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Pieces adding up to economic impact?

Source: Charlotte Business Journal  

January 05, 2006

After devoting much of the past year to trying to win the NASCAR Hall of Fame, local hospitality leaders will learn early in 2006 whether the aggressive campaign paid off. In similar fashion, much of the tourism sector will soon begin learning whether a recent merger of public agencies and revamped strategy were the right ideas. First up is NASCAR. The Daytona Beach, Fla.-based racing sanctioning body anticipates naming a host city for its proposed hall of fame in the first quarter.

Charlotte's bid calls for a $137.5 million venue next to the convention center, funded through higher hotel taxes already approved by the General Assembly. 'Businesswise, the NASCAR Hall of Fame could be huge for us,' says Jim Diehl, general manager at the Charlotte Marriott City Center. 'It has a direct tourism draw and also a direct influence on recruiting automotive-related conventions. It would be very compelling.' Diehl and other industry leaders believe the 2004 merger of the city's convention and visitor's bureau with the coliseum authority has rectified much of the internal feuding that plagued the industry for years. Now, industry executives say, relationships are better and the newly created Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority assumes clear responsibility for convention bookings and tourism. Adding to the outlook is an improvement in industry results.

Average hotel room rates reached $67 in 2005, the best performance in that category since 2000. The upcoming conversion of the Adam's Mark into a boutique hotel also promises to sharply cut uptown's room inventory. The Adam's Mark trails only The Westin Charlotte hotel in size. All is not rosy, however.

Convention bookings continued to nosedive in 2005, a slump attributed to uncertainty within local tourism circles in past years as well as the post-9/11 drop in business travel. 'We're paying for some of the sins of the past,' says Tim Newman, CRVA chief executive. 'But we have made great strides, and some of that hard work is going to show up in the coming years. And we also have some ideas in place to shore up short-term business as well.' Newman declines comment on specific initiatives. In fiscal 2004, the convention center had occupancy of 52% before plunging to 39% in 2005. In fiscal 2006, which began July 1, occupancy is projected at 45%.