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Trade show destinations scramble for business

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Business trade shows and conferences are crucial to the economy of Orlando. Not only do they account for 15% of the annual meetings held in Orange County, they tend to peak when there’s a lull in leisure travel to Walt Disney World and other popular tourist spots in the area.

With business travel down sharply in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Orlando-Orange County Convention Bureau Inc. is taking an aggressive, multipronged approach to keeping business visitors coming.

Orlando is not alone in its stepped-up efforts to attract wary business travelers. Several cities are boosting their marketing efforts in direct response to the attacks, whether through face-to-face contacts with meeting planners or print and radio ad campaigns.

Eighteen of the Orlando bureau’s 21 sales managers hit the road Sept. 30 for meetings with the city’s trade show clients and prospects, said Danielle Courtenay, a spokeswoman for the bureau. "They’re traveling throughout the country to talk about our destination, tell them [clients] it’s safe to travel here and fulfill any needs they may have," Courtenay said, adding that the sales reps would be traveling through mid-November.

The bureau frequently updates its Web site to relay pertinent information, such as new airport procedures. It’s also distributing letters from Florida Gov. Jeb Bush directly to meeting planners, encouraging them to reschedule their meetings in Orlando and throughout the state. More than 250 meetings scheduled for Orlando canceled following the attacks, but about 62 have already been rescheduled.

Road shows and print campaigns

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau is taking a similar marketing approach to regenerate enthusiasm among business travelers. Rob Powers, a spokesman for the bureau, said about 20 of its sales reps are canvassing the country to assuage any concerns meeting planners have. They’re touting the $150 million, 1.3 million-square-foot expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center, which is already drawing interest. The bureau has also launched a client appreciation program through its U.K. office to attract overseas travelers. Through September, 250 meetings, with a combined attendance of 100,000, had been canceled as a result of the attacks.

Cities are combating what remains a high degree of anxiety among the traveling public. A recent report by the Travelers Business Roundtable found that business travel will be slow to rebound. According to the group’s survey, 30% of those who have changed travel habits said it will take six months to a year to get back to the level of out-of-town travel that they did prior to Sept. 11.

"People want to feel safe and that it won’t be difficult to get there and back," said Mary Power, president of the Convention Industry Council.

Soon after the attacks, the CIS set up "Operation Cancellation Rescue," a Web site for meeting planners listing events that have been canceled, what space is available and the best way to reschedule a meeting.

Michael Westcott, director-marketing at events marketing company George P. Johnson Co., said cities that generate a lot of event revenue should look to smaller shows to pick up the slack from the cancellation of larger events.

Power also stressed the need to consider regional events.

"Instead of going after the National Association of Realtors, for example, you may have to go for the California Association of Realtors, which would be easier to capture and sell than a national meeting," she said.

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