By Jasen Lee, — Utah's convention profile could be raised significantly with a positive showing at one of the nation's top meeting events that is set to begin this weekend.
On Saturday through Tuesday, Salt Lake City will host the annual meeting of a group of influential decision-makers that has the potential to produce millions of dollars in economic impact and help shape the future of the local hospitality industry for years to come.
It's a convention for convention people.
The American Society of Association Executives' 2016 Annual Meeting & Exposition is referred to as the “Super Bowl of conventions” within the hospitality community.
The meeting attracts thousands of association executives who, collectively, represent billions of dollars in meetings and conventions annually. The event is expected to draw 5,000 delegates comprised of leaders from trade associations, professional societies and membership organizations, said Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake.
The participants seek to gain knowledge in organization management, network with industry professionals, and explore the city and convention center as a potential destination for future meetings and conventions, he said.
“The majority of the attendees coming to the meeting are significant decision-makers and meeting planners from professional and trade associations,” Beck said. “Hosting (the convention) is a business development opportunity of enormous proportions as it’s a great way to showcase why we are one of the country’s best places for business, and an authentic destination for the meetings and convention industry.”
The economic significance of meetings to the U.S. economy is huge, said John Graham, the society's president and CEO.
“The meetings industry contributes more than $115 billion to the U.S. economy," he said. "This includes $67 billion in labor revenue, and $28 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue. Meetings are also important job creators. The industry is expected to grow nearly 44 percent from 2010 to 2020."
It's the first time the national convention will be held in Salt Lake City, but it could be a harbinger of more events in the long term, according to Graham.
"The economic impact to the city in addition to the meeting itself is about $16 million in direct spending this weekend and could be as much as $500 million over the next five to 10 years," he said. "History has shown us that one out of every five attendees will book a meeting in the city that they've come to within the next five to 10 years."
Not only is Salt Lake City accessible and affordable, there is a wide range of venues from which to choose that make it "uniquely different and interesting" for attendees, Graham added. One amenity the city could benefit from is a convention center hotel to serve larger meetings and events, he said.
"If you want to be serious about having an NFL team, then you have to have a stadium," Graham explained. "If you want to be serious about being in the meetings business, you really need a major convention center hotel."
The Utah Legislature has been considering the idea of a convention hotel for a few years, but thus far no deal has been struck. However, the proposal may be revisited during the 2017 session, Beck said.
Locally, civic leaders tout the immediate and long-range impact of the event, while also recognizing the future possibilities.
“This particular meeting brings in more than $4.5 million in (per day) direct visitor spending, which is significant. But even more significant is the potential for future meeting and convention bookings here,” said Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.
“For Salt Lake County, that would be future business for the Salt Palace Convention Center, business that could potentially result in more than $500 million in direct spending in our community.”