Spokane Journal of Business

Convention traffic to decrease in 2013

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With big cities drawing away convention and meeting traffic, tourism is expected to dip here next year, although sports-related travel shows promise, officials say.

Since 2009, Visit Spokane has projected 2013 to be a slow meeting year, says Cheryl Kilday, the organization's president and CEO.

So far, Visit Spokane has confirmed that 77 conventions and sizable meetings will be held here next year. Those events are expected to equate to more 49,000 booked rooms and an estimated economic impact of more than $122 million, says Keith Backsen, vice president and director of sales for Visit Spokane. This year, by comparison, Visit Spokane has had 159 meetings and conventions, with an economic impact of about $300 million, Backsen says.

He says examples of meetings scheduled for next year include a Certified Meeting Professionals conclave in June and an Association of Pet Dog Trainers conference in October.

Backsen says as larger cities recover and stop offering discounted rates, Spokane will be host to more meetings.

In 2009, when larger cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and New York were feeling the pinch from the economic decline, convention traffic that otherwise would have considered Spokane began looking at those larger cities, which were offering rate cuts to draw people in.

"Our rates were higher at a time when other people turned on the faucet," Kilday says.

The slowdown in meetings here likely will continue into 2014, she says.

However, Eric Sawyer, president and CEO of the Spokane Regional Sports Commission, says that with conference and destination travel slipping, sports-related tourism is showing signs of continued growth. Sawyer says sports-related travel through the commission has generated about $31 million in economic impact for Spokane this year. He says 49 events were booked through the Spokane Regional Sports Commission for 2012. This year's numbers have been comparable to 2011, when 43 events were held with an estimated economic impact of $31 million, he says.

He projects the number of events and the economic impact next year to be on par with this year.

"Our challenges for the future continue to be demand for facilities," and a lack of space to accommodate all the desired sports activities, Sawyer says. Next year, he says the commission will look to move on a number of projects geared toward addressing the lack of adequate space.

He says a strategy for next year is to create more community sporting events, like Bloomsday and Hoopfest. There is already interest in hosting roller derby and volleyball tournaments next year, Sawyer says. Playoff rounds for both men's and women's NCAA basketball also are scheduled to return, he says.

Katherine Coppock, manager of the Coeur d'Alene Convention & Visitor's Bureau, says that organization hopes a strong number of visitors in the second half of 2012 will be a positive indicator for 2013.

"We were hit with the economy, but I think North Idaho survived a little bit better than other parts of Idaho," Coppock says.

So far this year Kootenai County is up more than 20 percent in lodging tax proceeds compared with last year, Coppock says, but the increase in lodging tax still is lower than that generated before the economic decline in 2008. She projects tourist traffic will continue to rise next year, leading to an increase in lodging tax proceeds compared with this year.

—Jessica Valencia

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