Now that Utah private-club rules no longer present a barrier to entry for tourism, Scott Beck, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau, thinks the city has a chance at garnering larger conventions. To that end, he is making a case for a new 1,000-room convention center hotel downtown. The Salt Lake County Council has agreed to look into public financing of such a venture.
How many conventions does downtown Salt Lake City currently attract each year?
We average between 22 to 25 citywide conventions (i.e., Outdoor Retailer, XanGo, American Chemical Society) annually with an additional 20 convention-center events that use one or two hotels but need the convention-center meeting space. The 275,000 convention delegates who came spent $244,500,000 in Salt Lake last year.
How would those numbers change if Salt Lake City had a new convention-center hotel downtown?
We would expect to be able to host an additional two to three large citywide events a year, which would mean an additional $30 million to $40 million in convention-delegate spending/economic impact each year. The hotel itself would come with a national brand, equipped with a national sales and marketing program to attract additional groups, as well.
If a new hotel is needed and could be profitable, why isn’t a private developer stepping up?
It gets down to the cost of money. A municipality can issue debt that pays tax-exempt interest, but at a much lower rate, while a private investor need a much higher rate. This is now almost a precedent that has been set by other destinations such as Denver, Austin, Phoenix and Houston. They finance the convention-center hotels with public money in order to gain immense economic impact.
Utah’s private-club rules used to get in the way of booking conventions. How much business do you think we lost on that count alone?
Perceived lack of dining, nightlife and entertainment options is the No. 1 reason we lose convention business. We lost 594,808 room-nights due to the lack of a convention-center hotel over the last four years, but triple that for lost business due to perceptions about Salt Lake´s lack of dining, nightlife and entertainment.
How are you letting visitors know about the normalization of private clubs?
Through an aggressive PR campaign that began the day the 2009 Legislative Session ended. We have already been in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, in several national tourism- and meeting-industry publications, and on several news stations locally, nationally and even internationally.