventions (I've been to GenCon and Otakon) fill the city (Baltimore, Indy, Columbus). Hotels are filled, restaurants are filled, and all other uses too i.e. bars, gentlemen's clubs, convenience stores, and touritsy stuff.
    Last edited by Tide; 17 Nov 2006 at 1:50 PM.
    @GigCityPlanner

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Budgie's avatar
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    This statement may not apply to Santa Cruz, but most conference centers tend to be a losing proposition as stand alone facilities, which is why they are coupled with a hotel. So one of the questions that is ultimately asked is to what extent the public should subsidize this type of facility. Obviously the increased sales tax and bed tax will make the proposition a net gain for the taxing entity, but most (cynical comment based on recent experience) elected officials either can't comprehend it or choose to ignore it by yeilding to the often misinformed comments of their cadre of crones.
    "And all this terrible change had come about because he had ceased to believe himself and had taken to believing others. " - Leo Tolstoy

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    Thanks

    Thanks for all the good thoughts. Keep 'em comming. Any examples or data to support events and packages drawing tourists? My higher ups have so far been skeptical.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Detroit keeps talking about needing a new convention center because for two weeks a year (during the auto show) it is packed to the gills. It is no longer one of the largest single floor centers, but the place is still pretty big (no Morial in New Orleans though).

    I really question why an expansion would be needed as each of the three casinos being constructed downtown need to have a minimum of 100,000 square feet of convention space. Surely not all activities have to be held in the one building; allowing the Convention Center's Riverfront ballrooms to be used for exhibition space. I am sure they could also better utilize the 10,000 seat Cobo Arena which is part of the Center as well.

    I'd be interested in seeing some compelling evidence why this should be expanded, or why it would be a bad idea myself.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    Convention Centers were all the rage in the 1980's and many are now white elephants. The competition is fierce for conventions and most convention goers want many diversions, easy transportation options, thus they then to go to LA, Vegas, New York and other large metro areas. I am not that familiar with Santa Cruz but why would they choose there when LA, San Diego, SF and Las Vegas? Short of the Mighty Banana Slugs does Santa Cruz have a draw?

    Here is a Brookings Institute article that looks at convention centers.

    " The overall convention marketplace is declining in a manner that suggests that a recovery or turnaround is unlikely to yield much increased business for any given community, contrary to repeated industry projections. Moreover this decline began prior to the disruptions of 9-11 and is exacerbated by advances in communications technology. Currently, overall attendance at the 200 largest trade show events languishes at 1993 levels."

    http://www.brookings.edu/metro/pubs/...ioncenters.htm

    I wish you all the best in trying to increase tourism. I would look at other options. Figure out the strengths of your town and look to see what other Central/Northern CA cities have done. That should give you other avenues to pursue.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  8. #8
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    The short answer is no, they don't. Unless they happen to host a convention of interest to tourists. Conference centers attract business people to political conventions, development conventions, etc. Nonetheless it can still be a very valuable asset to a city. London's convention center has been a HUGE success, but the tourist attractor of the city is the John Labatt Center, which hosts our hockey team but is also a venue for bands and other acts.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Conference Center

    I should clarify two things.

    We are not trying to attract more leisure tourists we are trying to attract more bussiness travellers. Also we are thinking of building a conference center, not a convention center. The basic difference between the two is size. We are looking into creating a facility that would host groups averaging 250 and maybe once a year have a capacity for 1,000. Convention centers are much larger than this.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by zoelisabeth View post
    I should clarify two things.

    We are not trying to attract more leisure tourists we are trying to attract more bussiness travellers. Also we are thinking of building a conference center, not a convention center. The basic difference between the two is size. We are looking into creating a facility that would host groups averaging 250 and maybe once a year have a capacity for 1,000. Convention centers are much larger than this.
    With the decline in convention and conference business you will be competing for these smaller shows with larger cities. In addition you will be competing against towns such as: Tunica, MS; West Allis, WI; Hickory, NC; Fort Smith, AR and many other small towns that have all spent hundreds of millions of dollars to attract smaller conferences. If you can convince Santa Cruz to move forward I wish you the best of luck but the track record of convention and conference centers is not stellar, especially in the past 10 years. As If you want business travellers then try growing your local businesses and attract new ones. This will attract travellers and you won't have a hundred million dollar white elephant in the middle of your downtown.
    My experience with the Convention Center in Battle Creek, MI (it's maximum size was 1,200 convention goers) was they struggled to use it but it was cheaper to rehap it then it was to tear it down. It has a full time staff of three and is often vacant.When it is used it is used for entertainment purposes. It loses money every year even when the impcact of the confrenences it brings in are added.LAst year it had 120 events days of use.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    I personally think Santa Cruz is well situated for a conference center. I would wager that organizations such as CRA, CALED, APA, ULI, CMA could tell you that conference attendance is usually up whenever its held somewhere like Monterey, San Diego, or Lake Tahoe (as opposed to less picturesque places like Sacramento, San Jose, etc..) , and so would most likely be interested in Santa Cruz as a conference location.
    And my guess is that CRA should be able to hook you up with some other cities' conference center feasibility studies.
    Good Luck

