Despite Decline in Hotel Bookings, Baltimore Anticipates Convention Boom

Despite a strong year for meetings during which it hosted the inaugural AIBTM trade show and welcomed the proposal of a new downtown arena and convention center expansion, Baltimore in the last fiscal year suffered an 8 percent decline in the number of hotel rooms booked for future years by convention and business groups, The Baltimore Sun reported last month.

Citing data from Visit Baltimore, the city's convention and visitors bureau, the paper said there were 457,051 rooms booked in FY2011 for conferences between 2012 and 2020, down from 495,986 in FY2010.

"It's still a fantastic year," said Visit Baltimore President and CEO Tom Noonan, according to the Sun. He attributed this year's downturn to several factors, including an industrywide trend among meeting planners to book fewer hotel rooms to avoid overbooking. In addition, he said, hotels are relying less on Visit Baltimore to provide in-house hotel bookings and sales leads than they did during the height of the recession.

Still, demand for Baltimore is strong, according to Noonan, who said the city has had to turn away business averaging 350,000 hotel-night bookings a year because either the convention center wasn't large enough to accommodate groups or because groups' requested dates already were booked — a problem that could be solved by the aforementioned arena and convention center expansion, which would more than double the amount of ballroom, meeting and exhibit space at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Unfortunately, neither the arena nor the convention center project has advanced beyond the proposal state. For now, therefore, Visit Baltimore must sell its city without them. And so far, it's doing a stellar job, according to The Baltimore Sun, which said the CVB is booking at 99 percent of its target for 2012 and 2013; at 103 percent for 2014; at 163 percent for 2015; and at 219 percent for 2016.

"We're far ahead of pace in 2016 and it looks like it's going to be a banner year," Noonan said. "And same thing for 2014 and 2015, as well."