Branding Baltimore

May 24, 2006

The Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association rolls out its new campaign today to sell the city as a secret worth getting in on. There's plenty to share about Baltimore: its hospitality, cultural attractions, conviviality, entertainment venues and accessibility. But the pitch can't target only tourists; it must entice convention and meeting planners if the city's convention business is to thrive.

The BACVA professionals know this. That's why, within 24 hours of unveiling their new slogan and branding campaign, they will be promoting the city under the "Baltimore - Get In On It" banner at the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives, a big industry trade show with the potential to score convention business. After struggling the past three years to recover from fiscal and management problems, BACVA appears to be on the right track.

The city's convention business is showing the fruits of some hard work. In the fiscal year that ended in July 2005, the economic impact of improved convention business to the state was nearly $8.7 million, compared with $700,000 in the previous fiscal year, and $2.2 million in the year before that.

The upswing is also reflected in BACVA's bookings (up 33 percent) and committed hotel room nights (up 56 percent) for the period July through April, compared with last year. In the coming months, the city will see an active convention center, starting in June when the National Baptist Convention opens with 50,000 participants.

The turnaround comes as BACVA searches for an executive director to replace Leslie R. Doggett, who is resigning for health and family reasons after three years in the job. Her replacement must be a tested convention sales professional for several reasons. In June, Hilton sales associates arrive in town to begin selling the city-financed convention headquarters hotel, slated to open in 2008. The BACVA sales staff and Hilton team should be focused on the same goal - targeting bigger conventions that have bypassed the city. A hearty convention business should ensure that the hotel pays for itself.

The year 2008 also marks the end of the state's partnership with the city in offsetting the convention center's annual deficit. But with a bustling convention center that's generating millions in economic benefits and dollars for Maryland, how could the state resist an invitation to "get in on it" too?

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