|By Lorraine Mirabella, The Baltimore
SunMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
July 7, 2009 - Hotel bookings by convention or business groups rose nearly 16 percent in the past fiscal year, Baltimore's convention and tourism agency said Monday.
The Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association said the 522,541 room nights booked for group business meetings between this year and 2019 beat the tourism agency's goal of 500,000 room nights. The number exceeded the 451,608 hotel nights booked in fiscal 2008 for future years, BACVA said.
"One of the major initiatives and goals is long-term, citywide convention sales" -- or sales to groups that might require as many as 4,000 to 5,000 rooms on peak nights, said Tom Noonan, chief executive and president of BACVA. "This ... number reflects citywide commitments in the future."
The boost in future group business comes as the recession, combined with an increase in new hotels, has driven down hotel occupancy rates in the city. The largest new hotel, the city-owned, 757-room Hilton Baltimore Convention Center Hotel, opened last year to enable the city to bolster its sagging convention business and provide a boost to the expanded Baltimore Convention Center.
Baltimore's hotel occupancy rate, which had hovered in the 70 percent range before the economic slowdown, has fallen to 55.7 percent this year through May. As a result, BACVA, which relies on the hotel room occupancy tax as its biggest revenue source, is operating with a $10.7 million budget this fiscal year, about $1.3 million less than for the fiscal year that ended June 30.
Noonan said BACVA has cut several positions and frozen salaries and pension contributions rather than trim sales or marketing programs.
He said bookings were up in fiscal 2009 for future business because the city's hotel inventory is growing, by nearly 2,500 rooms from last year through early next year. That has enabled the city to accommodate 75 percent of the biggest trade shows and conventions, Noonan said.
The future business, much of it booked by medical associations, is expected to generate more than $725 million in economic impact for the city.
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