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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 17, 2002

Convention center optimistic about '03

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

The handoff between the Hawai'i Visitors & Convention Bureau and the Hawai'i Convention Center's new marketing agent is under way, but the number of conventions booked so far for 2003 remains below this year's levels.

The 20 conventions booked so far from offshore groups in 2003 are expected to handle 78,000 attendees spending a projected $223 million.

Advertiser library photo • Sept. 26, 2002

Still, as the state's visitor industry has worked to rebuild itself this year after the steep drop in travel after Sept. 11, convention bookings have held steady. By the end of 2002, the convention center will have hosted 28 conventions of organizations from elsewhere representing 69,200 convention attendees and $204 million in visitor spending.

Only three organizations have canceled this year, and the 28 conventions that remained do not include local organizations that used the facility.

And while so far for 2003, both the HVCB's sales agents and representatives for SMG, the new marketing agency, have booked only 20 conventions from offshore groups, those that have been booked will include more convention attendees who are projected to spend more money.

Sales agents hope to close four more bookings soon, said Sandra Moreno, vice president of meetings, conventions and incentives for the visitors bureau. The conventions booked so far for 2003 are expected to accommodate 78,000 attendees spending a projected $223 million.

Earlier this month, meanwhile, representatives from the Hawai'i Tourism Authority, the visitors bureau, and Philadelphia-based SMG — which had been operating the center and will take on the additional marketing responsibilities Jan. 1 — met for the first time to begin the transition.

"We're turning over all of our files, all of our data bank and the history of all of the policies made," Moreno said. "It's going fine, right on schedule."

HVCB sales representatives from Chicago, Washington, D.C., and San Diego will fly to Honolulu in early December to bring in their records as well.

A letter also will be sent to organizations that have conventions planned — or have held conventions here in the past — to assure them of a smooth transition, said Joe Davis, the convention center's general manager.

"The message emphasizes very clearly a seamless transition," Davis said, "and all previous commitments that have been made by the bureau will be fulfilled by SMG Hawai'i as part of our new responsibility."

Among the seven HVCB convention sales people, "a number have expressed interest to join the team," Davis said. "We have a lot of comfort in their capabilities and professionalism, and it sends a clear message of continuity to our customers."

SMG's marketing plan for the center includes:

• Establishing a sales presence at the company's Philadelphia headquarters to target financial and pharmaceutical customers in the Northeast.

• Focusing sales efforts in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

• Getting the University of Hawai'i and congressional delegation to help procure conferences.

• Asking the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Institute to train convention sales and marketing staff on Hawaiian culture and Hawaiian hospitality.

• Developing strategies to attract more meetings from Asia.

• Developing an on-site "Convention TV Studio," and reviewing and retooling the Web site and all videos.

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8085.