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Atlanta's Georgia World Congress Center Picks Up At Least Ten
 Displaced Shows from New Orleans; Surge in Business
 Requires Hiring More Employees
By Leon Stafford, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Oct. 26, 2005 - Atlanta's surge in business from conventions relocating from New Orleans is forcing the Georgia World Congress Center to revise its fiscal 2006 budget and hire more people.

At least 117,000 people are expected to attend 10 shows the GWCC has picked up from New Orleans since August, said Dan Graveline, the GWCC's executive director, on Tuesday. That number doesn't include the thousands expected to pack the Georgia Dome for the Jan. 2 Sugar Bowl, which was moved to Atlanta earlier this month.

And more could be coming.

The GWCC is in contention for four additional meetings, including three highly coveted and lucrative medical shows. Together, those meetings could bring an additional 94,000 people to the city, Graveline said.

"It will have a significant budget impact," Graveline told the center's board at its monthly meeting Tuesday.

He added that the city has a good shot at winning at least two of those shows and possibly a third.

New Orleans' Morial Convention Center, the city's main meeting space, has canceled conventions through March 31 because of the extensive damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. Among the former New Orleans shows headed to Atlanta are the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, with 21,000 people expected to attend in February, and the Society for Neuroscience, with 25,000 people expected in October 2006.

Graveline said he'll present the new budget in January that will request additional money to hire more staff. The budget also will reflect a jump in the cost of utilities: September utility bills were up $80,000 over the center's projected budget, he said.

Attracting more business to Atlanta is important to the GWCC. The center lost $1.96 million in fiscal 2005, which ended June 30.

Officials blamed the shortfall on the shift of food and beverage business from two big customers -- Microsoft and Herbalife -- to the Georgia Dome, the cancellation of the National Hockey League season and soft parking revenue.

Additionally, the GWCC was expanded in 2003 to compete in a national race to build bigger convention centers. The expansion, however, opened just at the time that the convention business slumped, leaving the facility empty at times.

The expanded business from New Orleans may change that, Graveline said. Normally, he said, it takes at least six years to consistently fill an expansion.

But the jump in conventions as a result of Katrina "has probably accelerated that process by two years."

While Graveline is giddy about the additional business, he reminded the board that his staff has been respectful of New Orleans.

"You hate to benefit from someone else's bad luck," he said. "We did not go after this business. They came to us."


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