Hartford’s convention business will recover strongly this autumn, according to the head of the Greater Hartford Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“It will be a great fall,” said Michael Van Parys, GHCVB president. “It is looking really positive.”
Repeat business from national organizations and increased attendance at annual events will bring more visitors and fill more hotel room nights than in the past few years where the economic recession took a toll on the industry.
While the industry recovers, the GHCVB is managing a recovery of its own. A year after significant losses of staffing, personnel and leadership, the organization is looking to expand its footprint and partner with other organizations in marketing Connecticut as a convention destination.
“We are definitely moving in the right direction,” Van Parys said. “We are just doing it a little bit differently.”
Organizations that move their annual conventions around the country catering to regional membership are finding their way back to Hartford this fall: the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has its annual summit Sept. 22-24; the National Science Teachers Association is coming Oct. 27-29; and the Tree Care Industry Association will arrive Nov. 3-5.
“A lot of this business originates in the early days of the Connecticut Convention Center, and it is now coming back after being around the country for a few years,” Van Parys said. The Connecticut Convention Center opened in 2005.
Hospitality industry analyst PKF Consulting USA predicts in Greater Hartford revenue per available room, or RevPAR, will increase in the Hartford area by 9.1 percent over 2010. RevPAR is an industry metric created by combining the average daily rate, the number of available room and the occupancy rate.
The 9.1 percent increase is a significant jump from PKF’s previous report in March, which predicted a 6.7 percent increase over 2010. The greatest reason for the increase is greater occupancy.
The benefits from these conventions won’t fall exclusively to area hotels, restaurants, museums and the rest of the hospitality industry. For example, as part of the Tree Care Industry Association training, attendees to its event will visit Bushnell Park to assess the health of the various species of trees, at no cost to the taxpayers.
After the Price Chopper Fall Tradeshow for Management from Sept. 12-14, all of the food displayed during the trade show is being donated to Hartford area food banks and charities.
One annual event Van Parys expects a big return from this year is the Connecticut Polar Bears Girls’ Ice Hockey Tournament, entering its 27th year in Hartford.
The tournament falls between Christmas and New Year’s Day, filling up hotel rooms when they would otherwise be near empty, Van Parys said.
The ice hockey event normally brings out whole families of people for the festivities but for the last three years, attendance dropped as families cut back and only a handful of parents would attend with each team.
Last year was poised to be the turnaround year, but the late-year blizzard deterred many would-be attendees, Van Parys said. This year is shaping up to be much better.
“People aren’t holding back as much anymore,” Van Parys said. “That is a great event, particularly for that time of the year.”
One concern facing Hartford’s convention industry is the proposed cuts to the Star Shuttle by the Connecticut Department of Transportation, Van Parys said.
DOT proposes reducing the Star Shuttle — a bus running a downtown loop — from a regular schedule to running only during conventions. This will hurt the convention business as meeting planners like to book places were amenities are all-encompassing or easy to get to, Van Parys said.
“The Star Shuttle is very important to us as a convention organization and a city,” Van Parys said.
The GHCVB has been dealing with some cuts of its own for the past year. From 2008 to 2010, the organization went from $2.4 million in funding to $500,000. At the same time, the board removed executive director Scott Phelps from the position he held for 33 years and reduced the staff from 12 employees to five.
As a result, GHCVB closed down its Washington, D.C. office and cut back on attending trade shows.
The organization bounced back a little by joining regional organizations such as the New England Society of Convention & Visitors Bureaus, which helps promote the state at trade shows and pays for some GHCVB travel.
But the GHCVB wants to expand more, Van Parys said. The organization is still working on the details, but it is going to expand its geographic footprint by partnering with similar organizations. This increases ability to market the state as a whole.
“We’ve obviously had some challenges,” Van Parys said. “We’ve done well in some places. There are opportunities.”