Salt Lake convention industry still viable, leaders say

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The demise of the Salt Lake City convention industry has been greatly exaggerated despite losing one of its largest annual events, officials noted Tuesday.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said efforts are still being made to bolster the state’s convention industry, even in the wake of the lucrative, biannual Outdoor Retailer summer and winter markets moving out of state.

Speaking at a news conference on the south plaza of the Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City on Tuesday, he said the convention industry is "thriving," having just hosted the year’s largest single conference. Conceding the loss of Outdoor Retailer was significant, he said the industry is still vibrant and efforts are being made to ensure its long-term sustainability.

"We never want to lose a customer, but we have a lot of shows here — 56 citywide, with doTERRA being the largest," he said. "Anytime we lose a customer, we want to ask ourselves what we could do better to retain them. But we’re picking ourselves up and continuing to move forward to attract new conventions."

Last week, Visit Salt Lake hosted doTERRA — its largest annual convention client. With 30,500 attendees, the four-day annual global convention had a direct economic impact of nearly $29 million, Visit Salt Lake President and CEO Scott Beck said. Having met in Salt Lake since 2008, the distinction of being the largest convention client is significant and a sign of the vibrant future of Salt Lake’s convention industry, he added.

“Visit Salt Lake continues to work hard to ensure the long-term success of the meeting, convention and leisure travel industry,” he said. “There are multiple citywide conventions and events booked through 2030.”

Meetings and conventions mean big business for Salt Lake and the state of Utah, and they generate significant direct delegate spending benefitting Salt Lake hotels, restaurants, bars, transportation companies and local retail stores, Beck said during the news conference. The events also produce tax revenue that helps offset residents’ individual tax burden by more than $1,100 per year per household, he said.

For now, Beck said efforts are being concentrated to bring in new convention clients, as well as continue to pursue development of a convention center hotel to help make Salt Lake City an even more attractive destination for potential conferences and trade shows.

"What we would like to do is replace (Outdoor Retailer) with a trade show," he said. "A trade show is the highest value type of event for the convention center."

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He added the overall economic impact of trade shows is much greater than the typical convention. In the long run, he noted that the addition of a convention center or headquarter hotel would help put Utah on an equal footing with other comparably-sized cities competing for convention business.

"Not having the hotel makes finding someone to replace Outdoor Retailer harder," Beck said. "The idea behind the convention center hotel was to allow us to do more meetings that are larger in size because that’s our Achilles’ heel — not having an adequate supply of convention-quality hotel rooms in proximity to the convention center."

McAdams echoed that sentiment and said he will continue to work hard to strike a deal to get a headquarter hotel built in the not-so-distant future.

"To have a convention headquarters hotel located adjacent to the Salt Palace is a missing ingredient that we find as we’re trying to attract new conventions and retain existing conventions," he said. "We were losing many conventions every year because (clients) said the reason they didn’t come here is because we didn’t have a headquarters hotel like many of our competitors do."

The notion of a large convention hotel has been an issue of debate in the state Legislature for years. He says this latest development of losing Outdoor Retailer will not hamper those efforts, but there are many details still to be ironed out.

"We’re still working on it. We’re still in negotiations with a developer," McAdams said. "They are trying to put a proposal that will work and be responsible to the taxpayer to help us have the facilities to attract new conventions."

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