Convention bookings lukewarm, but tourists hot on the city

convention-storyThe lack of a large downtown convention hotel continues to hurt the city but its convention bookings are projected to improve, officials reported today.

They project conventions will book 342,000 area hotel rooms this year, up 37,000 from last year.

But that is still far below many comparable cities like St. Louis, with 555,000 booked rooms projected or Indianapolis with 750,000, officials reported to the mayor and city manager.

Jon Stephens of the Convention and Visitors Association said city convention bookings are recovering from the recession and increasing slightly.

Nationwide, he said, “We continue to see a slow and steady increase and we see no reason to believe we won’t be part of this.”

But the lack of a big convention hotel keeps the city from bidding for some major conventions and hurts its chances to get others, he said.

The city also often has to make deals to provide transportation to take people downtown from suburban hotels, he said.

On a more positive note, he said, the city reputation for the arts, shopping and more is pulling in more and younger leisure travelers.

Visitor spending set a record when it grew to $2.8 billion in 2012, Stephens said. Tourism generated $4.6 billion in economic impact for the region then and provided more than $186 million in local taxes, he said.

Unlike some big cities, Kansas City does not have a negative reputation and carries a clean slate, he said.

“Once people visit Kansas City, they have a favorable impression of Kansas City,” he said, “We wow them when we get them here – we just need to get them here.”

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