Monday, July 2, 2001

Convention center
draws local
wedding receptions

Out-of-state business remains
a priority, but more small
gatherings find accommodation

By B.J. Reyes

About a year after the Hawai'i Convention Center was opened up to local events, a handful of people are taking advantage of the opportunity to hold their wedding receptions in the same space usually reserved for wedding expos.

On the heels of the first reception that was held at the convention center in May, two weddings are scheduled this month for the $350 million facility.

"I think it's dandy," said Bob Fishman, head of the Hawaiian Tourism Authority, which manages the convention center. "I think it's a great idea. There are some parts of it that are just perfect."

Since its official opening in June 1998, the convention center had played host to very few local events. But on June 30 last year, the law that created the Convention Center Authority expired and transferred management to Fishman's agency.

The Convention Center Authority had argued that it did not want local events interfering with what it felt was a higher priority: attracting mainland and foreign conventions, such as this year's Asian Development Bank conference. The authority also did not want to compete with hotels for business from smaller events, many of which are local.

The tourism authority modified the policies to allow the smaller-scale events.

While attracting mainland and international conferences is still a priority, the new management feels that the center can share the space with local events.

"Our mission continues to be to try to get out-of-state events," said Randall Tanaka, a convention center spokesman. Local happenings "are kind of like infield events."

According to the convention center booking policy, first priority is given to events such as conventions, trade shows and programs that are international, national or regional in nature. Second priority is given to multiple-day events including local trade shows, consumer shows and entertainment events. All other events are taken on a space-available basis and typically must host at least 300 people.

Whereas a first-priority event can reserve the convention center as much as 10 years in advance, the tourism authority will not make a commitment to a local event until six months prior to the event.

The cost of using the convention center is calculated by the amount of square footage used or as a percentage of the total cost of food and beverage service for the event, similar to the way hotels calculate rates for banquet rooms, Fishman said.

Alton Kuioka, vice chairman of Bank of Hawaii and a former chairman of the Convention Center Authority, said the advent of smaller-scale local events at the convention center makes good business sense.

"If it's something that could produce revenue ... I would think that would have to be considered," Kuioka said. "No sense having it if you're never going to use it."

Tanaka said opening the center to local events has helped in two ways. Working the smaller-scale events keeps the center and its staff prepared for handling the larger events, and it makes an accommodation to the general public.

"It's not only weddings," Tanaka said. "There's been a fair amount of inquiry for small meetings, retirement parties -- that's kind of what we're seeing happening."

The key to planning a reception at the convention center? Make sure that the banquet does not coincide with anything too large.

"If you have a convention going on," Fishman said, "sometimes the wedding doesn't have the right ambience."

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