March 8, 2009 in City

Doug Clark: Visitors bureau needs unconventional thinking

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Dan Pelle photo

Pam Scott of the CVB passes out buttons at a rally Friday in River Park Square.
(Full-size photo)

The local convention industry is in danger of drying up, and it’s up to me to come to the rescue.

Oh, I’d love to believe that the Spokane Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau is up to the job. They all seem like such swell, albeit overly chipper, people.

But quite frankly, I don’t think our civic boosters always use the best judgment.

For example: They staged a “pro-meetings” rally Friday afternoon in the River Park Square atrium. And they sent me a news release invitation to attend.

Honestly. How smart was that?

I didn’t have anything going on, of course. So I walked down to River Park Square to see what the hubbub was about.

Not to sound picky, but if there’s a worse venue for sound quality than the atrium I haven’t found it.

It’s like being in a five-story echo chamber.

I tried to be a good listener. But a lot of what was being said was lost in space.

Like, I think I heard one of the speakers say the words “trickle down,” but then I missed what came right after it. So I assume it had something do with the economy and wasn’t a comment about an embarrassing personal problem.

From what I gathered, however, here’s what has the CVB in a lather.

All the recent bad press about fat cat executives wasting gazillions of dollars on extravagant company retreats in exotic resort locations is starting to create a chilling effect.

As a result, more and more CEOs are coming down with the “junket jitters.”

If this condition keeps spreading, every corporation in America soon will be too paranoid to book a convention anywhere – even poor old Spokane.

This could cost us millions in lost revenue for hotels, merchants and hookers.

To fight back, a CVB member handed me a yellow button to wear. “Meetings Mean Business,” it read.

As much as I wanted to show I meant business, I just couldn’t put it on. Having to go to meetings is one of the reasons I got out of management.

That and a chronic contempt for authority.

But I have come up with some killer ideas that the CVB can use to keep our convention trade booming.

Killer Idea 1 – Stop selling Spokane as a municipal wonderland.

We need to reassure the nervous corporations of America that there’s nothing at all fancy about the Lilac City.

In fact, that term “Lilac City” is far too fanciful. From now on we’re the “Potholed City.”

That’s much less glamorous and also has the benefit of being completely true.

Killer Idea 2 – Toss some aluminum siding up on the Davenport Hotel.

Really. The Davenport is Spokane’s only link to luxury, and we can’t have any photographs getting out.

Remember. We want outsiders to know that Spokane is a nice place where you can go and have an affordable meal.

But odds are, the waitress will stick her thumb in your water glass.

Killer Idea 3 – Lower our convention expectations.

I know the CVB wants to book meetings for those prestigious corporations like Microsoft, AT&T and Coca-Cola.

But let’s be realistic. Without some serious kickbacks, those enterprises won’t come to Spokane.

We need to instead try to court organizations with smaller pedigrees.

The Fraternal Order of Meth Chefs, for example.

Or The Ferret/Man Love Society. (That sounds unsavory, but I hear they’re really good tippers.)

I realize my suggestions won’t sit well with my friends at the Conventions & Visitors Bureau. But as the economy continues to tank, I think they will come to the conclusion that desperate times call for lowered standards.

And when it comes to low standards, I am the Mold Standard.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at dougc@spokesman.com.


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