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Small Cities, Big Parties

Events with the scale and publicity of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions mean big business for host cities that win the coveted bids. And hotels in those cities stand to benefit tremendously from all the buzz and media hype. Hoteliers in both Tampa and Charlotte, two mid-market cities taking center stage this year, are expecting the Presidential conventions to bring big gains now and in the future.

A June report published by Jones Lang Lasalle, a hotel investment services firm, predicted that the hospitality industries in both Charlotte and Tampa would experience positive upticks as a result of the conventions.

“In regards to the economic impact that is happening, the hospitality sector is the one that, right off the bat, is seeing a lot of benefits,” says Ross Howard, a Charlotte-based research analyst for Jones Lang Lasalle.

The firm predicted that the economic benefits of the Republican National Convention for Tampa hotels could exceed $13.7 million, while the Charlotte lodging industry would see at least $21.2 million in revenue from the Democratic National Convention.
Coming off of the RNC, hoteliers in Tampa agree that the years of preparation leading up to the convention was worth the increase in business.

“The RNC is a very organized event, and all the area hotels had to get involved just to get it down here,” says Joe Ruiz, general manager of the Crowne Plaza Tampa-Westshore. “We all had to commit 90 percent of our rooms early on and show that Tampa was a city that was capable of hosting this.”

Robert Morrison, executive director of the Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association, believes the Republican National Convention was a success for Tampa and will give meeting planners a reason to look at the city for future large scale, multi-day events.

“So many first-tier cities have begun to go after mid-market business. But this really positions our market to look at itself differently and compete for business that we would never have given thought to in the past,” he says. “With the experience of the RNC, we now have a real-life, real-time example of our capability.”

The city of Charlotte is also expecting to be a destination for bigger convention and corporate business after the Democratic National Convention rolls out of town at the end of this week.

According to Howard, who pulled recent numbers from TravelClick, Charlotte occupancy rates have skyrocketed compared to this time last year. Occupancy in Charlotte area hotels last year, during the week of Sept. 4-9, was a mere 25.5 percent. The boost from the convention puts average weekly occupancy rates at 88.25 percent, with occupancy reaching 97.7 percent on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Mohammad Jenatian, president of the Greater Charlotte Hospitality and Tourism Alliance says the months leading up to the DNC have been busier than normal for area hotels.

“Normally Charlotte’s hotel business during the summertime is not great,” he says. “But we’ve had our best summer yet, and I’ve been in the local hospitality industry for over 30 years.”

Jenatian has seen the Charlotte hotel landscape change dramatically since the city won the bid for the DNC two years ago. In that time, Jenatian says he saw new hotels come into the area and witnessed many other properties undergo extensive renovations to boost room counts and improve meeting and event space. Jenatian also believes that the convention will continue to spur local hotel development down the road.

“When the announcement was made, it put Charlotte on the radar screen for developers,” he says. “It made people in the hotel business start looking more seriously into what Charlotte has to offer. I am working with over 10 new hotel projects right now.”
Leon Cox, general manager of the Charlotte Marriott Executive Park, says that area hotel managers have been busy—very busy.

“It’s been months of preparation for us. It started with the whole bidding process and negotiating contracts,” he says. “The last few months have been ensuring, from a catering standpoint, what venues or meeting space was going to be locked down. The last few weeks have been ensuring that lists are in, blocks are in, and the delegations we have are taken care of.”

Cox, like Jenatian, predicts a big boom in the Charlotte area following the convention.

“I think anytime that you can be on a worldwide stage and be able to handle an event like this without any difficulty, it creates the opportunity for Charlotte to add other city-wide events to our calendar.”

Jenatian knows that hosting the DNC is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put Charlotte on a the map and establish the city as a convention destination.

“Democrats and Republicans have been working together to make sure we exceed everybody’s expectations,” he says. “I know it is a political convention, and sometimes personal philosophies get in the way, but we learned from day one that this is not about red or blue—this is all green for us.”

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