|By Christopher Calnan, The Florida
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 26, 2005 -- Hyatt Corp. has quickly become a major factor in Jacksonville convention and conference business.
Organizations and tourism officials are citing the Hyatt's management of the city's largest hotel as a major reason for more conventions and conferences in The First Coast. That's sure to generate additional spending by visitors. But it could also prompt more higher-end hotel companies to consider building in Jacksonville, tourism officials and industry experts say.
The latest example is a Pittsburgh-based medical organization that said last week it plans to hold a conference in Jacksonville for the first time in 2007 -- mostly because the hotel that was built and initially operated by Adam's Mark is now managed by Hyatt.
The National Surgical Adjuvant Breast & Bowel Project, which has conducted medical trials on breast and colon cancer patients for 40 years, said about 1,000 members plan to meet at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront for four days in April 2007.
The meeting is projected to create a $1.4 million economic impact, Jacksonville tourism officials said.
Donna Szczepankowski, the group's director of finance and sponsored projects, said she delayed holding the Jacksonville meeting until 2007 to give the hotel more time to transition from an Adam's Mark to a Hyatt.
"We have a good relationship with Hyatt and use their properties quite often," she said. "I have a lot of faith in Hyatt and know we won't be steered wrong."
Last month, tourism officials and organizations said the downtown Hyatt was a major factor in bringing two major meetings to Jacksonville.
The Florida League of Cities said 1,200 people are expected to attend its annual conference next August. The conference, which is projected by tourism officials to have a $1.4 million economic impact, will be the first conference the League holds in Jacksonville since 1989.
Also last month, the National Dental Association said 1,500 to 2,000 delegates would attend its 2009 annual convention, which will be in Jacksonville for the first time. NDA delegates are expected to spend nearly $1 million while attending the nine-day event.
The 966-room Hyatt, Jacksonville's largest hotel, initially opened as an Adam's Mark hotel in 2001. In April, Hyatt took over operations of the downtown hotel after its owner sold the hotel to two investment companies that enlisted Hyatt to manage it.
Michael Terry, a professor at the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality, isn't surprised at Hyatt's influence.
"It's an industry of branding and branding is based on reputation," he said. "It's based not just on a logo but senses, taste, touch and feel. They have a reputation of consistency of quality."
Donald Harris, president of the Jacksonville Hotel and Motel Association, said meetings are Hyatt's strong suit. "They're absolutely famous for convention and banquet business," he said. "That's their calling card."
In fiscal 2004-05, Jacksonville hosted 245 convention and meeting groups with 123,000 attendees spending $32 million, according to the Jacksonville & the Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Hyatt general manager Phil Tufano said he expects next year's occupancy figures to top Adam's Mark's best year of 50 percent by 10 percentage points. He attributed the increase mostly to group meetings that are generated through Hyatt's national sales network.
CVB President John Reyes said Hyatt's success in Jacksonville could prompt other higher-end hotels, such as Westin, to enter the market. But Harris said company's would only build large hotels if a convention center is attached to it.
UCF's Terry agreed with Reyes about other hotel owners considering Jacksonville for future expansion.
"Clearly, the competition will look at it," he said. "Hyatt may help put them on the map and bring another player or two and then it starts to become a hub of hospitality."
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