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Dallas' Convention Business Picking Up Steam
 but Faces a Number of Challenges
By Suzanne Marta, The Dallas Morning NewsMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Oct. 5, 2006 - Dallas' convention business is picking up steam but still faces a number of challenges.

Officials from the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau secured 835,000 future room bookings during the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, a 9 percent increase over last year and the highest level in six years.

"We're on track, and we're making significant progress," Phillip Jones, the bureau's chief executive, said Wednesday.

Mr. Jones said the Dallas results outpace bookings made by Houston, San Antonio and Austin.

"We've got momentum in our favor, and we're going to try to take full advantage of it," he said.

Despite the booking successes, the city continues to grapple with significant issues.

Its $1.7 million advertising budget is minuscule compared with its competitors.

And the city's lack of an attached convention center hotel hinders Dallas' ability to attract some of the most lucrative group events, Mr. Jones said.

"There's still $3 billion in meetings that still won't even consider Dallas because we don't have an attached hotel," he said.

City officials said Wednesday that they are still working with Dallas-based Woodbine Development Corp. -- which the city tapped to build a Marriott-run convention center hotel -- on "a number of challenging issues," including financing.

Dallas hotels are girding themselves for a tough 2007; for the most part, the new business booked is for subsequent years.

Tom Garcia, president of the Hotel Association of Greater Dallas and managing director of the Adolphus Hotel, said with only seven citywide conventions on the books next year, "we're really going to have to work to fill in the gaps."

During 2000, the city's best convention year, Dallas hosted 21 citywide group meetings.

Mr. Garcia said the emphasis on Dallas' changing downtown and new developments has helped raise the city's visibility among travelers.

"That doesn't help us in the short run, but it does help for the long term," he said.

Mr. Jones said his sales team, along with the local hotels, have turned their attention to booking short-term business and have signed up 170,000 room bookings for 2007 to fill some of the slow periods.

Tom Faust, director of sales for the Hilton Anatole, said that 2006 has been the hotel's best year since 2000 and that his bookings are on a similar pace for 2008.

During the slowdown in 2007, the hotel plans to undertake a $30 million upgrade of its 700-room tower, Chantilly ballroom and other meeting space.

"2007 may not be as strong as we'd like it to be, but I think we're absolutely heading in the right direction," Mr. Faust said.

Mr. Faust pointed to survey results taken in July during the Meeting Professionals International convention, which drew more than 3,000 planners and suppliers.

Before the convention began, 43 percent of meeting planners said they intended to consider Dallas as a convention destination. By the end of the convention, that figure had risen to 59 percent.

E-mail smarta@dallasnews.com

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Dallas Morning News

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