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Utah convention business doing well in tough economy



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SALT LAKE CITY -- By offering low hotel room rates and boasting "The Great Outdoors," Utah is holding its own in this down economy, drawing in visitors and large conventions.

The Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau has about $6 million a year to convince travelers and conventions to come to Utah.

"We're doing pretty darn well, I believe better than most of our competition," said Mark White, vice president of the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau.

But White also admits Salt Lake is losing some clientele.

"On Friday we lost a very large group that would have brought 4,000 people to Salt Lake," he said.

Nearby Las Vegas snagged The Association for Career and Technical Education annual convention.

"Las Vegas offered them free meeting room rental at one of the big hotels and a $105 room rate; pretty tough to beat," White said.

In Salt Lake, rooms go for about $130 a night, but White says that's still a good deal. He also says more people are picking Utah for meetings over flashy cities.

"Typically, governmental groups that have a lot of public scrutiny. People, rightly so, are concerned that their taxpayer dollars are being used wisely," White said.

For the first time ever, Salt Lake hosted the Meeting Professionals International.

"That is the association of people who plan meetings and conventions for a living," White explained.

But Novell won't be meeting at the Salt Palace this year; it's their first cancellation in 20 years. They've promised to be back next year.

Here's why White says that should matter to you: According to economic research by the University of Utah, the average visitor spends $898 when they come to town.

Take the Outdoor Retailers show that just ended -- it drew in 20,000 visitors. If you do the math, that's a lot of money.

"Of course that money then ripples throughout our economy," White said.

He says every city has taken a hit from canceled or scaled down conventions, and cities are losing money from individual business travelers who are canceling trips due to the economy also.

E-mail: abutterfield@ksl.com

Amanda Butterfield

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