May the Best City Win

While these rivals duke it out for the same convention business, it’s the planners who are headed for the winner’s circle

America’s past is replete with rivalrous behavior among cities. In the late 18th century, bitter competition between municipalities in the North and South forced the fledgling federal government to create Washington, D.C., as a compromise capital midway between both regions. In the late 19th century, dozens of small cities in the American heartland battled over which would be named county seats, and many losers of these “county-seat wars” dried up into ghost towns.
    In the 21st century, U.S. cities compete for corporate headquarters, federal money and sports franchises. But the $80 billion convention industry has given many intercity contests a decidedly sharper edge.
    “Cities, especially their convention and visitor bureaus, are very familiar with who their primary competitors are, and they are tying to match or better other cities in determining what new facilities they will develop,” says Thomas Hazinski, managing director of Chicago-based HVS Convention, Sports & Entertainment Facilities Consulting. “They know what event planners are telling them, and they know what cities they are losing to. They want to keep up with the Joneses.”
    Because of business, geography, sports and culture, some American cities have become direct rivals with each other competing with extra zeal for conventions, trade shows and the upper hand in selling themselves to potential visitors. Here’s an inside look at some of the hottest feuds.

Los Angeles

San Francisco

Los Angeles vs.
San Francisco

The longstanding rivalry between Los Angeles and San Francisco is rooted in cultural differences, shared West Coast geography and intense sports competition. Recently, rivalrous attitudes have exploded their way into marketing efforts dreamed up by the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau. As the SFCVB honchos were brainstorming a new marketing campaign to generate interest and new business for the Golden Gate City, they struck pay dirt with an incendiary new slogan: “Not in L.A.”
    Within months, San Francisco’s “Not in L.A.” tag line was emblazoned on bar coasters and mobile billboards around California; “Not in L.A.” ads aired on the radio, and the SFCVB even established NotinLA.com, a website offering discounted trips to San Francisco.
    “The ‘Not in L.A.’ campaign carries great visibility and gets laughs from both sides,” says Mark Theis, vice president with the San Francisco CVB. “It’s a playful game between the two cities. Los Angeles and San Francisco have always had a north-south rivalry from what were the old L.A. Rams versus the 49ers to the Giants vs. the Dodgers. The ‘Not in L.A.’ campaign is a lure to visit NotinLA.com, which drives users to ‘Only in San Francisco,’ which conveys things that are San Francisco-specific. It’s not supposed to be an attack campaign, but a tease.”
    Nonetheless, the campaign has raised the hackles of Los Angeles boosters, who see the swipe at their city as evidence of a San Franciscan inferiority complex.
    “We think that the efforts of our friends in that little fishing village to the north are entirely appropriate,” says Michael Collins, executive vice president of LA Inc., the convention and visitors bureau of Los Angeles. “They should be admired for their special efforts to draw business to their little town. They’re going to get visitors because we love to go up to the more primitive environment and enjoy that it’s a diversion from the more high-energy experience we have here. We are delighted that they are so preoccupied by us.”
    While the “Not in L.A.” campaign is said to be aimed primarily at consumers, meetings industry experts say there is carryover into the fight between the cities for conventions, exhibitions and corporate events. “When placing an event, the key decision point for planners is the ability to attract attendees. All of the things in a city that create the ability to attract attendees is a city’s overall destination appeal,” notes Hazinski, who adds that “planners are not just looking at facilities but looking at the overall tourism environment, and they pay close attention to the overall image of the city.”
    And when it comes down to it, according to Hazinski, both Los Angeles and San Francisco have advantages and drawbacks to their convention infrastructure. “The Los Angeles Convention Center is bigger. San Francisco offers a better urban environment, but its convention center is constrained. Moscone doesn’t have a contiguous hall that’s a drawback.”
True, the LACC claims the size advantage with 720,000 square feet of exhibition and 147,000 square feet of meeting space. By contrast, San Francisco’s smaller Moscone Center’s North and South buildings offer 442,000 square feet of exhibit space and 68 meeting rooms; recently, the Moscone West expansion, completed in 2003, added 300,000 square feet of exhibit space and 38 meeting rooms, but the new building sits a half block west of the original venue.
    For hotel offerings, however, the City by the Bay has the numerical edge. San Francisco has 32,719 hotel rooms, with roughly 20,000 within walking distance of Moscone. Many of these hotel rooms are in the chic Union Square shopping district. Additionally, the city offers great public transportation, including a subway, light-rail trains, buses and those iconic cable cars (the only ones still in operation in the world). Los Angeles, by contrast, is car-centric; freeways dominate the landscape. The City of Angels offers 110,000 hotel rooms, of which 14,000 are close enough to walk to the convention center, according to LA Inc. However, complaints surfaced during the 2000 Democratic National Convention that some delegates were marooned more than 17 miles from the Staples Center.
    “San Francisco is a tighter package in that there are so many more hotel rooms within walking distance of Moscone,” says Darrell Baker, group vice president for event services with Framingham, Mass.-based IDG Worldwide, who has placed business in both cities. “Los Angeles has a wonderful convention center and lots of hotels, but the hotels need to catch up closer to the center. In San Francisco we don’t need to provide buses. In Los Angeles we would need to do that.”
    Despite such differences between the cities, groups often consider both destinations and pit one city against the other when placing their events. “All the time, we compete for conventions,” says LA Inc.’s Michael Collins. “San Francisco does very well. Very recently we competed for the Society of Thoracic Surgeons. We happened to win that one, but we lose a lot to them as well.”
    The impact of the “Not in L.A.” campaign is just now being felt, and only time can tell how it might affect business in both cities. But the new emphasis on rivalry has pleased San Francisco officials, to be sure. “In terms of effectiveness, the ads have surpassed what we had thought,” says the SFCVB’s Mark Theis. “With the buzz of discussions from radio and other media people all getting a kick out of this playful game, it serves a huge purpose in itself. That’s why we’re doing these guerrilla-type strategies, to show we’re a player in the region, even though they say we’re a ‘fishing village’ or however they describe us in L.A.”

