BACVA chief sees city as leisure-travel area

Doggett hopes to convert Baltimore's day-trippers to guests staying the night

January 23, 2004|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Given intense competition in the meetings industry, the head of the city's convention bureau is looking to leisure travel as Baltimore's ticket to growth in the hospitality sector.

Leslie R. Doggett, president and chief executive of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, plans to focus on converting the city's many day-trippers into overnight guests.

"I can assure you I will fight for our share [of conventions]," Doggett said yesterday during two town hall forums at the Pier Five Hotel, which attracted nearly 150 people. "But at the same time, I have to be logical and practical. Where I see the opportunity for growth is on the leisure side."

She hopes that new advertising campaigns and strategic alliances, coupled with new attractions coming on line, will alter the notion that Baltimore is a city a visitor can adequately see in a day.

It's an approach that convention and visitors bureaus elsewhere don't seem to be taking, despite national statistics showing that leisure travel - rather than a change in the business travel pattern - is leading the travel industry recovery. Convention and meeting numbers are easier to track, she said.

"Historically, convention and visitor bureaus have shied off on the leisure side because the convention side is what they can really tout," Doggett said.

Nationally, the scramble to land conventions has grown more fierce as cities have built more exhibition space even as the number of meetings has remained flat. And, in Baltimore, a headquarters hotel that could help attract additional convention business is several years off.

In November, Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, and Quadrangle Development Corp. were awarded a six-month exclusive negotiating priority to build a $200 million, 750-room Hilton just north of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It would be completed in 2006 or 2007.

Bryan T. Stark, director of strategic planning for the Campbell Group, which handles marketing for BACVA, said the leisure efforts will receive a boost from the expansion of the Maryland Science Center scheduled to open in May, the opening of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture this year and the debut of the National Aquarium's addition next year.

"Some of these new products lead you to stay over," he said. "It's going to begin to shatter this perception that you can do Baltimore in a day. If we can successfully debunk this perception, we'll see significant gains in overnight stays and significant economic growth."

Also yesterday, Doggett announced a key hire to her senior staff.

Jeffrey Hungate, who has more than 14 years of experience in operations and finance, including more than seven years at the International Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus, will take on a newly created post as BACVA's chief operating officer. He starts work Feb. 23.

Doggett hopes that BACVA will benefit from Hungate's skills in creating partnerships, products and services and implementing cost-saving initiatives.

Using such techniques, Hungate was able to double the international association's spending power in less than four years, Doggett said.

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