In response to an alarming 10 percentage-point drop in hotel and motel occupancy rates here during the past two years and a nudge from the Spokane Hotel-Motel Association, the Spokane Area Convention and Visitors Bureau is looking at placing more emphasis on regional and statewide business.
Larry Ross, president of the local hotel-motel trade group and general manager of the DoubleTree Hotel Spokane Valley, attributes the drop in occupancy rates to a 28 percent increase in hotel and motel rooms in the Spokane market during that period, bringing the total number of rooms here to 6,000, combined with relatively flat demand.
In hopes of increasing demand for rooms, the association has met twice with the CVB and has asked the agency, which is one of the marketing arms for Spokanes hoteliers, to seek more short-term business, which would include more state and small regional conventions, as well as sporting events that are to be held within the next year.
We feel like perhaps Spokane has lost sight of some of the state and regional business we used to bring in because were now working to recruit the larger national and international conventions, Ross says. We want to make sure that were not losing our backyard business to other areas.
Ross says that cities such as Wenatchee and Yakima recently have invested significant amounts of money on their convention facilities and that they likely will be going after the statewide business that previously had come to Spokane.
Hartly Kruger, president and general manager of the CVB, says the bureau likely will recommend to its board that it reallocate some of the agencys budget to help fund more short-term marketing.
For the past several years, the bureau has been directed by both its board and the hotel-motel association to focus on booking conventions that would require a large numbers of hotel rooms at multiple locations, Kruger says. The hotels and motels, on the other hand, had been responsible for booking smaller conventions at their own properties up until now, he says.
The larger conventions that the CVB had been focusing on, which typically are held by larger regional and national organizations, oftentimes are booked three to five years in advance, Kruger says. While such conventions helps secure long-term business for the hotels and motels here. They cant be used to boost business right away, such as in times when occupancy is lagging.
The hotel and motel occupancy rate in Spokane averaged 59.9 percent in 1998, Ross says. He says that information comes from the Star Report, which is a widely accepted, industry publication. The same report says the average occupancy rate in Seattle was 73 percent last year.
Ross says that any recognizable gains this year would be great, but ultimately the industry would like to see the average occupancy rate here at around 70 percentsuch as it was about two years ago.
We have been concerned for a couple of years about the occupancy rates. And we, like the hotel-motel association, want to find ways to put more heads in beds, Kruger says.
He cautions, however, that while the CVB is concerned with the falling occupancy rates here and is planning to address short-term business, the agency also only has four salespeople working to book conventions. He says that it takes just as much timeif not more timeto book smaller conventions than to book larger ones, which have more of a payoff in the long run by bringing more people to Spokane and thereby boosting the amount of spending here.
Its more efficient to market to the larger conventions, Kruger says, adding that even if the CVB does shift more of its energy toward booking smaller conventions, it wont be ignoring the larger organizations.
The CVB already knows of 142 conventions that are planned in Spokane this year, which are expected to bring in at least 104,000 people and to use a total of 99,000 hotel and motel rooms here. It also already knows of 73 conventions that are planned for next year, which are expected to bring in about 81,000 people and to use 75,000 rooms here.
Kruger says that with its emphasis on bringing larger conventions here, the number of convention-goers, or delegates as the CVB calls them, who are coming to Spokane has remained relatively flat. The number of delegates who came to Spokane in 1996 was 153,000, which includes those people who attended sporting events here. The following year, the CVB changed its record-keeping methods and began tracking sporting events separately, but still the number of convention-goers alone was 150,000 in 1997 and 167,000 last year.
Despite the rise in 1998, Kruger says he sees the number of delegates remaining relatively unchanged because he asserts that the CVB has been unable to attract big national and international conventions because of a limited amount of space at the convention center downtown.
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