Hotel bookings in city 8.7% higher than in '97 Convention groups keep business booming larger center credited

Hospitality

August 13, 1998|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Hotel bookings from Baltimore meetings and conventions in fiscal 1998 outpaced by 8.7 percent those in 1997, according to numbers just released by the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.

BACVA booked 543,512 room nights for Baltimore hotels in fiscal year 1998, which ended June 30, topping its goal of 540,000. Those numbers include convention and meeting sales, but not leisure travel.

Carroll R. Armstrong, president and chief executive officer of BACVA, credited the expanded Baltimore Convention Center for much of that success.

"Over the last two years, the convention sales were $1.4 billion in direct spending and $2.7 billion in total economic impact for the Baltimore region," Armstrong said. "And that's staggering. You spent $151 million to expand the Convention Center. That means you're getting a hell of a return on your investment."

Economic impact rose 10.8 percent in fiscal 1998, to $1.4 billion, according to the report. Direct spending increased from $648.8 million in fiscal 1997 to $716.5 in fiscal 1998.

The goal for the 1999 fiscal year is to book 600,000 room nights, Armstrong said.

With several hotels planned for downtown, availability of rooms should not be an issue. By 2000, a 600-room Westin is expected to stand at 300 E. Pratt St and a 750-room Wyndham is to be completed at Inner Harbor East. An 850-room Grand Hyatt is planned adjacent to the Convention Center by 2001.

"If we can keep this up, it will certainly justify these new hotels," Armstrong said.

Because 1999 and 2000 are projected to be lean years for conventions and meetings in Baltimore, BACVA instituted a short-term marketing plan and has booked an increased number of small groups, Armstrong said.

The plan also called for firming up tentative bookings and developing packages with the help of hoteliers. That campaign increased business by 78 percent for the 1999 calendar year, he said.

"What it says is that with all the marketing we're doing, things are starting to get a foothold," Armstrong said. "We're starting to get results."

Armstrong wants to continue to attract meetings and conventions while going after leisure travelers, including those who may have driven to Baltimore for a visit. He is obtaining research to evaluate leisure travelers and help focus a marketing effort that would appeal to them.

"We want to let them know that if they thought they had seen it before, they really haven't," he said. "Baltimore is undergoing its second renaissance. They need to come back."

Others who work in the hospitality and related industries are happy with the numbers contained in BACVA's annual report.

"It really complements other good news for the economy downtown," said Jennifer Berk, a spokeswoman for Downtown Partnership of Baltimore. "Downtown has a lot of momentum right now. If you look at the investment, new restaurants and new entertainment venues, it's all good news."

Mary Jo McCulloch, president of the Maryland Hotel and Motel Association, said yesterday that she had not seen the report but was encouraged by what she had heard about its contents.

"The numbers sound as though BACVA has had a very good year, and we congratulate the staff at BACVA for their success," she said.

"However, we need to look forward to the construction of new hotel properties that will also be dependent on increased Convention Center business in order to fill the additional room nights available on the market," McCulloch said. "We need to be even more aggressive in selling Baltimore and the center."

Pub Date: 8/13/98

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