Hawaii Convention Center aims to jump-start sales

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HONOLULU -- Hosting U.S. corporate incentive groups is only one of the ways the Hawaii Convention Center's new manager, Joseph Davis, intends to boost sales at the 3-year-old, $350 million facility.

Davis took over the helm on Oct. 9 from general manager Dick Walsh, who was reassigned to a position in Alaska.

Both Davis and Walsh work for SMG of Philadelphia, under contract with the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA).

The HTA took over the management of the center in July from the Convention Center Authority.

The Hawaii Convention Center now is courting corporate incentive groups to book events there.
Both HTA chief executive Bob Fishman and HTA board chair Shari Chang have let it be known publicly that the center's convention sales are lagging and need a jump start.

Davis, who was most recently general manager of the Phoenix Civic Plaza, said corporate incentive groups "will be a big part of our focus in the future."

The key to filling in the big holes in the Hawaii Convention Center calendar in the upcoming years is to be able to book events and functions that can be organized on short notice, according to Davis.

One of the ways to do that is through corporate incentive groups that throw parties and motivational seminars, he added.

"We're going to do a lot more in short-term bookings," said Davis. "The corporate incentive stuff is short term, and right now we are seeing a lot of interest from corporations such as pharmaceutical firms."

Since it opened in 1998, the Hawaii Convention Center has hosted only a handful of conventions sized at more than 5,000 people. Last year, 34,000 dentists came to town and used the center, and in June, there were 20,000 Lions Club members using the center.

Davis said that in three to five years, the center should be hosting 40 to 50 conventions "with no less than 3,500 people" each as well as 100 local events a year.

Opening the doors to local events was another big change that came when the HTA took over the convention center -- a change that Davis will oversee.

Before he came on board, no local group was allowed to use the convention center.

"The policy at the time was [to secure] off-shore conventions," said Davis.

Part of the strategy to secure local events was to allow people the opportunity to get a glimpse of the inside of the center.

When Davis arrived, he said he found the building "buttoned up tighter than a drum," with grim looking security guards who were scaring away visitors and residents who would try to peak their head into the center.

"We used to lock down every single door here," said Davis. "Now the doors are open. We needed to relax. We put our security guards in aloha shirts."

Now the center has a meet-and-greet person at the front door who hands out information on the center and allows visitors to step into the lobby.

Davis said that local business now can be booked a few months in advance, as opposed to waiting years for the larger, mainland groups to put the center on their convention rotations.

Davis said he also is making a push to hire more salespeople. He has three at the center, which is "probably half of what we need." (The Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau also sells conventions at the center.)

In addition, the convention center is producing a CD to send to meetings planners. The CD will feature video testimonials of groups that have used the convention center in the past.

Davis said he also plans to create a newsletter, direct-marketing pieces and a calendar of events.

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