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VisitPittsburgh Reports that Convention Bookings in Region
Rose Nearly 9% in 2010 Compared to 2009

By Kim Leonard, The Pittsburgh Tribune-ReviewMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

March 25, 2011--Meeting and convention bookings in the region rose nearly 9 percent last year from 2009, a sign that "Pittsburgh has weathered the economic storm quite well," said Craig Davis of VisitPittsburgh.

The tourism promotion agency said on Thursday that it sealed deals for 472 events last year for 2010, this year and the future, compared with 434 booked in 2009 but down from 573 in 2008. VisitPittsburgh held its annual meeting yesterday at the Consol Energy Center.

Two major conventions for 2015 were announced: The Veterans of Foreign Wars will hold its annual national convention July 14-25, drawing 12,000 attendees. And the Fraternal Order of Police will return to the city where the organization was founded for a centennial convention Aug. 8-13 with 5,570 in attendance.

Together, the veterans and police organizations are expected to generate $21 milllion in spending, according to VisitPittsburgh.

Davis, VisitPittsburgh's vice president of sales and marketing, also said the number of hotel rooms sold last year was 15 percent higher than in 2006, with rates at or above comparable cities. The number of rooms in Allegheny and parts of nearby counties has grown in the past five years by 1,065 to a total 23,318.

Hotel occupancy in Allegheny County rose to 65.9 percent for all of last year from 62.7 percent in 2009, according to Smith Travel Research.

Tourism generally is starting to rebound as businesses and organizations schedule events and consumers plan vacations, said Cara O'Donnell, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Tourism Office.

"We are optimistic for 2011. The travel industry is expecting a 2 to 2.5 percent increase this year, and we expect Pennsylvania to go along with that trend," O'Donnell said.

Nationwide, "people have not been doing as much convention business as they once did. The economy has taken some of the wind out of it," even in major convention centers such as Las Vegas, said Jake Haulk, president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, based in Castle Shannon.

Dwindling state revenue forced VisitPittsburgh to cut six positions from its staff through attrition to a current 45 employees, Davis said. The agency spent $8.6 million to promote the region last year, and its biggest source of funds was just over $7 million from Allegheny County's hotel room tax.

The agency got about $709,000 from the state last year and would get nothing under the proposed state budget, Davis said, adding sales and advertising programs are being scaled back. One bright spot: Income from sales of T-shirts, postcards and other merchandise more than doubled to about $33,000 last year, mainly because of the larger visitors center that opened in October in Fifth Avenue Place, Downtown, he said.

VisitPittsburgh pursued VFW leaders for six years before they agreed to convene in the city, Davis said. The last VFW convention in Pittsburgh was in 1914.

Law enforcement officers formed the FOP in Pittsburgh in 1915, and Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 with offices in Banksville is the original chapter. In total, conventions booked last year by VisitPittsburgh could generate $286 million in spending, the agency said.


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