|By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles
TimesMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 13, 2012--What makes for a popular convention city?
Is it the size of the population or the quality of local attractions? No.
It's all about the amount of meeting space.
That's why Orlando, Fla., and Las Vegas attract the really big gatherings, while Los Angeles continues to struggle to draw the mega conventions.
It's the conclusion of Cvent Inc., one of the nation's largest convention management and technology firms, based on the company's analysis of a year's worth of its bookings and other sales.
Cvent spokesman Eric Eden said cities that can offer huge meeting spaces and market the venues well are typically the most popular convention towns. Local attractions -- theme parks, theaters and sports stadiums -- play a minor roll in drawing conventions to a city.
"Some of the hotels in Orlando and Las Vegas literally have a million feet of meeting space," he said.
In a ranking of the 50 most popular convention cities by sales, Los Angeles came in 17th, far behind the top-ranked Orlando, Washington, Las Vegas, Miami, Chicago, San Diego, Phoenix, Atlanta, Dallas and New Orleans.
Los Angeles, however, has made great progress in drawing tourists over the last few years.
In 2011, it welcomed 27 million overnight visitors, a record for the city, according to the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board. The previous record of 25.9 million visitors was set in pre-recession 2007.
Still, the city's top budget official recommended last week that Los Angeles consider turning over the management of its convention center to a private firm. Such a move would save the city up to $37 million over a five-year period, the official said.
Hotels in cities hosting political conventions get a boost
Democrats and Republicans hope their next nominating conventions will set the stage for a big victory in November.
But the hotels at the cities hosting the conventions can already claim victory.
Occupancy rates and nightly hotel rates have shot up in Tampa, Fla., for the Republican National Convention from Aug. 27 to 30 and in Charlotte, N.C., which is hosting the Democratic National Convention from Sept. 3 to 6.
As of this week, 87% of Tampa's hotel rooms are booked for the Republican convention, while 89% of the rooms in Charlotte are booked for the Democratic convention, according to TravelClick, a New York company that provides e-commerce products and services to the hotel industry.
Even better news for hotel owners, the average hotel rate in Tampa is already up 143% for the convention week. In the same period last year, the average room rate in the city was about $101 per night, according to TravelClick.
In Charlotte, rates for the convention week are up 109%, compared with the same time last year when rooms rented for an average of $106 per night, the company said.
Most conventions don't spur such a dramatic rate increase, said Tim Hart, executive vice president of enterprise solutions at TravelClick. The only event that might drive such an increase, he said, is a Super Bowl.
"It's pretty extreme, the amount of business that these conventions bring into the market in such a short period of time," he said.
United reward miles can be spent on music or movies
If you have amassed reward miles but don't want to hassle with flying, United Airlines now lets you spend your rewards on music or movies.
The Chicago airline recently created a digital media store -- the first in the industry, according to the airline -- that lets members use reward miles to buy or rent songs and movies. TV shows will come to the store soon.
For example, United's MileagePlus members can buy Justin Bieber's latest hit, "Boyfriend," for only 150 miles or the whole album, titled "Believe," for 1,375 miles.
Members can rent the comedy "The Hangover"for 460 miles or buy it for 1,390 miles. Older flicks cost less. Mel Brooks' 1974 classic "Blazing Saddles" rents for 345 miles and sells for 1,150 miles.
(c)2012 the Los Angeles Times
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