By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer
DOWNTOWN - Cincinnati's convention bureau should do a better job of landing lucrative conventions and trade meetings by focusing its efforts exclusively on Cincinnati and Hamilton County.
That's the conclusion of the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau's board of directors and chief executive Lisa Haller, who trumpeted a "Cincinnati First" theme at the bureau's annual meeting Wednesday.
In December, the bureau's board approved a plan to restrict membership to businesses in Hamilton County and Cincinnati and commit more than $1 million to a yet-to-be-formed tourism group that would join tourism interests in Warren County and Northern Kentucky to promote the region.
"The focus does not mean we're abandoning everything outside the city or county lines," said Cincinnati bureau chairman John Taylor, PNC Bank's president for the Ohio and Northern Kentucky region.
Taylor said the new mission - first recommended by a Chicago-based hospitality industry consultant, C.H. Johnson Consulting - will allow the bureau to make better use of its $4.7 million budget.
The changes come as many downtown hotels worry about a lack of room bookings for 2004 and 2005 as the $160 million downtown convention center expansion is under construction.
The bureau's own figures show that the number of room bookings is expected to drop from 124,857 in 2003 to 112,925 in 2004 and 64,054 in 2005. While the bureau continues to work to land conventions, it acknowledges the next two years could be difficult because construction will limit meeting space at the convention center.
But Haller cited national surveys that predict an upturn in business and leisure travel this year. The Travel Industry Association of America predicts the number of business trips will increase by 4.2 percent to 122 million, and more families will seek weekend getaways, too.
Also Wednesday, the bureau added to its board University of Cincinnati president Nancy Zimpher and Cincinnati Hotel Association president Scott Allen. The bureau named two Queen City Advocate award winners - Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conductor Paavo Jarvi.
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