Local convention organizers are booking enough events at the Spokane Convention Center for next year to surpass the business conducted in 2019, according to Visit Spokane.
Jamie Rand, chief marketing officer for the organization that promotes events and tourism in the Lilac City, said local planners had the working belief that a robust convention lineup would not return until 2023 following shutdowns and travel restrictions put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“What we are finding now is that convention business is a year ahead of what we thought it would be,” Rand said. “2022 looks like one of the best years that Visit Spokane and the Convention Center has ever had. So, we feel we are a year ahead of projections.”
That return to normalcy cannot come soon enough for Walt Worthy, who was forced to lay off hundreds of employees that service the 1,800 rooms available in his five area hotels, which include The Historic Davenport, The Davenport Tower, The Davenport Grand, The Davenport Lusso and The Centennial by Davenport hotels.
Worthy said his hotels have seen an uptick in leisure travel, but not the conventions that bring large crowds to a single event.
Prior to the pandemic, the Davenport Grand did a huge portion of its business based on outside groups booking the nearby Spokane Convention Center. That sector of the economy remains elusive, he said.
“We still have a long, long, long, long way to go,” Worthy said of convention-related business. “We have some small groups, but nothing like we need to fill up the Grand. Nobody, too much, is coming from out of town. Just local stuff.”
In an effort to simplify convention bookings, Visit Spokane announced Thursday it has redesigned its website to make it easier for convention organizers to begin to target the Lilac City for large events.
The changes include more straightforward navigation, an emphasis on blog content, partner listings and personalized trip planning with the “Start Your Adventure” tool. The website also features a 360-degree virtual tour that allows event planners to see the spaces inside the Convention Center.
“The redesign of VisitSpokane.com comes at a time when Spokane’s hospitality industry is recovering from severe losses due to the pandemic,” Rand said. “People are hungry for travel, and Visit Spokane hopes to use the new website design to entice visitors and meeting planners, which will aid in economic recovery.”
Worthy agreed with Rand that his hotels have begun to see customers from Canada, Montana and elsewhere who simply want a change of scenery following the yearlong pandemic-related shutdowns.
“It’s getting a little bit better, but we are still down 66% compared to 2019,” he said.
While he appreciates the work that Visit Spokane does to market Spokane for large events, Worthy hopes his business can hang on long enough for the return to normal events.
“That’s the thing. They have to feel comfortable to fly halfway across the country to do whatever,” Worthy said. “It’s hard to know where this is going to go.”
Rand agreed, noting contracts signed for the 2022 events are subject to change. But the mere fact that event organizers are booking events again gives local promoters lots of hope.
“Everything is fluid, but right now it looks really, really good. They are hard commitments, which is great for Spokane,” Rand said. “We are just trying to play the hand we’ve been dealt.”