Is it a buyer's market yet? How are airline cuts affecting meetings? What are the trends in the religious market? We asked CVB leaders from around the country to tell us what's going on in cities these days — and to predict what the near future holds.
Christa Williams, national sales manager for Visit Charlotte: We know that we are below pace in general for 2009 and 2010; however, because of the economy, our hotel community is more flexible and we have some good opportunities that we are looking to close on in the next month or so in the religious market. We are also having a telemarketing blitz that should help the hotels to fill in with some short-term, one-hotel pieces of business for 2009.
Tom Caradonio, president/CEO, Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau: There has been some contraction in the number of, while conventions and other meetings are stable.
Melinda Berte, national sales manager, Des Moines CVB: During the summer months we have seen national conventions that had as much as 40 percent fewer attendees than projected and others that have surpassed their projections by as much.
Elizabeth Buckley, director of sales and services, Oklahoma City CVB: The economy in OKC is strong, so our locals planners are still planning and having their meetings here. When the national economy falters, OKC benefits because we are an affordable destination that is centrally located. Our location along Interstates 35 and 40 makes us a great drive-to convention destination.
Dennis Roche, president, Positively Cleveland: We are starting to see some downturn, but it came a lot later than we expected — it wasn't until June and July of this year, and it wasn't as much a falloff as we might have expected. Many came through a lot higher than we budgeted.
This summer, we got a recommendation for the site for our new convention center, which will be built next to a Medical Mart and is expected to open in 2012, so that changes our focus a little. It's been a challenge to sell large groups into our current building, and it's too early right now to do more than discuss the new center.
As for value, it could be described as a buyer's market here right now, but that's probably less true than in first-tier cities, since we've always been told by our customers that we provide a good value.
Buckley (Oklahoma City): Because we are a centrally located destination, we are not affected adversely by decrease in airlift. Decrease in airlift will cause more people to drive to a convention here instead of fly.
Williams (Charlotte): Until we have September's numbers from the airport, it is hard to know how airlift may affect meetings in Charlotte. Currently we have not been affected. We have a very stable airlift environment, especially with US Airways presence as a hub in Charlotte. We are fortunate because Charlotte is extremely accessible for all other parts of the country not only from the air, but also from drive-in and train.
Caradonio (Northern Kentucky): It's too early to tell how airlift changes will affect us, as most of the cuts have been the 80 percent of passengers that pass through our airport on their way to another flight. It has affected distressed passenger business as that 80 percent was the primary generator of that business. Because the latest cuts do not occur for another month, we're still researching what the outcome will be for our area.
Berte (Des Moines): Des Moines will ultimately lose four to five daily flights, which are about 900 seats per month. That is much less than some of the larger markets will face. We have also heard that one airline will be increasing the number of seats into Des Moines by as much as 100 seats each day.
Roche (Cleveland): Continental has a hub here, so slightly more than 60 percent of our airlift is through Continental. They have cut some flights, but they tend to be the lower-performing flights, so we haven't seen any actual drop-off and it doesn't appear to be affecting meetings.
Caradonio (Northern Kentucky): Overall attendance numbers seem to be trending upward, and more people seem to be driving to the conferences.
Williams (Charlotte): We are seeing a lot of activity in this market with short-term and long-term business.
Berte (Des Moines): Des Moines is seeing strong support for second- and third-tier cities within religious organizations. The city has seen a trend of organizations shortening their convention by a day so that the attendees are not away from their jobs and family as long. They still have a strong desire for their membership to meet for educational meetings along with the importance of the fellowship between attendees.