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    Thanks for this link. Mattoon has been bending over backwards to build a conventions center for years. It looks as though it will finally go through. This was a very interesting read. I certainly hope we aren't shooting ourselves in the foot. (we're running out of feet)

  13. #13
          bluehour's avatar
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    I agree with Oregon Planner that SC could be well situated to attract regional conferences. Plenty of existing amenities, close to the Bay Area but out of the hustle and bustle.

    Perhaps the conference centre would need to be unique-- a design competition resulting in some memorable buildings, or much publicised LEED certification, or provide industry-specific amenties for certain key industries , perhaps those that already are very strong in Santa Cruz-- alternative health or water sports etc?

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    Get a feasibility study done before you commit money!

    A boutique conference center, LEED with excellent ocean views and plenty of space to stretch your legs, plenty of amenities might do the trick. Quality can help but is not the be all end all if you don't have the market for it.

    Some conference centers have corporate sponsorship, which guarantees them space and could reduce public financing. Given Santa Cruz's proximity to Silicon Valley, I would imagine there are some tech companies willing to pony up.

    However, a conference center is best at selling rooms on site. A stand alone facility is risky unless you build it near to good hotels. Then you sacrifice views, space, and amenities that add value to such a facility.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian
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    Ratchety- Tell Me More

    Quote Originally posted by RatchetyPlan View post
    A boutique conference center, LEED with excellent ocean views and plenty of space to stretch your legs, plenty of amenities might do the trick. Quality can help but is not the be all end all if you don't have the market for it.

    Some conference centers have corporate sponsorship, which guarantees them space and could reduce public financing. Given Santa Cruz's proximity to Silicon Valley, I would imagine there are some tech companies willing to pony up.

    However, a conference center is best at selling rooms on site. A stand alone facility is risky unless you build it near to good hotels. Then you sacrifice views, space, and amenities that add value to such a facility.
    Hey Ratchety

    Please tell me more about botique LEED certified conference centers. I am very interested in this concept. I am thinking that the industries we could target, or our botique "concept" could be one of the following, design (our city is in the process of establishing a design cluster) alternative energy/green technologies (silicon valley is becomming a mecca for solar power and other alternative energy companies), or the healing arts.

    Do you know of other conference centers that have succeeded this way? What is your experience in this area? I am going to need as much data as possible to convince the higher ups to take anything other than a standard approach.

    Thanks!

  16. #16
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    I really question why an expansion would be needed as each of the three casinos being constructed downtown need to have a minimum of 100,000 square feet of convention space. Surely not all activities have to be held in the one building; allowing the Convention Center's Riverfront ballrooms to be used for exhibition space. I am sure they could also better utilize the 10,000 seat Cobo Arena which is part of the Center as well.

    I'd be interested in seeing some compelling evidence why this should be expanded, or why it would be a bad idea myself.
    I agree, and then by a few different locations it kind of 'forces' people to get out and about in the City rather than holing up in only one location.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian
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    What about Santa Cruz's existing conference center?

    This conference center in Santa Cruz sounds pretty nice. I found it at the International Association of Conference Center. This is where you can start to identify your market niche that your new center would fill. A LEED, boutique conference center could cater to a range of market segments (i.e. small, mid, large businesses). You might be limiting your potential market if you just go to design firms and healing arts, so then a small conference center for small and mid-organizations might do. But then again, it is California... Ask your local and regional (in SF or San Jose) meeting planners what their clients are looking for. Ask your industry clusters what they are looking for and if they are willing to invest in a space.

    There are only a couple LEED conference centers. As with most LEED building types, there are few examples.

    http://www.umuc.edu/icc/icc_home.shtml
    http://www.salemconferencecenter.org/
    http://www.callawaygardens.com/

    Hope that helps.... I think there's little hard data out there, so you'll have to do your homework by talking to people.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    Santa Cruz Conference

    Thanks, all of this helps a lot! The Chaminade is a nice place, but they are outside of city limits and so the city does not benefit from the bussiness.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    Here is an article from the Wasington Post talking about how the new DC convention center has not met expectations.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...021801431.html
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  20. #20
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Another article on the tanking convention center industry:
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000...969814398.html

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