City officials in Rochester, Minn., this year lost what would have been the first national meeting of the American Veterans Association in their city. The event had been booked five years earlier, according to Brenda Riggott, executive director of the Rochester Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. But once Am Vet officials learned of the city's new anti-smoking ordinance, which bans smoking in public restaurants and bars, they quickly looked elsewhere — rebooking in Kansas City.
“The meeting would have had around 1,200 attendees. That's a good size group for our city,” Riggott says. “Attendees can stay up to a week, and it would have represented 5,000 room nights for us.”
But once her bureau got word of the Am Vet's concerns, staff immediately went into action to try to find a way to accommodate members. They arranged to have private restaurant and lounge space made available to the group at the booking hotels and the convention center. Unfortunately, it wasn't good enough to rescue the event.
Still, Riggott's office did things right, according to Steven Hacker, president of the International Association for Exhibition Management. Hacker says that Dallas also lost two events this year due to a recently passed smoking ordinance. But in each case, he says the city failed to try to work out an arrangement that would have kept the groups. His advice:
Public policy makers need to fully understand the impact that these events can have on the local economy, and should consider the full impact on convention and hospitality business before adopting sweeping new ordinances.
Meeting planners should take a leadership role in working with city, county, or state officials to identify any potential issues that might emerge for their group before they do.
Event organizers should be more assertive with their government counterparts, sharing with them the impact information after each event, including the amount of revenue brought into the city or county and the number of jobs that were created to host each event.