By Kevin Collison
The first time Jason Fulvi visited Kansas City 13 years ago, he flew back to Pittsburgh convinced there was no need to ever return.
At that time downtown was in the early stages of its current renaissance, the Power & Light District, Sprint Center and Bartle Hall ballroom expansion just starting or being planned.
The new 800-room convention hotel under construction at 17th and Wyandotte was only on the city wish list.
Fast forward to last summer when the former executive vice president of VisitPITTSBURGH returned to interview for the top job at VisitKC.
“I thought I’d fly out and come back,” Fulvia said.
But this time, what he saw happening downtown changed his mind.
“The next trip, I told my wife ‘give me a reason not to come back,” he said. “My wife looked at the Sprint Center, Power & Light and the (convention) hotel and loved the convention package.
“It was about the commitment this city has put into this. Mayor Kay Barnes and her vision and what got it started, and what Mayor James has done to take it to the next level.”
Now it’s up to Fulvi, the new president and CEO of VisitKC to help the city cash in on the massive public and private investments being made in the hospitality industry. VisitKC is charged with attracting visitors and conventions to the city.
The Loews Kansas City Convention Hotel is part of a hotel-building boom that will add 2,400 rooms to the downtown inventory over the next couple years.
Coupled with the planned new airport terminal, Fulvi believes Kansas City is positioned to pursue new convention business and woo back big ones it has lost to other cities including the Future Farmers of America and Walmart.
“Kansas City will be in the middle to upper middle end of the spectrum when we look at our competitive set (of cities), he said. “The FFA, Sam’s Club and others are groups we can go back to.
“There also are groups we haven’t reached out to before…Now, we’re back in the game.”
And yes, Fulvi believes Kansas City will be able to credibly pursue a national political convention. The last one was the 1976 Republican National Convention.
To do that, he says Kansas City has to elevate its perception in the convention and tourism world, both nationally and internationally.
“This town doesn’t have an asset problem, it’s a perception problem, not only to outsiders but locals,” he said. “It’s time to be proud of what we have to offer.”
A recent National Geographic Travel article that included Kansas City as one of the top places in the world to visit in 2019 helps that marketing job immeasurably.
“We could pay for that kind of publicity,” Fulvi said. “National Geographic is for real.
“This is one of those pivotal moments when we’re not only getting national but international recognition of what’s happening in this destination.
“It makes people’s ears perk up….We have to leverage the assets this community has built and is building to raise our exposure to a broader audience.
“We have to get in front of more customers and get them here to kick the tires.”
Those customers include meeting planners and travel writers, people who can spread the word about what KC has to offer as a destination.
To achieve that goal, Fulvi would like to see VisitKC increase its marketing budget.
“When I look at our current budget compared to our competition, we’re behind the curve,” he said.
One area that downtown may be getting ahead of the curve however, is the sheer number of new hotel rooms coming on line or in the pipeline.
While Fulvi believes the new developments are positive, he also thinks downtown has reached the “saturation point.”
VisitKC has hired a consultant to evaluate the current downtown hotel market and determine how it fits with anticipated convention and visitor demand.
“We need to take a look at the interconnectivity between supply and demand,” he said. “Right now, our supply is outpacing the demand.
“We need to catch our breath and absorb the supply we have now.”
The new VisitKC chief also believes there’s still a good future for the convention industry overall.
“The predicted decline of the convention industry has been talked since the 80s,” he said, “yet people still need to get together and meet.
“That sharing of ideas and concepts, I don’t believe it will go away…I don’t see numbers dropping in attendance.”
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