September 24, 2012
By: David McMillin, Staff Writer
Professional Convention Management Association
Regardless of political leanings, the Democratic National Convention, held September 4 – 6, won plenty of votes for the city of Charlotte. From positive reports on the city's Southern hospitality to the successful on-the-fly decision to downsize the President's acceptance speech due to weather, the Queen City gracefully stood in the spotlight.
"The DNC opened up a number of new opportunities for us," Tom Murray, CEO, Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, says. "We expect a major tourism impact from the DNC - not just Americans, but people from around the world."
Murray referenced an article in the UK-based Mirror, which focused on why President Obama chose Charlotte as the host city. The article reached an estimated 1.7 million readers.
"It's very challenging to get that kind of media coverage," Murray says. "The convention generated hundreds of stories. We still haven't calculated the advertising value of such strong press, but it's huge."
A Lack of Local Love
The international media gave Charlotte plenty of glowing reviews, but the local press has not always been supportive in its coverage of the city's efforts to attract convention business.
The Charlotte Observer, the city's main paper, ran a series of articles that questioned the real value of the city's convention center and tourism business. With a skewed perspective, the series gave readers reason to believe that investing in tourism and group convention business is draining their tax dollars without results.
One of the specific concerns that staff writers at the Observer addressed were bonus offerings intended to entice large group business. While the CRVA acknowledges that some groups do receive rental discounts, Murray highlights that understanding the true economic impact of hosting a big meeting requires looking at the big picture. With more than 30 years of hotel and hospitality executive experience, Murray is no stranger to the inner workings of the tourism business.
"When customers represent valuable pieces of business, we don't immediately discuss every specific cost," Murray says. "We talk about the whole piece of business and what benefits it may bring. Then, we work to create a competitive offer."
"It's a very competitive market," Murray adds. "More cities are investing in amenities and adding hotel rooms. They've all discovered what we already know: this is a great way to improve your city."
The Pros of Mid-Size Cities for Big Meetings
Much of the coverage in the Observer focused on the challenges of what writers called "second-tier" cities such as Indianapolis, Kansas City and Charlotte, but Murray disagrees with the label. He considers Charlotte a mid-market convention destination, which he says represents many benefits for big groups.
"Big conventions and organizations can come to cities like Charlotte and really take over the whole city," Murray says. "They can become a real part of the community while they're here."
Murray points to the RNC's selection of Tampa, another mid-sized destination, as proof that smaller cities can attract big-name business.
"The belief that big businesses don't come to mid-market cities isn't true," Murray says.
"When that group of customers who might have thought we were too small sees the DNC here on national television, they recognize that we can handle their event," Murray says.
As Charlotte continues to attract those bigger events, local residents will continue to see the positive impact of investing in tourism. More attendees ultimately lead to more hotel bookings, more dollars spent and most importantly, more jobs that need to be filled.
In late August, PCMA featured coverage from the Charlotte Observer and wanted to make sure our readers had the opportunity to hear both perspectives. For more from the CRVA, click here to read Tom Murray's response to the newspaper.