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Albuquerque's Convention and Meetings Business Spiraling Downward
 with Booking Numbers Dropping Two Years in a Row

By Rivkela Brodsky, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

August 11, 2010 --By the numbers

<>29,505: Number of actual room nights booked for the 2010 fiscal year, about 10,000 less than the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau had hoped
<><>34,174: Number of room nights booked during the 2009 fiscal year <>
<>27,000: Number of room nights booked for 2012
<>7,000: Number of room nights booked for 2013, none of which involve the Convention Center

The Duke City's convention and meetings business is spiraling downward, with booking numbers dropping two years in a row. Future bookings, although not yet set in stone, continue that trend.

Consider the numbers:

The Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau missed its 2010 fiscal year goal of booking 40,000 room nights by 10,000, only landing 29,505 actual room nights.

Those 29,505 room nights were a sizable drop-off from fiscal year 2009, when the bureau booked 34,174 room nights.

Some 27,000 room nights are booked for 2012 but only 7,000 for the year after that.

No meetings booked for 2013 involve the Convention Center.

"We're looking at a huge decline," Councilor Debbie O'Malley told the Journal, with Council President Ken Sanchez chipping in to say the trend is "bad for our economy."

Both said the drop-off indicates that with its current convention offerings, the city can't compete with comparable cities and pointed to a need for a Downtown events center and improvements to the Convention Center.

O'Malley supports a $400 million plan that includes renovating the Convention Center and building a headquarters hotel and event complex.

She said the plan has been looked at by the council, which also has considered a sales tax increase on the ballot for vot- ers to fund the plan, although no decisions have been made on either proposal.

"You can only sell so much," O'Malley said in defense of ACVB efforts. "We haven't upgraded and our existing center is literally falling apart."

Mayor Richard Berry is considering all options to help improve the situation, but he is not convinced at this point that a new state-of-the-art convention or events center "costing a half-billion is the way to go," spokesman Chris Ramirez said.

He is gathering information now but "his mind is not made up," Ramirez said.

ACVB president and CEO Dale Lockett has long been an advocate for a Downtown headquarters hotel and events center.

He admits things are trending in the wrong direction.

"There is no denial that there has been a downward trend in citywide bookings that started before the recession and was exacerbated by the recession and that's a factor of our product competitive advantage," he said.

Lockett said other factors hurting the local convention business include the aging Convention Center, on which the city still owes $60 million; expensive destinations in other states cutting prices; and online booking businesses bypassing the bureau altogether.

In addition, meetings and conventions used to book five to seven years in advance, especially for larger, citywide events, but that has changed to a shorter window of three to five years, Lockett said.

T hat makes it u nderstandable that Sanchez and O'Malley would be concerned about the lack of bookings for 2013, he said.

"I think it is correct for the city councilors who track our bookings to have concerns about 2013," Lockett said. "We will book some citywides (bigger meetings), I am positive of that. We will not be able to book the same as we have in the past."

The bureau's 7,000 definite room nights booked for 2013 translates into eight smaller groups visiting Albuquerque, the bureau said. None is for a citywide convention, which generally use more than 500 rooms on a given night and usually involve the Convention Center.

"We're not really getting larger conventions; that's a concern for us," Sanchez said.

The bureau said smaller groups staying for shorter periods of time is a trend the bureau is beginning to see.

But the lack of a large block of rooms Downtown, something the bureau has cited as a problem and lobbied to change for years, is costing the city business, Lockett said.

"We specifically ask reasons why we lose business," he said. "Over 50 percent is now attributed to room block issues. Of course, there are other issues coming into play."

There is more potential convention business out there for 2012 and 2013. The bureau said it is in the running for about 50,000 tentative room nights for 2013, translating into about 17 groups considering the metro area, some of which include a couple of citywide events.

For 2012, the bureau has almost 27,000 definite room nights, or 20 groups booked, and almost 31,000 tentative room nights or 18 groups that may come to the city, the bureau said.

The city has 16 months to land some of that business, Lockett said, adding "there still is a good amount of business in tentative category."


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Copyright (c) 2010, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

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