|By Erika D. Smith, The Indianapolis
StarMcClatchy-Tribune Business News
Dec. 8, 2006 - The only thing missing was champagne Thursday as the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association toasted a record year for the tourism industry.
Attendees of business conventions and meetings packed 530,000 hotel rooms and spent $528 million in 2006, the visitors association announced.
The largest was Indianapolis-based National FFA, which will return next year. Several newcomers, including Drum Corps International, also committed to hold their conventions here.
"It really has been an incredible year," association President Bob Bedell told industry and city officials.
But the hangover is coming, he warned.
Come the new year, construction on Lucas Oil Stadium and the addition to the Indiana Convention Center will make booking conventions extremely difficult. Growth will slow.
The prospect of fighting closed streets and dump trucks already has made a few organizations choose other cities, Bedell said, although he declined to name them.
Other organizations, including the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association and Performance Industry Racing, have left Indianapolis because there wasn't enough exhibit space or hotel rooms.
"We're going to have a couple of lean years here," said Deputy Mayor Steve Campbell. "And that's OK. That's the price that comes with progress."
Progress will make an appearance in late 2008, when Lucas Oil Stadium opens to host the Indianapolis Colts, Bands of America and newbie Drum Corps International.
Two years after that, the Indiana Convention Center will nearly double in size to about 747,000 square feet of exhibit space. That will give Indianapolis the 14th-largest convention center in the United States. Also by 2010, the city should have a new Downtown convention hotel with 1,000 rooms.
"The benefits from the stadium and the Convention Center expansion are really going to come in late 2010 and beyond," Bedell said. "And in the meantime, we've got a challenge to get business to Indianapolis."
To pick up the slack in the meantime, the convention and visitors association will concentrate on leisure travelers more than business travelers.
Leisure travelers spend more than business travelers do.
In 2005, for example, 21.7 million visitors to the city spent $3.25 billion here, up 5 percent from 2004. Leisure travelers spent 64 percent of those dollars, and business travelers spent 36 percent.
"There are four or five markets that we've targeted as far as the leisure market to start to understand what opportunities exist," said Bob Schultz, association spokesman.
Those niche markets include senior citizens; the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community; blacks and Hispanics; and people with disabilities.
Also, the visitors association is developing marketing partnerships withthe Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Eiteljorg Museum, Indianapolis Zoo and others.
"Specifically, our goal is to generate an additional 100,000 hotel room nights in 2007," Bedell said. "If we do a lot more than that, we'll be very happy."
Top conventions and events booked for Indianapolis in 2007, ranked by estimated attendance and direct visitor spending:
1. National FFA Convention
--Spending: $30 million.
2. Fire Department Instructors Conference
--Spending: $27.5 million.
3. Gen Con, gaming convention
--Spending: $25.3 million.
4. Indiana Black Expo
--Spending: $22.3 million.
5. Bands of America Grand Nationals
--Spending: $17.6 million.
Source: Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association
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