Visitors to city boost spending by $10 million

Findings appear in city's first report on trends

July-September period studied

Tracking part of strategy for drawing conventions

November 05, 2003|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Baltimore visitors spent $10 million more in the city during the three months that ended Sept. 30 than during the comparable period last year, the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association reported yesterday.

The report - the first quarterly statistical assessment produced by BACVA - marked a milestone for the agency, which had long resisted providing timely statistics on the status of the city's lagging effort to market itself to visitors.

BACVA President Leslie R. Doggett is optimistic that the new reporting system will catch trends earlier and make it easier to adjust strategy.

"I thought it was a fabulous first step," she said yesterday. "Is there room for improvement? Of course. You have to crawl before you can walk. This will allow us to track and be proactive."

Visitors attending two large conventions proved a key factor in the July-September period, accounting for 31 percent of total direct spending, Doggett said. The Church of God in Christ generated $22.4 million in direct spending, and the American Numismatic Association brought in $12.9 million.

"It shows that these large conventions are so well suited for the city," she said. "They fill in business when we really need it. We're beginning to be very strategic in our convention sales to look at, for instance, the religious market."

The report also showed that 10,000 more people attended meetings and conventions in Baltimore than in the comparable period last year.

The number of hotel rooms used for meetings and conventions dropped by about 20,000, a testament to the types of conventions that Baltimore has attracted recently, more family-oriented events for which people tend to double up in rooms.

"I think the numbers are good numbers," said Doggett. "We're looking at direct spending that is better than it was before. That correlates into services for the people of Baltimore and jobs for the people of Baltimore."

The report shows that 116,119 people visited the city to attend conventions and meetings during the first fiscal quarter and that they spent an estimated $114.3 million. Those attendees used 51,738 hotel rooms, according to the BACVA statistics.

When Doggett arrived in August, she stepped into a battered bureau that had essentially shut down its sales operation for three months a year earlier at the request of the beleaguered chief executive Carroll R. Armstrong, who was subsequently ousted.

The time was instead spent examining internal files in preparation for an outside review in the fall of last year that eventually led to Armstrong's downfall in February. The bureau ended its fiscal year June 30 with 364,188 future hotel rooms booked, roughly two-thirds of the number it had projected. Convention business was at its lowest level since the Convention Center was tripled in size in 1997.

According to yesterday's report, 65,721 hotel rooms were booked for future years during the quarter that ended Sept. 30, more than double the future bookings posted during the comparable period last year. Bookings typically are highest in late spring.

The report also shows lost business of 32,969 hotel rooms during the first quarter - resulting from people who had considered Baltimore but chose another city - because hotel prices were too high. She has determined that the business is being lost in the peak months, not off times, meaning that hoteliers are getting top dollar for their rooms instead of having to offer discount rates to attract conventions.

Doggett said that statistic warrants more analysis. "Maybe this is business we should be losing," she said. "Maybe losing it and losing it to something that has greater value is OK."

A long practice of BACVA of using inflated hotel bookings came to light and was eliminated during the evaluation by Performance Management Inc. of Stamford, Conn., last year. It showed that the agency knowingly used figures that provided a false impression that the organization was meeting or surpassing its goals.

In some cases, BACVA had included in its booking numbers rooms that it had no role in selling. In fiscal 2002, for example, BACVA reported that it booked 523,865 rooms. That number turned out to be inflated by 107,495.

The report projects 70,060 visitors to the city from October through December, renting 63,659 hotel rooms and generating $69 million in direct spending.

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