Tuesday, January 25, 2005

New hotel doesn't guarantee guests

Don't count me among those who think another downtown hotel is going to be Pittsburgh's salvation either.

PG coverage of pending deal.
If recent experiences in other cities are any indication, the new $104 million hotel to be built next to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center may not be the tourism magnet its boosters proclaim it to be.

'I can find no real empirical evidence that the new bunch of hotels has made any difference in the convention center business that we can document,' said Sanders, who has made a career of challenging cherished assumptions of those in the tourism industry.

Rather than boost business, such hotels, particularly in less than robust markets, have the potential to drive down occupancy and room rates citywide, said Sanders, a professor of public administration at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

His latest findings come as the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority tries to finalize an agreement with Cleveland developer Forest City Enterprises to build a 500-room 'headquarters' hotel next to the convention center.

The Greater Pittsburgh Convention & Visitors Bureau sees the lack of such a hotel as an impediment in its efforts to attract business to the architecturally-acclaimed convention center.

The impediment in our efforts to rebound as a city and as a region goes far deeper than the lack of a hotel. The closing of the old convention center and the re-building of the larger facility without the hotel was foolish.

Of course the groups that have come need more hotel space near the convention center. That isn't a doubt. But, the convention center is too big. The convention center won't ever be used to its full potential. The convention center's annual costs are going to sink the rest of the region's projects too.
But Sanders found that new hotels in St. Louis, Sacramento, and Myrtle Beach, S.C., all of which opened in recent years amid promises of increasing tourism, have not lived up to expectations.

In St. Louis, convention and visitors commission officials predicted that a new $265 million, 1,081-room headquarters hotel would boost convention center bookings from 30 a year to 50 or more and would nearly double the number of annual room nights to about 800,000.

But in the two years the new hotel has been opened, that has not happened, according to Sanders.

Twenty-five events were booked for 2003 and 23 were expected in 2004. Convention attendance was 155,700 in 2003, only slightly higher than the 154,800 the previous year. For 2004, it was estimated at 115,300.

Pittsburgh's elected politicians are and have been chasing the wrong goals. The established priorities are wrong.

Consider that the only time our newest, biggest, best building is used by the kids is when they go to attend a college fair. We take bus loads of our high school students to the convention center. There they meet scores and rows of college recruiters. These recruiters are attempting to lure our high school students to their colleges and universities. In effect, the recuitment fair is about leaving the area. In a sense, we've used our best resource as a tool to catapult our best and brightest to far off places.

Pittsburgh and the region has a brain drain. We have a problem when it comes to the retention of our youth.

When we have successful college fairs for our youth -- we won't have anyone at home. The system is working in the wrong ways.

I have a different plan.

At the outset, the biggest annual event that should occur at the new convention center should be a multi-day Youth Technology Summit. The Youth Technology Summit would be a world-wide event where our people are in the spotlight, and the youth from elsewhere come here to mingle with our brains, businesses, academics, and residents. We don't need to fill the hotels when we have busloads of local kids coming with band directors, coaches, church group leaders, rec advisors, grandparents, artists, mentors, retirees, neighborhood advocates, teachers and more.

There are plenty of splendid opportunities for our entire community to get into the actions of technology literacy.

1 comment:

Furrow said...

Yeah, the new hotel thing never made any sense to me. Cannibalization of guests and jobs of other hotels at public expense. Why?