BACVA’s Noonan pledges “glass house” approach to growing Baltimore�s convention business

The Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association (BACVA) will pursue a teamwork-driven, outcome-oriented, “glass house” approach to building the city’s convention business, the organization’s new President and CEO Thomas J. Noonan has pledged to Greater Baltimore Committee members.

“We’re going to live in a glass house,” Noonan told the GBC’s Hospitality and Tourism Committee during its March 21 meeting. BACVA will use “third party consultation” with experts to determine the level of convention and hotel bookings that the organization should be producing.

The organization will measure its progress monthly against goals that will be set through a self-evaluation process that will include an April “Tourism Summit.” At that meeting, experts will conduct, among other things, a “destination review,” measuring Baltimore’s strengths and weaknesses as a tourist destination.

Part of the current “gap” in convention business for Baltimore can be attributed to the perceived public indecision during the late 1990s and early 2000s over building a convention headquarters hotel, Noonan said.

“When you’re debating whether to build a headquarters hotel or not, meeting planners don’t make a commitment to your city until you’ve straightened that decision out,” he said.

Noonan acknowledged that, according to the most recent industry data, Baltimore’s downtown hotel occupancy has, in fact, dropped this year.

But with a new convention headquarters hotel slated to open in August 2008, and more than 2,000 total hotel rooms currently under development in Baltimore, the city is in a good position to capture large conventions that it has previously been unable to accommodate, Noonan said.

To strengthen teamwork, BACVA is working with hotel managers, attractions and other travel-industry-related businesses in creating a “Baltimore city-wide alliance” to coordinate convention-booking activity.

Baltimore’s hospitality industry is “starting to realize that we are a group town and that group (business) is what drives this city,” he said.

Noting that major city-wide conventions book their events five to seven years ahead of time, Noonan said that Baltimore’s current long-term future for conventions is looking “very good.”

About a third of BACVA’s current booking activity is for 2010 or later, he said. “We’re building a great base for the future,” he said, forecasting that Baltimore’s convention business would “turn the corner” in 2010 and 2011.

Meanwhile, BACVA is working to fill the short-term holes in convention and meeting bookings. One strategy that is bearing fruit is to focus on corporate meetings, particularly pharmaceutical companies. BACVA is in the process of seeking Northeast corporate sales rep to be based in either Philadelphia, New York or New Jersey.

Get more information and date on BACVA and Baltimore’s tourism industry, which attracts 12 million visitors a year to the city.

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