Visit Baltimore reports healthy hotel bookings last year

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City convention officials booked the third-highest number of convention room nights ever over the past fiscal year, Visit Baltimore, the city's tourism and convention bureau, announced Thursday. The room nights are reserved for future years.

Visit Baltimore booked 475,554 convention room nights in city hotels as far out as 2032 during the fiscal year that ended June 30. Two-thirds of those bookings will be for events held in 2016 or later.

Though the number of bookings edged up just 4 percent over the previous year's figure — by 18,000 bookings — it represented the third-highest number of future reservations in a single year, behind 522,000 room nights reserved in fiscal 2009 and 495,000 in fiscal 2010.

"It's our third-most-productive year," said Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore. "The reality is that [booking 457,000] last year wasn't bad either. Anytime we do that, we're doing the job."

Noonan released the results of convention and leisure sales during Visit Baltimore's annual business meeting Thursday afternoon at the Hilton Baltimore.

The city will likely continue to book convention room nights in a range of 450,000 to 520,000 each year until it expands its convention center and arena space or sees a steep increase in new hotel openings, Noonan said. About 30 percent of the convention business that Baltimore lost to other cities was due to a lack of available space or dates, he said.

"That's where we're always going to be until we have a major center expansion and new arena and a bunch of new hotel rooms, another 1,000 or 1,500 rooms," Noonan said.

Baltimore has just under 9,000 hotel rooms, a number that has remained fairly stable since 2008, when the city opened the Hilton, the city-owned, 757-room convention headquarters hotel on West Pratt Street. Before the Hilton and other new hotels opened around that time, Visit Baltimore typically booked about 250,000 future room nights a year. Visits tied to the 2012 bookings are expected to generate $353 million in economic impact for the city.

Most of the room nights booked — 341,887 — were for groups that will be attending 61 meetings or conventions at the city's Convention Center. The rest will accommodate attendees of meetings or conventions held at hotels, the bulk of which will occur within two years.

Of the total bookings, 222,403 convention room nights will be for visits within the next two years, both for events at the convention center and at hotels, Visit Baltimore reported.

"The short-term business is filling some holes, but we're building our future base at the same time," Noonan said.

The Visit Baltimore team also landed 12 citywide conventions, gatherings large enough to require several downtown hotels and the convention center, for November through February, typically a slow period for city hotels.

One of the bigger commitments came from the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, which booked conventions in 2017 and 2020 with a total of 52,226 room nights and an expected total 26,000 attendees. The events are expected to generate a total of $25 million in economic impact, according to Visit Baltimore.

Among other events in the last fiscal year, the city hosted the 2012 National African American Travel Conference, which brought more than 300 group travel planners to Baltimore, and the AIBTM 2012 convention, which attracted 1,115 meeting planners and 2,250 total attendees to the city.

In fiscal 2012, Visit Baltimore and the city's Department of Transportation and Parking Authority also opened the city's parking facility for group tour buses at the B&O Railroad Museum.

In the coming year, Visit Baltimore plans to promote several historical commemorations, including a War of 1812 event and a celebration of Harriet Tubman on the centennial of her death in 1913.

In addition, the tourism bureau plans to launch Baltimore InSite, a 3-D virtual tour that combines Visit Baltimore's membership database with mapping technology.

The sales marketing tool should help meeting planners visualize the city's meeting facilities, tourism attractions, hotels, restaurants and the convention center without having to visit in person.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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