by Michael Lowrey
The Charlotte Observer has an extremely important story out about the city’s convention business. Simply put, the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority has been greatly exaggerating the economic impact of convention visitors to Charlotte:
Starting in 2007, the CRVA’s measuring stick for visitor spending was a 2005 study from Destination Marketing Association International, which promotes the travel industry.
That DMAI survey said that, on average, a convention attendee would spend $290 a day – about half on lodging, 30 percent on food and the rest on transportation and shopping. The convention hosts would spend $24 per attendee on food and drinks, according to the report.
The CRVA multiplied that $314 by the number of convention attendees and also by the number of convention days.
Those are presumptions that don’t always ring true. In reality, some people attend a four-day convention for a day or two, while others share hotel rooms. Other attendees are day-trippers and never stay in a hotel.
That is especially true for the so-called SMERF market, which stands for social, military, educational, religious and fraternal market. Most of Charlotte’s biggest events are SMERF conventions, such as the Shriners and the NRA.
Because Charlotte is considered a second-tier destination, it’s more difficult to attract the lucrative professional meetings and trade shows, where attendees are on expense accounts.
Does it come as a surprise that the CRVA has been playing fast and lose with the facts when it comes to convention visitors and their spending? After the NASCAR HOF debacle, most certainly not. Still, it’s good to see the absurdity of CRVA’s number exposed. Hopefully the article will cause people in and out of local government to question economic impact claims from a wide variety of tourist-based economic development schemes in the future.