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Officials Hope To Lure More Conventions To Wilmington

By Cece Nunn, posted Apr 5, 2017
(Courtesy of the Wilmington Convention Center)
Wilmington Convention Center and tourism officials told the Wilmington City Council this week that they are working on ways to boost the number of dollars coming in from visitors and events in the Port City.

For the convention center, that means more conventions.

"Banquets continue to be our No. 1 producer in terms of event types," Fredia Brady, the convention center's general manager who started in the position about two months ago, told city council members Tuesday. "We want the convention market to grow. We will continue to maintain or retain ... our banquet business from our local and social markets, but where we're going to see our greatest impact in terms of economic impact is if we grow our conventions market."

Brady and Kim Hufham, president and CEO of Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau, presented annual updates during the City Council's regular meeting at City Hall.

The Wilmington Convention Center's revenue was up last fiscal year, which ended June 30, to nearly $3.4 million, but direct and indirect expenses equaled more than $3.5 million. The shortfall, which does not reflect operating contributions it gets from room occupancy taxes, was nearly $211,000 less than what officials had anticipated for the year in their budget.

Brady said during her presentation that she and the convention center sales team "have been working on strategies for next year, coming years, to again produce those events that will give us the greatest economic impact in the city ... We will be looking at all of our sales strategies, from the booking process to how we close and just really how we service our groups."

Some changes in the works or under discussion are redesigning menus offered by the convention center's food and beverage component to reflect a local and regional influence; improving wireless internet connectivity and event security; and parking coordination.

"Every little touch that we can do in terms of customer service will elevate and make us more competitive and create that optimum customer service," Brady said.

Hufham said the CVB has created a convention district guide for event planners. She said tourism officials hope new hotel rooms coming to the convention district will help bring in more events.

The convention center hotel, an Embassy Suites that is currently under construction, is expected to be open after the first of the year in 2018, Hufham said.

Overall, business in existing hotel rooms increased last year, she said.

"For our sixth consecutive year, we are on pace to set another record in room occupancy tax collections," Hufham said. "Last year during 15-16, we collected over $11 million in occupancy tax collections and this fiscal year ... July through January countywide we're currently up 11.48 percent." 

She said the county's room occupancy tax collections ended the calendar year 2016 with an 11.46 percent increase.

Also in 2016, 32 leads that the CVB's sales staff followed came to fruition, resulting in an economic impact of $24 million. But 43 leads were lost, for a loss of what could have been a $174 million economic impact.

The reasons that leads, which are counted as cases where event planners demonstrate a definite interest in holding their event in the Wilmington area, don't work out vary, Hufham said. Another 89 remaining leads could have a $140 million impact on the area if they pan out, Hufham said.

The loss last year of a regional event for architects that was supposed to be held in Wilmington this fall likely cost the city nearly $1 million. That event was moved because of HB2, which was repealed last week.

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