|By Joe Estrella, The Idaho Statesman,
BoiseMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jul. 20, 2007 - When you became executive director of the convention bureau, did you think you'd still be at it 25 years later?
We were so excited and overwhelmed at the thought of starting a whole new organization that we just hoped that we could figure out tomorrow. So I think I would have shaken my head if anybody said I would be here 25 years later.
From the beginning, what has the bureau's mission been?
Bringing new economy to the city through travel. A convention bureau like ours is common in just about every major city. So there is a network that you can penetrate where decisions are made about how people travel. Not individual travel, but group travel. Whether it's meetings, conventions, corporate travel, sports events, whatever it is. The chamber had tried to create an entity to compete for convention and travel business. So I didn't come into this job without any concept of what we should be doing. There are literally dozens of organizations that organizations like ours join because the members of those organizations make travel decisions.
There is the American Society of Association Executives, and the Professional Conference Managers Association, and Meeting Planners International and National Tour Association. They all have trade shows and meetings where we could go as exhibitors. So we didn't have to go out and create this environment in which you have to find out who meets.
What's some of the history behind the convention bureau?
The evolution of cities charging a tax on hotels had evolved during the '50s and '60s. In 1979 the Idaho Legislature gave this authority to auditorium districts. The hotel tax was dedicated to construction of a public facility, but also the promotion of that facility. The district, which didn't have a building yet, said "We need to put together an organization that can go out and take Boise to that market and see if we can get people to come here." Also in 1979 the Legislature passed a statewide tax of 2 percent, some of which came back to convention bureaus in the form of grants. ... Suddenly there was a window of opportunity that hadn't been there before.
Then what happened?
I honestly think our mentality was that if we could print a good brochure, we could bring in the tourism business. Little did we know that was just the tip of the iceberg. Brochures don't really bring anybody. What we needed was go and find out where those (travel) decisions were made and become active in those organizations.
How much has the convention bureau grown?
We have a staff of 15. And at the 25th anniversary party, the four of us who originally opened the door were all there. One of the things we have is tremendous loyalty to the organization. Our average longevity is 16 years. And because people have been here a long time, they established connections in the industry with people who make decisions.
What was it like in the early days?
We didn't have the convention center, and very limited meeting space. So we knew we had to identify groups whose needs we could accommodate. In the first year the auditorium collected the room tax, lodging sales in this town were $13.7 million. That's what the hotels took in. This year it will probably be over $85 million. ... In 1979, we probably had 1,500 hotel rooms in this town. Now we're pushing 6,000.
What were some of your successes?
One of first successes was in our second year, when we brought the National Governors Conference to Boise. John Evans was the governor of Idaho, and he was a ranking member of the group, which helped. They had never met in Idaho, so it was a coup for us. When the governors conference came here, they met at old hotels. But because Boise is a very open, pleasant state, they all went away thinking "Wow, that's the best meeting we ever had." So we knew the product -- the community -- was very sellable. But that was a different world. We hosted the governors conference again in 2004, and it was a whole different ball game. We had a police center in the basement the National Guard had to be involved because of security issues after 9/11.
Are there any benchmarks the bureau has to meet?
We have to book 75,000 to 80,000 hotels rooms a year. We have to be able to say our sales led to these groups coming to town. We can take credit when there is a hotel confirmation. Most conventions amount to 200 to 500 room nights. So it takes a lot of those to reach 78,000 room nights.
Are you working on anything in particular right now?
Right now we're are aggressively pursuing the chance to bring a Half Ironman to Boise for the next five years.
An Ironman is a 140-mile triathlon that only the insane participate. It's 2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26 mile run on the same day. Well, there are such things as Half Ironman competitions. For the the Boise event, the athletes would stay on average of five days. Our first one would be over Memorial Day of '08. They would swim at Lucky Peak, which should be about 30 degrees. The bike route will be the back roads out there and the run, we hope, will on the Greenbelt. Just that one event will generate 10,000 room nights a year.
Do you think we're going to get a new convention center?
We will eventually get something built. I think it's too bad that there is not a better understanding in the community of the value of that -- that it brings additional space that locals can use; that it brings additional money into the community and it doesn't really cost the residents anything because it's funded by motel and hotel taxes.
Joe Estrella: 377-6465
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