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VOL. 129 | NO. 14 | Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Great Expectations

Convention & Visitors Bureau projecting strong 2014

MICHAEL WADDELL | Special to The Daily News

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The Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau forecasts 2014 to be a banner year, thanks to increased consumer confidence with leisure travelers and a booking pace for conventions, meetings and sporting events that is easily outpacing last year.

Bookings at the Memphis Cook Convention Center so far for 2014 are ahead of last year’s pace. The Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau is forecasting a strong year.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Approximately 10 million people visit Memphis each year, including leisure, business, convention and sports travel segments, and Memphis and Shelby County account for more than $3.2 billion in tourist expenditures each year, according to a study from the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development through the National Travel Data Center.

J. John Oros Jr., CVB executive vice president and chief operations officer, handles group business such as meetings, conventions, conferences, sports tournaments, convention center sales and group tours.

“Overall business for 2013 was good, especially for our Downtown hotels, which typically lead the city in occupancy and average rate,” Oros said.

Last year was not as strong as 2012 – one of the best convention years on record, but bookings at the Memphis Cook Convention Center for 2014 are 11 percent ahead of last year’s pace. Group bookings for hotels are also up.

“We are about 18 percent above our booking pace overall for 2014,” Oros said. “One of the largest contributors to that increase is the fact that we’ve been fortunate to have been selected by the NCAA for the men’s regional finals at the end of March. That event is sure to fill up the city’s hotels and restaurants.”

Memphis last hosted the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament in 2009.

Also in March, the city will host the American Athletic Conference basketball tournament and the USA Fencing tournament.

“Sports tournaments are a great generator of new visitors coming to Memphis and a significant contributor to the economic impact our city generates from tourism throughout the year,” Oros said.

Oros anticipates strong activity again this year at Mike Rose Soccer Complex and GameDay Baseball/First Tennessee fields in Cordova.

“We’re looking forward to a great year for all of our major venues that produce meetings, conventions and tournaments for our city,” he said.

The economic impact that large visiting groups bring to the area is substantial. An average group of 1,000 people that visit Memphis spends a total of roughly $280,000 per day.

The largest conventions during 2013 were the National Technical Investigators’ Association convention and the Kubota Tractor national dealer meeting. NATIA returned to Memphis for the third time in July, bringing 6,000 people that made a $2 million impact on the local economy. The Kubota Tractor national dealer meeting brought 10,000 participants in October, generating an estimated $5 million in economic impact.

“We are hoping to book NATIA for 2018 or 2019, when their next open date comes up,” Oros said.

Last year the Cook Convention Center brought in $59 million for the city, and Oros estimates that total will be roughly $65 million in 2014.

This year, the CVB will operate on an overall budget of approximately $8 million and expects to target amateur sports, minority professional associations, religious meetings and conventions, and corporate trade shows. One challenging area is government meetings and conferences.

“The government meetings market has dwindled to a trickle, due to government cutbacks and reduction of spending, so that has affected the number of those types of meetings that we’ve been able to go after,” Oros said.

Regena Bearden, Memphis CVB vice president of marketing and public relations, feels the hook for luring new leisure travelers to Memphis is the music and the history.

“On the leisure side, 2013 was a very strong year,” Bearden said. “Consumer confidence was up a little bit, and we saw attendance grow at a number of the city’s attractions.”

With its European-based marketing efforts, the CVB primarily targets visitors from the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland. The CVB operates offices in the U.K., France and Germany.

“The numbers are really strong coming from Europe,” Bearden said. “International visitors stay for an average of three to four days in Memphis, and we are always looking at ways we can extend that length of stay for visitors. Obviously that builds economic impact because they stay at hotels, spend money and go to more attractions like the Stax Museum, Beale Street and Graceland.”

Bearden also expects to work with Southwest Airlines, which made its debut in the Memphis market last year.

“Southwest has a huge percentage of leisure travelers on their flights, so we have a marketing relationship with them, and we will be buying media on their website and their in-flight materials so we can showcase Memphis to new travelers,” she said.

This year, the CVB will also update its “Find Your Soul Mate in Memphis” ad campaign to showcase the 60th anniversary of rock ‘n’ roll, and it expects a great deal of attention and visitation for the reopening of the National Civil Rights Museum, now scheduled for April 4-5.

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