In just a few days, some 600 meeting planners from around the country will arrive in San Diego to take part in an annual fall education conference at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina.
A convention of meeting planners is always a boon for the host city, as it provides an invaluable opportunity to showcase a wide array of amenities to these decision makers. If they like what they see here in San Diego -- and they inevitably do -- they will feel confident choosing our region for their future convention and meetings.
What makes this group especially significant is that they represent the prestigious National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners (NCBMP), whose members include presidents, CEOs, executive directors and meeting planners from numerous professional associations, businesses, civil rights groups and fraternal organizations.
Their visit also marks another significant milestone. This is the first time since 1996 that this organization has elected to hold their meeting in California. Thanks to the solid relationships our sales staff at the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau (ConVis) have forged with the organization over the years, we were successful in influencing their decision to return to California after a six-year boycott, an action prompted by the 1996 passing of Prop 209 which banned the use of affirmative action in the state.
It isn't a secret that the hotel meetings market across the nation is experiencing a three-year decline. The meetings market has been hard hit by the recession, the events of 9/11, uneven economic recovery, a declining stock market, corporate accounting scandals and the threat of war.
Now more than ever before, we are reaping the rewards of past efforts to reach out to specific target markets. ConVis has long recognized the importance of the multi-cultural meetings and convention market and has aggressively pursued this niche for the past 10 years. We were one of the first bureaus in the nation to appoint a national sales manger to promote San Diego as a meeting destination for multi-cultural groups.
Traditionally, convention and visitors bureaus have focused primarily on soliciting corporate and specialty association customers and have ignored the growing and important multi-cultural market, which includes the African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American, physically challenged, and Native American markets.
The NCBMP meeting will be instrumental in helping our local convention and meetings industry identify and develop potential future meeting business in the growing multicultural meetings sector. The monetary impact resulting from African-American conventions nationally is estimated to be approximately $30 billion annually.
Our sales staff is also aggressively targeting the lucrative Hispanic, Asian and American Indian meetings market and we already have significant business from these markets on the books. Just last week, the National Latino Police Officers Association came to town with 800 delegates who were headquartered at the San Diego Marriott Hotel. While they were spending their convention dollars downtown, 3,000 delegates representing the National Congress of American Indians were doing the same at the Town & Country hotel and convention center. In June of this year, 2,000 members of the Native American Journalists Association and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists held their annual conventions in San Diego.
In March 2003, the San Diego Latino Film Festival will attract 12,000 visitors from all over the nation to our region and in August 2003, the Asian America Journalists Association will hold their 16th Annual National Convention in San Diego with 1,200 delegates. In 2004, the Association for Asian Studies will bring 900 delegates to Mission Valley for their annual meeting.
In addition to direct sales contact with meeting planners representing these multi-cultural markets, ConVis also targets journalists who write about these specialty markets in national trade publications. Thanks to our pitch efforts, we've had articles published recently in several African-American meetings publications such as Black Meetings & Tourism and Pathfinders describing San Diego's appeal as a multi-cultural meetings destination.
While the multi-cultural business/convention traveler is a key market for us, we also target multi-cultural leisure travelers, along with physically challenged and gay and lesbian vacationers, in our efforts to reach out to today's diverse marketplace, despite the fact that San Diego's primary leisure travel market continues to be families vacationing with children.
We've seen a tremendous growth in San Diego's popularity among these markets as a result of our efforts. For example, our region's casino and gaming attractions have become a favorite vacation choice for Asian Americans in the Los Angeles region. Thanks to our marketing efforts, San Diego's eclectic choice of attractions and entertainment options has also caught the eye of the national gay and lesbian market and we have seen a healthy growth in that area. Our popularity as a vacation destination for the Hispanic market, thanks to our family-oriented attractions and cultural appeal, also remains strong and is helping to buoy our region during these challenging times for tourism.
Keeping San Diego's meeting market healthy in the face of the overall decline in business travel nationally will not be easy. Our primary competitors-- Las Vegas, Anaheim and Phoenix -- continue to drop their rates and add incentives to secure business. Limited air service to San Diego continues to be an issue for meeting planners, especially in the evaluation of the time and cost to get attendees to the destination.
Despite the challenges, San Diego is faring better than many convention and meeting destinations owing to our strong cross-over appeal as a premier travel destination with good hotel facilities, a variety of activities, solicitous front-line employees and a friendly population. Add our popularity among the multi-cultural meetings market to the mix, and we have a formula that we trust will keep us well ahead of our competition in years to come.
Reinders is president and CEO of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau.