Here's one welcome sign of more flexibility when it comes to convention center contracts: The San Jose Convention and Visitors Bureau recently adopted a new flexible rental rate structure for its convention center, making the San Joe McEnery Convention Center one of the first publicly run facilities to do so. SJCVB now has the authority to establish pricing based on the characteristics of an individual group or association, according to Dan Fenton, SJCVB chief executive officer. While it is a more common practice at privately run convention centers, the new pricing structure is unusual at convention centers that report to city government.

“It's very difficult sometimes in a public setting to negotiate in a nimble way with clients,” remarks Fenton. “But we think it's absolutely vital in today's economy to be able to do that.” The city council agreed, and it unanimously approved the measure in October.

Fenton says the new pricing strategy goes beyond simply reducing charges. “It isn't just a matter of supply and demand, it's about much more progressive negotiations and having the ability to add value, too.”

Previously convention center rental rates were pre-set, but now, pricing can be negotiated based on several variables, including number of attendees, room nights booked, time of year, as well as projected economic impact on the city.

“You can't create off-the-shelf pricing because every association has different nuances,” Fenton continues. On the other hand, rates at the city's center are based on a checklist of factors, so sales people don't have carte blanche to quote any price they like.

One of the big challenges, he admits, is the overall administrative management of the program. In order to customize packages for individual customers, sales and marketing staffs at the convention bureau have to make sure they are tuned in to the big picture of what's happening with bookings at the facility.

“We think it's a good kind of challenge,” Fenton adds.