Saturday, February 16, 2002

City's hosts looking up


Last year did a triple whammy on convention business

By Amy Higgins
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        An economic recession, civil unrest and terrorist attacks - blame them for $36.4 million in convention business that disappeared from Cincinnati in 2001.

        “It was a combination of all these things,” said Julie Harrison, spokeswoman for the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau. “But Sept. 11 was the biggest issue.”

        Indeed, at least 140 meetings in Cincinnati were canceled after the terrorist attacks, pulling an estimated $11.5 million out of the regional economy.

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        That's money that didn't get spent on area hotels or restaurants — such as First Watch, a popular breakfast and brunch spot at Seventh and Walnut streets downtown.

        But, “we were most affected by the riots than anything else,” First Watch manager Dominic Mandizha said. “We lost a lot of business, but it's starting to come up.”

        Area officials are optimistic that 2002 — with an economic recovery, cooled community tensions and allayed fears of traveling — will bring more business and money back into Greater Cincinnati.

        The bureau hasn't completed 2001 estimates for total visitors to Greater Cincinnati — including Reds fans, museum goers and roller-coaster enthusiasts. But those are also expected to be sluggish for the same reasons, with a local airline strike and the Reds' worst season in decades as two other detriments.

        Numbers of attendees from meetings not organized by the Convention and Visitors Bureau also haven't been tabulated.

        But the number of attendees to bureau-generated meetings dropped 21 percent in 2001 — from 202,156 in 2000 to 159,850 in 2001, Ms. Harrison said.

        Each of these convention visitors to Cincinnati is estimated to spend $860 each while in town, including hotel rooms, meals and souvenirs.

        That means that money brought in from the conventions in 2001 was $137.5 million, compared with $173.9 million.

        This year is expected to be better, with more than 186,000 conventioneers scheduled so far, for a total economic impact of almost $160 million.

        That doesn't include the 2002 Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Billy Graham Mission — expected to bring an additional 40,000 out-of-towners to Cincinnati in late June.

        The largest group included in the 186,000 figure is the Progressive National Baptist Convention, expected to attract 8,000 to 15,000 people. The group had considered canceling its August meeting here in response to a grass-roots call for a boycott of Cincinnati.

        “We've not lost one piece of business” because of the boycott, Ms. Harrison said. “We're counting on them to help us move forward as a city.”

       



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