by Michael C. Lowe | July 09, 2014
The new 1,175-room Marriott Marquis Washington, D.C., which opened in June, recently came under fire from Washington Post business and economics columnist Steven Pearlstein. In his June 27 editorial, Pearlstein questioned whether the tax-subsidized convention facilities and headquarters hotels would ever generate justifiable revenue or if the process is just a means to make residents of the District pay more money for additional future facilities. "Before long, local boosters will join the Convention Industrial Complex to try to convince us that our billion-dollar investment will all be for naught if we don't pony up more public funds to expand the existing facilities so that we can go toe-to-toe with Chicago and Vegas or keep up with competition from San Diego and Nashville," he wrote. According to Pearlstein, after Washington's $850 million convention center was built area hotels saw an average of 500,000 room nights, much lower than the 750,000 consultants had projected. His concern is that billions of dollars are being invested into convention infrastructure, while demand for the space remains relatively flat.

On July 1, Karen Kotowski, CEO of the Convention Industry Council, responded citing the full economic impact of meetings, which includes other areas of spending, taxes and jobs generated, not just room-night revenues. According to a study released by the organization, direct spending associated with U.S. meetings activity in 2012 was more than $280 billion. "Total output (including indirect and induced impacts) in 2012 related to meetings activities is estimated at $770.4 billion, while the total contribution to the GDP was $393.8 billion," Kotowski writes in her piece. "The economic benefit of the meetings industry goes way beyond the black-and-white picture painted in your piece. Not only do meetings support commerce, professional development, employee engagement and advancement in every industry, they put money back into local communities and are a driver of growth."

John Graham, president and CEO of ASAE also responded in support of the new hotel, saying the District is now able to accommodate "citywide conventions that would have been impossible to attract without a headquarters hotel property within walking distance of the convention center." Washington, D.C., can now land larger meetings, including the 40,000-attendee American Dental Association conference, which will come to town in 2015.