|By Mike Gorrell, The Salt Lake Tribune
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 30, 2006 - Despite the springtime death of its leader, the Salt Lake County Convention & Visitors Bureau had one of its most successful years in 2005.
Scott Beck, who replaced the late Dianne Nelson Binger as bureau president and chief executive officer, will emphasize the resiliency of his organization tonight at the annual meeting of the bureau's trustees.
"Losing Dianne was a real blow, but the staff buckled down and still did their jobs and exceeded their goals for convention bookings," Beck said in an interview.
"In terms of numbers of attendees, 2005 was our best booking year since the 2002 Olympics," he added. "We're booking larger conventions now after receiving validation during the Olympics that we're a city that can host large conventions."
The annual report Beck will present to trustees noted that visitors to conventions and meetings filled 453,232 room nights last year, 1,000 more than the year before. Visitors spent $248.4 million on hotels, restaurants, retail goods, entertainment and local transportation, generating $21 million in taxes for state and local governments.
The 42 conventions at the Salt Palace Convention Center alone accounted for $165.8 million of that total and more than half of the total room nights.
Ski groups and other group tours brought Salt Lake County another 130,000 visitors, people who spent an additional $44.4 million and contributed $3.8 million to Utah's tax coffers.
The transient room tax in Salt Lake County in 2005 was up 10.5 percent over 2004. Taxes from rental cars were up 16.5 percent, said Beck. "Those are two real positive trends."
He was especially pleased with the increased rental-car usage, which he attributed in part to more individual skiers being steered to the four Cottonwood canyons resorts by the Ski Salt Lake program. The annual report said 70,000 Ski Salt Lake Superpasses, which allow visitors to buy discounted lift tickets at their hotels and use them at any of the four resorts, were sold during the 2004-05 season.
"Convention visitors don't do a lot of car renting," Beck said, but people coming to ski do.
Cindy Holbrook, one of the owners of Discount Rent-A-Car in South Salt Lake, agreed with Beck's assessment.
"We probably had an increase of 10 percent for the total year," she said Wednesday. "I wasn't sure exactly what to attribute it to, whether it's the conventions or whatever. We were just glad to have the extra business."
Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty said Beck, a former ski racer, and Eric Thompson, the bureau's chief ski promoter, contributed significantly to the effort to attract more skiers and snowboarders to Brighton, Solitude, Alta and Snowbird.
"The CVB has always been a fantastic partner, but I'm really pleased with their renewed vigor toward positioning Salt Lake City as an outdoor recreation hub," he said.
Hooking up with the online booking company Travelocity helped, said Beck. Before that relationship began, the Ramada Inn booked 230 room nights to skiers during the 2003-04 season. After the Ramada booked a premium placement on Travelocity's Web site, skier bookings at the Salt Lake City hotel jumped to 1,628 room nights.
"That's a 607 percent increase for one hotel," he said. "I have six to eight hotels in the same ballpark."
But just as the Internet has boosted bookings, the ever-changing world of the Web makes it hard for convention planners to know precisely where to spend their advertising money.
"Determining what brings the biggest bang for the buck is really important," Beck said.
Late leader awarded:
Tonight: The Salt Lake County Convention & Visitors Bureau will honor Dianne Nelson Binger with a posthumous "Lifetime Achievement Award," and a scholarship will be set up in her name at the University of Utah.
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