Jumat, 09 Januari 2009

Convention center bookings on the rise with new hotel space

By Aaron Cahall
Examiner Staff Writer 1/9/09
Baltimore isn't yet a first-tier city, as convention bookings go. But Tom Noonan hopes it might be a first-and-a-half-tier kind of town.

The president of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association has overseen a surge in bookings over the last year and a half as trade show and meetings planners turn to Baltimore as a viable, affordable option.

Noonan said the key has been the new Hilton Baltimore hotel, linked directly to the convention center, and expansions to other hotels that have given the city the space it needs to attract bigger shows.

"Our product has gotten dramatically better; we've always had great attractions, great hotels ... but now we have an abundance of them," Noonan said. "Our goal is to be the best second-tier city, and really, we want to be a one-and-a-half-tier city."

BACVA said this week that it has booked 301,800 room-nights this fiscal year for conventions over the next few years, 63.5 percent of the way to its goal of 475,000 room-nights. Last year, it booked 451,608 nights, surpassing a goal of 400,000 and topping the fiscal 2007 mark by 70,000.

Many of the new bookings are medical conventions, lured to Baltimore by the proximity of Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Medical System, said Peggy Daidakis, executive director of the Baltimore Convention Center.

"We're doing a better job at target marketing, at not just answering the phone but looking at who could fit in this space," Daidakis said. "We try to say ... how can we package these hotel rooms with this convention space?"