Monday, January 25, 1999

center weighs
meetings policy

Some local groups are
seeking use of the facility

By Russ Lynch


The Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau will hold a meeting of several hundred of its Hawaii members at the Hawaii Convention Center tomorrow, amid growing discussion about the Convention Center Authority's policy of keeping out almost all local groups.

Logo That policy could shift, opening the center to a wider local audience, after the authority meets next week.

For now, there's nothing wrong with opening the center to the HVCB because that's the organization with responsibility for filling the complex with the mainland and international conventions it was designed for, key executives say.

Those close to the center's operations say it is natural that the HVCB and its members, each of whom can become a personal ambassador in convincing groups from outside Hawaii to come, should use it enough to be very familiar with it.

The overall purpose has to be to persuade businesses and associations to bring large groups from outside the islands to fill hotel rooms, spend money in restaurants and attractions and boost the state's tax coffers, experts say.

More local groups may be allowed to use the center but only if their meetings don't take significant business away from the hotels and the local convention facilities such as the Neal Blaisdell Center.

"The answer to the question has to be based upon what the building was built for and its mission is to generate new tourism revenue for the state of Hawaii in the form of tax revenue generated by the hotel room tax," said Ken Kanter, a local trade-show director for Douglas Trade Shows.

The idea is to bring new offshore revenues to Hawaii in off-peak periods of the tourist industry, he said.

"In such a sophisticated industry (meetings and conventions), the biggest danger is for the political community to start putting pressure on the operation and marketing of the convention center, to erode the purpose for which it was built," Kanter said.

"We have lots of facilities. It's a mistake to create a situation in which public buildings compete with each other," he said.

HVCB and convention center officials agree and say that during the center's development, the state spent $13.5 million to improve the Blaisdell Center specifically for the local business.

The Convention Center Authority, however, recognizes the need to generate as much business as possible and that long-term marketing may be helped by letting the right local groups use it, center officials say.

"We've opened it up for that purpose" from time to time, said Alan Hayashi, executive director of the Convention Center Authority. One example where local use may work well is with organizations in Hawaii that are working hard to bring their national associations here, Hayashi said.

The CCA meeting Feb. 3 will consider that and possibly make a new policy, he said. However, the authority has always had the policy that outside business must come first.

"We certainly don't want to lock out any offshore events," Hayashi said, by allowing a local organization to book an event that later conflicts with an opportunity to sell that time slot outside Hawaii.

One solution is to say that local events would not be able to be scheduled more than six months in advance, he said.

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