Mayors and local governments are looking for reasons — and possible scapegoats — for lower-than-forecast visitor numbers and convention center bookings. Some convention and visitors bureaus are finding themselves on the line. In late March, Boston Mayor Tom Menino reviewed a report the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau commissioned from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which studied future bookings for the city's new $800 million Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (BCEC), scheduled to open in June 2004, a few miles from the city's current conference hub, the Hynes Convention Center.

Finding those bookings falling short of forecast, Menino asked the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA) to review its $3.7 million contract for direct sales with the Greater Boston CVB, and consider privatizing the center's marketing. A decision on the contract is expected by the end of June.

In Los Angeles, a lack of bookings at its major convention center downtown has caused a city advisory committee to suggest that the marketing contract between the city and the Los Angeles CVB, which is up in June 2003, be evaluated.

In Miami Beach, Mayor David Dermer had called for a review of the Greater Miami CVB's contract when it expires in September. But that focuses on the marketing of the destination, not the marketing of the center, says William D. Talbert III, president and CEO of the GMCVB. “We have two principal funding sources: Miami Dade County and the City of Miami Beach, and therefore two different contracts,” says Talbert. “And therein lies the rub.” On May 6, the city manager said that the bureau has complied with the contract, says Talbert. Later that month, the City of Miami Beach Commissioners (including Mayor David Dermer) voted unanimously to sign another two-year contract with the GMCVB.

Is Marketing the Real Issue?

According to comments by potential users cited in the PwC BCEC report, the lack of nearby hotel rooms is one reason they're not flocking to book Boston's new center. Financing issues have stalled the proposal to build a 1,200-room Starwood headquarters hotel adjacent to the BCEC. That hotel is one of eight in development for the convention center area, says David S. Keamy, senior vice president, sales and marketing, GBCVB.

But it hasn't deterred the more than 100 events representing over 1.7 million room nights that are holding dates at the new BCEC, says Karen Saffery, director of marketing of the MCCA, which is charged with marketing both the BCEC and the Hynes. The Hynes will continue to operate after the new center is open). “To date, contracts with area hotels for more than 275,000 room nights have been signed for 10 events at the new BCEC.” She adds that because Boston is a small urban area, its more than 15,000 hotel rooms are less than a 15-minute ride from the Hynes and BCEC.

In Los Angeles, the downtown convention center lacks the number of nearby hotel rooms of cities with comparably sized centers. Only six conventions are booked at the LA Convention Center this fiscal year and, according to an article in the Los Angeles Business Journal, the convention center actually lost two major conventions recently because one main hotel near the center turned away their requests for space. LACVB president George Kirkland wrote in a letter to the editor of the LA Times on April 14 in response to an April 10 editorial: “Convention center bookings have fallen in the past 18 months for a number of reasons. Correctly, you pointed out the No. 1 reason: a dearth of hotel rooms within walking distance of the Los Angeles Convention Center. We enjoyed success in recent years while two of our competitors — San Diego and Anaheim — were recasting the hotel and visitor infrastructure that now supports their centers. We must do the same.”

The city is considering a proposal to establish a nonprofit corporation to help pay for a 1,200-room hotel adjacent to the convention center.