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Tale of Two Converntions; Las Vegas Versus Anaheim: 
Trade Groups Take Opposite Tack in Convention Plans
By SANDI CAIN, January 2004

In today’s competitive meetings market, convention bureau sales staff often goes all out to bring business to town.

But it’s hard to say what might be the final selling point in whether they come—or go.

Take the example of two conventions in Anaheim.

The Association of Woodworking & Furnishings Suppliers in December said it would move its biennial show from Anaheim to Las Vegas in 2005.

The event, regularly held in Anaheim since 1987, brought 24,000 people to the Anaheim area last year and generated about $5.5 million in visitor dollars.

“(The move to Las Vegas) will give us more national exposure,” said Angelo Gangone, president of the Commerce-based group. “Anaheim is still seen as a regional market.”

Gangone said the change of scenery also might give the show an attendance boost, while still maintaining a West Coast presence.

“There’s more opportunity to grow the show in Las Vegas,” he said. “It’s nothing against Anaheim.”

Maybe not, but Gangone pointed to a “huge” amount of exhibit space in Las Vegas, its affordability, proximity to Orange County, entertainment options and a soon-to-debut monorail as other factors in Las Vegas’ favor.

Another factor in the move: a dispute between the trade group and Anaheim over a power outage that lasted for five hours in 2001.

“It’s always very difficult to compete with Las Vegas,” said Jim Kissinger, vice president of convention sales for the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau. “They have so much of everything.”

Maybe so, but the California Trucking Association saw its attendance dwindle in the eight years it spent in Las Vegas. That prompted the trade group to move back to Anaheim for its show in 2004 after an eight-year absence.

“We have 90,000 members who work in the Los Angeles-Long Beach port area alone,” said Kimberly Reed, director of events for the California Trucking Association. “We decided to bring the show to the truckers instead of taking the truckers to the show.”

Reed said the logistics of parking so many trucks for the event was worked out with the Disneyland Resort. “We’re selling the changes in Anaheim,” Reed said. “A lot of our members don’t know about them. We’re selling the proximity to Disney, too.”

The trucking association expects to bring about 28,000 attendees to the convention.

Convention Center Remodel

Meanwhile, in a bid to attract more business, the Anaheim Convention Center is considering some remodeling for the 1.6 million-square-foot facility.

The Anaheim Convention Center debuted its most recent expansion in 2000. Charles Ahlers, president of the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau, said it’s set to propose some changes to the space due to a “dramatic shift” in the industry.

“More people need breakout space as opposed to exhibit space,” Ahlers said.

Ideally, today’s convention center would have three square feet of exhibit space to one square foot of meeting space, he said. Anaheim’s ratio is 10-to-1.

“Our ratio is upside down,” he said. “We need 300,000 square feet of meeting space.”

Ahlers pointed to a recent meeting of doctors as an example of market trends. That group needed to schedule 1,400 breakout sessions during three days.

“We didn’t have enough space for all the sessions at the Convention Center,” he said.

Though the proximity of the Hilton Anaheim and Anaheim Marriott can solve the problem for most groups, to remain competitive the bureau is looking at ways to add more meeting space at the convention center. That would add flexibility to the center and allow two conventions to meet simultaneously and still have enough meeting and exhibit space.

Ahlers said several options are under consideration, including possible conversion of a junior ballroom or subdividing one exhibit hall. Ahlers said his staff will present recommendations to the city in the near future.

Sandi Cain is a freelance writer and contributor to the Orange County Business Journal and meetings industry publications. She specializes in hospitality, tourism and travel. Cain holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Kent State University in Ohio, where she majored in social studies. A former high school teacher, she has written for niche-market sports publications in the U.S., England and Australia and formerly worked in both the printing and high-tech industries. A Cleveland, Ohio native, Cain hasbeen a resident of Laguna Beach since the late ’70s. She enjoys travel, gardening, reading and spoiling her three cats.


Sandi Cain
Laguna Beach CA

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