Baltimore has landed two of its largest conventions ever, back-to-back religious meetings next year which, combined, are expected to bring about 45,000 people into the city over 12 days.
The Church of God in Christ Auxiliaries in Ministry will hold its convention July 1-6, bringing in an estimated 25,000 people, followed by the Full Gospel Baptist Fellowship on July 9-12, which is expected to draw about 20,000.
"This sends a great message that Baltimore is a major destination," said Carroll R. Armstrong, president and chief executive officer of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.
"It tells the meeting industry that Baltimore is capable of handling large conventions and is flexible in the type of conventions that they will host. To have two religious groups this well-known meeting back-to-back in Baltimore will send a loud signal to religious conference managers that Baltimore is a destination they should consider."
To land the conventions, the hotels in the city agreed to make large blocks of rooms available and at discounted rates.
Armstrong did not have high hopes of winning any large conventions before 2005, because he believed that a shortage of hotel space had put Baltimore out of the running for such meetings, which usually plan years in advance.
Two recent studies reported that roughly 74 percent of the large conventions set for 2002 through 2005 had locked in their destinations, he said.
The Full Gospel Baptist Fellowship met in Detroit this year, and the Church of God in Christ convention was in St. Louis, Armstrong said.
The conventions will be the largest in the city in at least 10 years, Armstrong said. The Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine is scheduled to hold its convention in Baltimore in 2005, attracting an estimated 30,000 people.
DeWayne Woodring, executive director of The Religious Conference Management Association, said religious conferences offer significant economic impact for a city. "They spend a lot of money, and they stay longer than other meetings," he said.
The projected economic impact for the two conventions combined is $85 million, Armstrong said. But experts who monitor the hospitality industry have raised questions about the accuracy of economic impact numbers.
"I cannot think of a city in America that would not love to have back to back religious conventions with that type of economic impact," Woodring said.
The religious market is so large that it holds 2 1/2 times more meetings than the entire corporate industry, representing an estimated $8.3 billion in spending in the United States each year, he said.
According to the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, here are the five biggest conventions in Baltimore since 1991:
18,000, Natural Products Expo, October 1999
15,000, ISPCON, April 2001
12,000, ServiStar Coast to Coast Corp., May 1997
10,000, Hearth Products Association, March 2000
9,000, Construction Specifications Institute, June 1998
The Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine convention, set for July 2005, is expected to bring 30,000 people.