CVB Chief Feels Bookings Could, Uh, Improve

"They suck," Jones told a local gathering last summer, according to the Dallas Morning News, and repeated in a Brookings Institution report released in January on the competitive state of the convention center industry.

But Jones is hoping The Big D's new branding — "Live Large. Think Big" —plus an aggressive sales effort and a reinvestment in convention cetner customer service will help turn things around.

"We're certainly not where we want to be, but we're headed in the right direction," Jones said. "For 2004, we ended with about a 5 percent increase in room demand, and an occupancy increase of about 4 percent. Our bookings are up about 10 percent, and we're cautiously optimistic for a very successful '05. Next year looks very good as well."

Since the Dallas Convention Center debuted its expansion in 2002 for a total of 1.34 million square feet of usable space, competition has heated up. Other new or refreshed space within a 3.5-hour drive of Dallas now totals some 3 million square feet.

"There's a lot of new product coming on throughout the area," Jones said. "For example, with Houston's convention center hotel, it's become a much stronger convention city than in the past."

Of another competitor, nearby Fort Worth, he said, "Fort Worth's expanded center has a very targeted niche market, so I think it complements some of the larger meetings we go after in Dallas."

But Jones maintained that Dallas' true competitors are San Diego, Atlanta, San Antonio and Washington.

"Those are cities we compete with very aggressively," he said. "Also Orlando to a lesser degree; like Vegas, it's almost in a class by itself."

Of local factors that could contribute to stronger bookings, Jones noted the city's extensive dining options, shopping, 10 entertainment districts within three miles of downtown, and the largest urban arts district in America.

He also noted that the first Ritz-Carlton in Texas begins construction later this year; Kimpton Hotels is planning to open the boutique Palomar Hotel; the area's first W hotel is slated to open in the Victory entertainment development 2006; and a second W is in the design phase.

Even the hurdle surrounding a convention center hotel has recently been overcome, with a Marriott of up to 1,000 rooms planned. To further increase competitiveness, Dallas has established a sales office in New York, and wooed Frank Poe back to Dallas as convention center director.