With visitor traffic down in most major cities, and attendance at large trade shows particularly hard-hit, it's no wonder local governments are looking for reasons — and scapegoats. Since March, the marketing efforts of convention bureaus in Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, and Hawaii have been called into question.

In Miami, after a thorough review, the CVB's contract to promote Miami Beach tourism was extended for another two years. The bureau in Boston was not so fortunate. In mid-June, the state called for the creation of a new entity to market the Hub's two convention centers: the $800 million Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, scheduled to open in June 2004, and the Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center, in Boston's Back Bay. Until now, the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, which operates the centers, and the CVB had joint marketing responsibility.

The move comes with bookings at the BCEC well short of expectations — only 11 meetings had been scheduled as of mid-June. One of the reasons is a lack of hotel rooms near the center.

The MCCA also announced that it is willing to forego rent for select groups willing to commit their events to the new BCEC in its first six months.

On the Other Side of the Country …

A similar situation exists in Los Angeles, because its downtown convention center does not have nearly the number of nearby hotel rooms that cities with comparably sized centers do. With only six conventions booked at the center this fiscal year, a city advisory committee suggested the marketing contract between the city and the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau, which is up in June 2003, be evaluated.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Business Journal, the convention center recently lost two major groups because one main hotel near the center, the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Spa, turned away their requests for space.

However, on May 8, the Los Angeles City Council voted to move forward on a downtown redevelopment plan that would include a convention center headquarters hotel. And 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.

In June, it was reported that the city of Los Angeles had hired an outside consultant to conduct a performance audit on the Bureau.

“It's a tough time for bureaus, and that's not new,” says James Youngblood, CEO, North American Society of Pacing and Electrophysiology, Natick, Mass., and immediate past president of the Professional Convention Management Association. “They used to specialize in registration, but now there's huge competition…, particularly from technology companies. Tough for bureaus to figure out their niche and who they serve: the city or state? The client? The building?”