By Jasen Lee, Deseret News — SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's capital city is striving to strengthen its position as a significant player in the regional convention and trade show market by hosting one of the industry’s top trade shows for business development.

This week, Salt Lake City is playing matchmaker for thousands of event and meeting planners looking for committed relationships in the convention industry.

Connect Marketplace will run Thursday through Saturday at the Salt Palace Convention Center. The event is expected to bring more than 4,000 professionals, suppliers and experts in the meetings and events sector.

The function allows the city to highlight to important decision-makers what Salt Lake City offers as a meeting, convention and event destination, explained Visit Salt Lake President and CEO Scott Beck. Additionally, each of the attendees has already been screened and expressed interest in potentially partnering with Salt Lake as a host city for their events, he said.

"We're getting an opportunity to showcase our city to very highly qualified planners," Beck said. "All aspects of our community’s event infrastructure have the opportunity to be showcased, including the Salt Palace, our hotels and all of the sporting venues throughout Salt Lake County.”

He noted that Connect Marketplace brings together a mix of large and small, new and established conventions and meetings that are all looking for sites to host their events. Because of that wide variety of event scale, other nearby Wasatch Front cities could also benefit from making connections with participants in this weekend's convention, he added.

"Utah Valley or Park City or Ogden can also come together with everyone else to (make their host pitch)," he said. "It's really typical Utah fashion where we all come together to do this kind of (collaboration)."

Beck noted that these kinds of events could serve to replace and surpass the business lost with the departure of the biannual Outdoor Retailer show.

"This is the evolution of Salt Lake where we've spent time and money to increase exposure," he said. "We are not going backward because of that loss. We are moving forward."

Attending meeting professionals represent thousands of annual meetings and billions of dollars in delegate spending and can help shape the future of the hospitality industry in Salt Lake City for years to come, he said.

Meetings and conventions mean big business for Salt Lake City and the state of Utah annually and generate significant direct delegate spending benefiting hotels, restaurants, bars, transportation companies and local retail stores, a news release states. The events also produce tax revenue that helps offset residents’ individual tax burden by more than $1,200 per year per household.

“Hosting Connect Marketplace 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,” Beck said. “Connect attendees represent the full spectrum of meetings, conventions and events, including corporate, association, specialty, expo and sports."

Beck noted Visit Salt Lake is ahead of its booking pace from last year and events such as the marketplace are helping to maintain positive momentum. One of the critical pieces that could push the area's profile even higher would be a convention hotel, which he said is still under consideration by local civic leaders.

"It's 'the little project that could' and it's still moving," Beck said. No timetable has been set for the project, he noted, though he is optimistic it will come to fruition in the not-so-distant future.

Meanwhile, Connect Marketplace’s has the potential to produce a large, long-term economic impact in Utah, said senior vice president of meetings Patrick Higgins for Connect and native Utahn.

One of the organization's strongest areas of representation is events organizers in the sports segment, he explained. This concentration of sporting events organizers gives Salt Lake the opportunity to highlight the array of facilities and infrastructure relating to hosting sporting events, he added.

Salt Lake City Regional Athletic Complex Panorama - Sean Buckley"Sports is growing faster than any other market segment," Higgins said. Sports is also very "venue specific," he said, which is another area where Salt Lake City and Utah excel due to the large variety of well-maintained sites.

"We'll have over 70 different sports that will be represented this week," Higgins said. "Everything from cheer and dance to baseball to volleyball to horseshoe pitching to cornhole, cycling, you name it."

Sporting events, especially youth and amateur events, are big users of hotels, and Salt Lake City has a very diverse and scalable hotel product to offer the sporting market, he said. However, he mentioned that one amenity the city could use to improve its hosting profile would be a convention hotel to reduce the logistical issues that planners currently have to contend with when considering Salt Lake City.

"Everybody when possible wants to stay in the same hotel. That's where the networking is done," Higgins said. "It is incredibly important to have that headquarter hotel in place because other cities are doing it. It makes our lives (in the convention industry) easier and the attendee experience a lot better."