Convention center plans for future


WAIKIKI -- As the Hawaii Convention Center celebrates its fifth anniversary this year, officials look back on its successes while contemplating a future in which the meetings, conventions and incentives market continues to wane and corporate budgets and booking windows continue to shrink.

"It's not just business as usual anymore," said Joe Davis, the convention center's general manager. "We have to be extremely nimble to adjust to the new, more competitive environment."

The $350 million facility, located within a one-mile radius of 10,000 hotel rooms here, opened in 1998. Since then, it has hosted an average of 35 offshore events per year, with about 3,000 attendees per function, according to Davis.

In 2003, the facility has generated 222,000 hotel room nights and approximately $360 million in visitor spending. A total of 40 offshore conventions plus another 175 local events will have taken place this year.

But shrinking booking windows present coordination difficulties, especially when many national and international groups book and convene in the same year. That's why Davis stresses the value of repeat business, which usually is determined well in advance.

"Convention center business is booked in cycles, and we need to build our reputation and create a network of repeat customers who will begin to sustain us with predictable re-booking schedules," he said.

The center this year was buoyed by a successful meeting of the American Association of Orthodontists. The organization is returning in 2012 with an expected 18,000 delegates.

Another key meeting in August brought more than 4,000 members of the American Society of Association Executives. According to the group, historically about 20% of its delegates book their own firms' meetings in the host city within five years.

"We see the center as a key asset in the state's economic development," said Davis. "With the assumption of the marketing function by [Philadelphia-based convention management company] SMG in January, we concentrated on developing a marketing plan and generating rebookings."

Previously, SMG managed the facility and the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau (HVCB) handled the worldwide marketing. But state legislation dictated that marketing responsibilities be transferred from the HVCB to SMG at the beginning of the year, amid some hostility and skepticism from area hotels.

However, Davis said, communication has helped the center work with the hotels instead of compete with them.

"We're really their meetings-room component," Davis said. "There's a lot of synergy there. Our philosophy is that if it can fit in a hotel, it should go in a hotel. We don't want to be snagging business that really ought to be acquired by private companies."

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To contact reporter Katherine Nichols, send e-mail to [email protected].

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