|By Lisa A. Abraham, Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jul. 16, 2004 - The Greater Akron Lodging Council plans to begin its boycott of business from the Summit County Convention & Visitors Bureau on Sept. 1.
The boycott is the council's attempt to express its frustration with the way the convention bureau is being operated.
"For two years, the hotel community has attempted to work diplomatically to effect much-needed change at the bureau," said Bill Reider, chairman of the lodging council. "As the single largest constituent group of the bureau and their primary vehicle for funding, we expected that they might show more interest in hearing and addressing our concerns."
A bed tax collected from hotel guests supports the convention bureau and the John S. Knight Center.
Barton Hacker, director of the lodging council, said its members hope that before Sept. 1, the convention bureau will be willing to sit down and address their concerns. However, since the council announced its plan for a boycott 10 days ago, Hacker and Reider said, no one from the bureau or its board of trustees has approached them.
Susan Hamo, president of the convention bureau, said Thursday there is little more she could say about the boycott. "As we've communicated to them in the past," Hamo said, "we've already addressed their concerns."
Lodging council members think the bureau is not being run effectively and, as a result, is not fulfilling its mission of generating tourism business for Summit County.
They say a four-year decline in the number of events and visitors at the Knight Center proves their point. They also contend that a steady increase in bed-tax dollars in that time is further proof that rooms are getting booked because of the efforts of hotel operators, not the convention bureau.
Hacker said the lodging council wants more accountability from the bureau for its performance, and wants professional industry standards adopted so performance can be accurately measured.
Once the boycott begins, lodging council members plan to refuse all requests for hotel rooms for events the convention bureau is trying to lure to the county.
At least one member of the lodging council -- the Radisson City Centre in downtown Akron -- will not take part in the boycott. Tom Finley, Radisson general manager, said he has made the business decision that he won't refuse the bureau's requests.
"But I understand the frustrations of the hotels that are" participating, Finley said. "Absolutely. The board needs to look at their concerns. Their concerns are very legitimate."
Finley said the Radisson probably benefits more from the bureau's efforts than suburban hotels because of its downtown location.
Tom Moore, general manager of the Holiday Inn Hudson in Boston Heights, said for some hotels, the boycott isn't that big a risk.
"For most hotels located outside the city of Akron, very little business is generated for us by the bureau," Moore said. "Instead, we rely heavily on our own sales staff for business and will continue to do so."
Hacker said seven Summit County hotels that aren't members of the lodging council have agreed to participate in the boycott because of frustrations with the bureau. He believes the boycott will cover 60 percent to 70 percent of all hotel rooms in the county.
The lodging council also is taking issue with a letter that Hamo and Greg Bean, chairman of the bureau's board of trustees, sent out this week to business and community leaders. The letter states that hotels responded to only 38 percent of the 148 requests for proposals for hotel rooms sent to them.
"Surprisingly, many of the disgruntled hoteliers questioning our sales and marketing efforts respond to our sales leads (requests for proposals) late or not at all," the letter states.
Hacker said the hotel operators believe those figures are misleading. Of the 148 requests for proposals from 2003, he said, the Akron area would qualify for only about 55 events.
One of the events, a 50th wedding anniversary celebration, didn't request hotel rooms, Hacker said. Other potential convention groups were seeking specifications -- such as a beach setting -- that the Akron area could not fulfill, he said.
When questioned about those assertions, Hamo responded: "I'm not even going to comment on that. It's simply not true. We only send our RFPs (requests for proposals for hotel rooms) for groups looking for hotel rooms. It's not worth our time or the hotels' time to do otherwise."
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