The number of citywide conventions in the nation’s capital is in somewhat of a slump, and the trend might continue through 2015. According to Destination DC, the district’s destination marketing organization, citywide conventions in Washington fell by 40 percent last year, to 13, down from 22 in 2011. This year looks to be little better, with only 14 citywide bookings confirmed.
Ronnie Burt, vice president of convention sales and services for Destination DC, said it won’t be until 2016 that the capital will see an uptick in major convention business, with 16 citywides confirmed.
“The decline was not a surprise to D.C. coming into 2013. We knew that even a few years out,” said Burt, who cited previous delays to a new convention center hotel project, which at one time had been rumored to open in 2009, as the major reason for D.C.’s current dip in conventions. “That project has been on and off, causing some groups that were on the books to pull out when they saw the hotel wouldn’t be ready.”
Construction actually began on the 1,129-room Washington Marriott Marquis in the fall of 2010. The property, to be connected to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center by an underground passageway, now is scheduled to be completed in 2014.
Greg O’Dell, president and CEO of Events DC, the organization that owns and manages the convention center, also noted the mired hotel project as a cause for the capital’s flat convention business. “For many years we’ve had customers needing additional meeting space or rooms, and our business has suffered from not having certainty that the hotel would be built,” he said.
While waiting for the Marriott to officially open, other hotels and meeting venues are adjusting their sales strategies to find opportunities. Destination DC is looking into alternative event sources by exploring the for-profit trade show and corporate meeting sectors; Events DC also is looking to fill empty facilities with supplemental business.