By Mike Gorrell, The Salt Lake Tribune -- To no one's surprise, 2009 was not a banner year for the Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Because of the foundering economy, companies just weren't staging meetings. The number of room nights booked in Salt Lake hotels last year fell 26 percent short of bureau projections.

But the bureau still managed to help bring people (225,000) and money ($204 million) into Salt Lake County last year and booked another $160 million worth of future convention and meeting business. And now, almost three months into 2010, it has more confidence than a year ago, Bureau President and CEO Scott Beck said Monday in releasing his annual report.

"Although 2009 may not feel like a year we want to celebrate, there were some very important accomplishments," he said, citing three areas.

The bureau calculated that Salt Lake County received about $9.7 million worth of free publicity -- $4.1 million more than projected -- in positive news articles and film clips.

"That was a high-water mark for us," said Beck, attributing much of the increase to stories about last year's changes to Utah's liquor laws.

Additional publicity was stimulated by articles about the value and accessibility of the county's four ski resorts, as well as the bureau's handling of the important midsummer convention of Meeting Professionals International, he said.

Word about the ease of getting to Alta, Snowbird, Solitude and Brighton helped boost sales of Ski Salt Lake Superpasses to 60,972, generating almost $3.2 million in revenue. The passes are available at Salt Lake hotels for discounted prices and may be redeemed at any of the resorts.

Value also played a significant role, he believes, in the popularity of Salt Lake Connect Passes, which give purchasers multi-day access to 13 attractions, from Hogle Zoo and the Thanksgiving Point Gardens in Lehi to Utah Olympic Park outside Park City and Clark Planetarium in downtown Salt Lake City.

The bureau sold 13,385 passes last year, almost twice the projection.

"There was a lot of talk last year about 'Staycations,' people staying close to home and vacationing in the drive market," Beck said. "That was a very big part of our increase, people driving in from Boise and southern Wyoming and coming up from St. George."

But ultimately, booking room nights in hotels is the hallmark of a convention and visitors bureau. "We are an organization that prides itself on the number of rooms we book," he said.

And by that measure, 2009 business was down by more than 100,000 room nights from the bureau's goal.

"We felt really good about our future bookings in conventions and citywide meetings," Beck said. "And our bookings of future meetings is up, but that didn't make up for the loss of corporate groups."

Despite the down numbers, the bureau's efforts drew praise from Downtown Alliance Executive Director Jason Mathis.

"During this challenging time, many downtown businesses rely on the work of the Convention & Visitors Bureau. The money conventions generate can be the difference between a business making a profit or losing money in any given year," he said.


By the numbers

411,170 -- Room night goal for 2009

306,766 -- Room nights booked in 2009

$200 million -- Anticipated spending by visitors to meetings and conventions booked in 2009

$40 million actually spent in 2009 by 43,259 delegates

$160 million projected in future years by 173,000 delegates

60,972 -- Sales of Ski Salt Lake superpasses

$3.2 million revenue from superpass sales

13,385 -- Number of Salt Lake Connect Passes sold

$9.7 million -- Advertising value of "positive media" about Salt Lake 2009 MEETINGS AND EVENTS

Event Location Number of people, Delegate spending (in millions of dollars)

Salt Palace and South Towne 125,051 $115.4

Hotels and resorts 82,741 $76.4

Sporting/special events 17,543 $12.3

TOTAL 225,335 $204

Sales and use taxes

For the state -- $11.1 million

For Salt Lake County -- $6.7 million

For cities in Salt Lake County -- $2.6 million