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Ownership and Management Change at Jacksonville's Largest Hotel
Having Positive Effects on City's Future Convention Business

By Christopher Calnan, The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News 

National Dental Association expected to spend nearly $1 million during its stay

Jacksonville tourism officials are all smiles over the National Dental Association's plan to hold its annual convention in the city in 2009.

A projected 1,500 to 2,000 NDA delegates are due to attend the nine-day event and spend nearly $1 million during their stay. 

Although it won't be the largest convention Jacksonville has hosted, officials expect it to have a far-reaching effect on future convention business because of the organization's high profile and its members' demographics.

"It puts Jacksonville on the radar of prestigious groups," said John Reyes, president of the Jacksonville & the Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It's bringing in an affluent attendee who can come back and vacation in Jacksonville." The convention is scheduled to be at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront from July 22-30, 2009. 

The NDA didn't consider Jacksonville for its annual conventions in previous years, the group's meeting planner, LaVette Henderson, said. But that changed when the city hosted Super Bowl XXXIX in February.

"Jacksonville was not on the map, basically, until the Super Bowl was there," she said. "It didn't sit on the same standards as an Orlando."

Henderson also said Jacksonville's friendliness and easy logistics made it an attractive choice for the NDA. This year, the NDA held its convention in Las Vegas; last year, it was in Los Angeles.

The change in ownership of Jacksonville's largest hotel earlier this year also played a role in the deal, officials said. In April, Hyatt took over operations of the 966-room downtown hotel after the owner of Adam's Mark sold the hotel to two investment companies that enlisted Hyatt to manage it. That management change was a factor in attracting the NDA, said Donald Harris, president of the Jacksonville Hotel and Motel Association.

"We probably wouldn't have gotten this with the Adam's Mark," he said. "In the hotel industry, [Hyatt] is big."

Reyes agreed, and said the hotel chain provides a known quality of service, which means customers take little risk when working with them. "Hyatt has a tremendous reputation, so the NDA knew what it was buying," he said. "They could buy in confidence."

The Hyatt has been upgrading the Jacksonville hotel ever since it re-flagged the property. Beginning in March, it plans to spend $12 million renovating guest rooms, two floors at a time, general manager Phil Tufano said.

In fiscal 2004-05, Jacksonville hosted 245 convention and meeting groups with 123,000 attendees spending $32 million, the CVB said. Groups included a fire and rescue department convention with 8,000 attendees and the Florida Baptist Convention with 5,000 attendees, according to the CVB.

Harris said conventions at the Hyatt benefit the city's smaller hotels because visitors who normally stay at the Hyatt are forced to seek alternative locations when the hotel is filled during such events.

Also, NDA members typically belong to other professional associations. If Jacksonville makes a good impression, it could lead to future recommendations from participants, he said.

Mary Power, president and chief executive of the Convention Industry Council, agreed. If Jacksonville has a good showing, word could spread fast through the convention industry. "A satisfied customer is the best marketing tool a CVB has," she said. Power also said smaller convention cities such as Jacksonville can offer groups cheaper rates and better treatment than more established convention locations because smaller cities don't take the business for granted.

Meeting planners consider several factors when choosing a convention or conference site. They include the convention costs and the ease of getting to the location, said Kelly Schulz, spokeswoman for the Meeting Professionals International.

There's also an industry shift toward holding the meetings in cities that have been in less demand, she said. "Planners are looking at other cities they maybe haven't looked at before," Schulz said, "and one of them may be Jacksonville."

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Copyright (c) 2005, The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville

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