'Super Bowl of conventions' in Salt Lake City for 1st time

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — It sounds like sitcom joke about corporate America: the association of associations' conference is coming to town.

But it is real, with a slightly more eloquent name. And, the conference that is in Salt Lake City this week for the first time ever is actually big, big business.

Nearly two-thirds of the 5,000 attendees of the American Society of Association Executives conference are directly responsible for making decisions about where to book future conferences. That makes it a golden opportunity for Salt Lake City to showcase itself and lure future conventions.

Historically, about 20 percent of associations represented book a convention in the host city within five to 10 years, said Scott Beck, President and CEO of Visit Salt Lake. If that holds true, that would mean up to $500 million economic impact for the city within the next decade.

That's why the conference commonly known as the "Super Bowl of conventions."

Landing the event is like getting "the Good Housekeeping seal of approval," Beck said.

"For us, it's the biggest site inspection you could ever host," Beck said.

The meetings industry is lucrative, contributing an estimated $115 billion annually to the U.S. economy. Visitors spend money on lodging, food and entertainment. The average attendee at a conference in Salt Lake City spends $933, according to a University of Utah study.

It is also very competitive with cities around the country jockeying to lure associations to their cities. This week gives Salt Lake City an opportunity to showcase why it's better than other places.

Beck said his team has chosen 200 association executives to target while in town. They plan to highlight the friendliness of the city, ease of coming and going from the airport and the safety and security of the city.

The majestic mountains and nearby ski resorts and outdoor activities help too, as associations can tell their members that a trip to Utah could include an outdoor adventure before or after the conference, he said.

The conference comes as Salt Lake County officials continue negotiating terms of a deal with a real estate developer to build a convention hotel with about 1,000 rooms that would provide the city with much-needed lodging. If they strike a deal, the developer could get at least $75 million in tax credits.

The results of those negotiations could have major ramifications on whether Salt Lake City is able to parlay this conference into hundreds of millions for the city's hospitality industry.

Beck said they already know that 70 of the 200 executives they are targeting won't consider Salt Lake City without the new hotel.

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