By Kevin Collison
Bookings at Bartle Hall are up 56 percent from the previous year, an encouraging trend as downtown prepares to check in more than 2,400 new hotel rooms over the next couple years.
At its annual Tourism Outlook 2019 meeting last week, Visit KC’s new president and CEO Jason Fulvi estimated the 295 total meetings booked by his organization in 2018 will add $330 million to the local economy.
“If you win at destination marketing, you win at economic development,” Fulvi told the hospitality industry audience gathered in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center.
The biggest win was Destination Imagination, an organization that sponsors creative competition for younger students in the STEM field. It plans to hold its global finals here this May and in 2020.
Kansas City edged out St. Louis and Knoxville, TN for the event, which is expected to draw 17,000 students and parents each year. The event had been held in Knoxville the past 20 years, Fulvi noted.
Other major conventions booked in 2018 include the National League of Cities in November 2022, 15,480 attendees; the National Society of Black Engineers, March 2023, 14,355 attendees, and the American Occupational Therapy Association, April 2023, 13,372 attendees.
The new convention business is critical.
The $328 million Loews Kansas City Convention Hotel scheduled to open in April 2020 across the street from Bartle Hall is one of many hotel projects either under construction or in the pipeline including a major renovation of the historic Kansas City Federal Reserve into a 300-room Embassy Suites.
“With increased inventory comes increased expectations,” Fulvi said. “We must accept the challenge together.”
The new Visit KC leader also said the organization needs to increase its marketing budget to compete with peer cities in the convention industry. Total expenditures last year were $11.9 million, a figure that Fulvi has said is “behind the curve” of its competition.
Visit KC is primarily funded by the hotel bed tax, but it also has additional funding from members and other organizations.
Fulvi’s message was reinforced by Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics, who urged Kansas City to “double-down” on its marketing effort after his presentation on the national economy and the travel industry.
In its 2018 annual report, Visit KC said the 295 meetings booked last year were up 11.7 percent from 2017. Those meeting will generate 444,763 room nights, up 16.5 percent from 2017.
The report said 53 of those meetings were booked for Bartle Hall, up 56 percent from the previous year. The number of room nights associated with those bookings was 329,274, up 35 percent from 2017.
Visit KC also reported a new smartphone app it launched last year called “KC BBQ Experience,” which lists all the barbecue places in the metro, had 6,000 downloads during its first month.
The organization also honored Mayor Sly James with its first Tourism Icon Award.
“I tell people, if you don’t love Kansas City now, you never will,” James told the audience.
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