Kansas City Braces for 2009 Decline in Convention Business, Bookings

When it comes to meetings and conventions, local tourism officials are anticipating a tough year ahead in Kansas City, Mo., reports The Kansas City Star. According to the paper, the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association has booked just 16 citywide conventions for 2009, compared to 24 in 2008.

"Meeting planners are just really nervous right now about signing contracts," CVB Sales Chief Bill Bohde told the Star.

In total, the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association booked 273 events, 346,004 hotel room nights and 292,417 attendees in 2007. In 2008, it booked 290 events, 358,375 hotel room nights and 374,376 attendees. To date, it has only booked 148 events, 256,736 hotel room nights and 220,068 attendees for 2009.

Local tourism professionals attribute next year's slowdown to more than the current economic downturn. Because major conventions are typically booked three to five years in advance, they say that the city's former lack of meeting space played a large role, as well. After all, Kansas City's most significant event venues—the 18,000-seat Sprint Center and the renovated Bartle Hall Convention Center, both of which are part of a new downtown entertainment district known as the Power & Light District—were unveiled in 2007, long after most organizations had booked their 2009 conventions.

Although Kansas City is expecting fewer events in 2009, tourism officials are hoping that the conventions they've already booked—including a February meeting of the Joint Commission on Sports Medicine and Science, as well as a March gathering of 600 sales agents from Ohio-based Experience Inc.—will give them a chance to show the city off in hopes of growing future business.

"It's the first time they've ever met in Kansas City," Bohde told the Star, "and it's the first time we'll have a chance to show off en masse our entertainment district and all the other things Kansas City has to offer."