Hawai‘i Convention Center
fulfilling its booking quotas

However, state goals for 2004 and
beyond are far from being met

The company responsible for marketing the $350 million Hawai'i Convention Center has met most of its state-mandated goals in attracting business for this year and next but has a lot of space to fill in later years.

Philadelphia-based SMG was able to snag 18 events at the center for this year, building on the 22 events booked by its predecessor, the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau, and nine events for next year, adding to the 25 booked by the bureau. That makes for a total of 40 events this year and 34 events next year. The state's goal is 34 events each year. The convention center also has met its goal for attracting 122,500 delegates in 2003.

In the longer term, the center needs some serious filling. Only 17 events are booked for 2005, 15 for 2006, 13 for 2007, and the list depletes from there. SMG, which was forced into the job of marketing the convention center by state law, has been playing catch-up and has not snagged the longer-term bookings.

"I think they're doing pretty well. They've only had the contract about a year," said Brian DiMartino, president of the 21st Century Group, a Maui-based hotel sales and marketing company.

The center has booked a total of 107,715 delegates in 2004, 95,000 delegates in 2005, 79,000 in 2006, 53,900 in 2007 and 21,500 in 2008. The state's goal is 122,500 delegates for each year.

"The longer-term bookings are a challenge," said Frank Haas, tourism marketing director of the state Hawaii Tourism Authority.

The center's progress was hurt by world events this year. The center suspended promotional events when the war with Iraq started, and sales officers did not have physical meetings with clients between February and May.

The convention center opened in 1998 and was initially marketed by the nonprofit Hawaii visitors bureau, the state's longtime tourism agency. SMG, the convention center's manager, took on the marketing role in January when it signed a $20 million contract with the state which runs through June 2006 and can be extended to 2016. Several of the bureau's sales officers, locally and on the mainland, went over to SMG.

Before SMG took the job, the bureau had already met the center's goal of filling a certain number of hotel room nights for 2003, 2004 and 2005. But still, the goals for events and delegates must be met.

Haas said SMG has been doing its job and has been flexible to come up with short-term bookings in a hurry. Since major associations book their annual meetings a decade or more in advance, SMG has gone after corporate bookings and Asian groups to fill up 2003 and 2004.

Based on what SMG has seen in the market so far, the company is confident it will be able to get another 17 events for 2005 and make the goal of 34 events, said Randy Tanaka, the center's director of sales and marketing. "I would bet money that we're going to hit the numbers in '05," Tanaka said.

The U.S. corporate climate has continued to improve, which makes for better company travel budgets. Hawaii's major obstacle has been combating the notion that the state is a high-cost boondoggle.

Tanaka added that he remains nervous about 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 because the usual booking window has already passed. The center was lucky when it got a recent international convention of Jehovah's Witnesses, Tanaka said.

"I'm satisfied we're doing all right ... but not exactly where I would like to be, so we continue to focus on North America," Tanaka said. The time is right to book for the years 2009 through 2012, he said.

Business travel remains a small but growing segment of the state's $10.5 billion tourism industry, with business travelers making up 7.5 percent of total arrivals this year through October. The total number of convention visitors statewide has risen 7.1 percent from last year.

It is still a far cry from places like Las Vegas, which had 5.1 million convention delegates last year with an estimated impact of $5.9 billion.

Two major conventions scheduled for next year at the Hawai'i Convention Center are a biennial national convention of the National Association of Letter Carriers, with an estimated 12,000 attendees, and an annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, with 10,000 attendees. Both are scheduled for July.

The center is projected to have brought in $366 million in visitor spending through the end of this year, and $31 million in tax revenue.


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