Las VegasChicagoChicago vs. Las Vegas
The rivalry between Chicago and Las Vegas is based on business: For more than a decade, the two cities have been locked in a head-to-head battle to be the top American destination for conventions and trade shows. Put simply, they are the biggest kids on the block.
    Las Vegas has more total convention center space than any city in America, thanks to its Las Vegas Convention Center and two privately run centers. But with McCormick Place, Chicago has the single largest convention center anywhere. “Both Chicago and Las Vegas share one vitally important element in the success formula for any event destination: They both are cities that people really want to go to anyway,” says Steven Hacker, CAE, president of the Dallas-based International Association for Exhibition Management.
    Numbers can readily illuminate this municipal matchup. At the start of the 1990s, according to Tradeshow Week’s list of the top 200 national conventions, Chicago was home to 30 of the largest events and was seen as the premier city for group travel in the country. At its peak, in 1996, McCormick Place hosted 1.14 million attendees.
    Since then, however, Las Vegas has come on strong. According to the most recent numbers available, for 2003, Las Vegas was the top destination in America for group travel, boasting 38 of the nation’s largest conventions. Additionally, the city now offers more than 130,000 hotel rooms and 9 million square feet of meeting and exhibit space, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Chicago has fallen off and is now relegated to second place, with 27 top events.
    But Chicago boosters don’t see any ominous trends in those numbers and don’t concede first place in anything to rival Las Vegas.
    “We aren’t just focusing on the top 200 trade shows,” says Deborah Sexton, president of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau. “Part of what we’re proud of is the great mix we have in this city, plus the different markets we serve. We have a huge corporate meetings market here. I think Chicago is still the top business destination in the United States, as an overnight destination. Yes, Las Vegas has 150,000-plus hotel rooms and three or four convention centers, so there are going to be some trade show producers who want to experiment there. But I think you’ll see there is more annual and patterned business that falls into Chicago. And there is no finer facility in the world than McCormick Place.”
    In 2004, the National Hardware Show set off the most recent and significant battle in the war for convention dollars between these top-tier cities. The tool-themed mega-event, which had run for 27 years at Chicago’s McCormick Place, suffered a 2003 split between the show’s sponsor, the American Hardware Manufacturers Association, and its producer, Reed Exhibitions. Reed launched a competing version of the show and took it to Las Vegas for revitalization, while the AHMA, based in Shaumburg, Ill., kept its show at Chicago’s McCormick. The two hardware events ran nearly head-to-head, and the competition between them measured the appeal of their respective rival destinations.
    The results weren’t close: AHMA’s hardware show drew just 700 exhibitors. Meantime, Reed’s competing show, at the Sands Expo & Convention Center, featured some 2,300 exhibitors in 483,000 square feet of exhibition space. Following such disappointing results, the AHMA canceled its 2005 McCormick Place show, leaving the field open for its raffish competitor. One headline said it all: “Chicago Hardware Show Canceled Due to Las Vegas Competition.” In terms of revenue, the migration of the show represented a loss of up to $85 million for Chicago.
    “Well, what happened with the hardware show was a hardware industry thing, not a destination fight,” asserts Chris Bowers, CEO of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau. “It had very little to do with Chicago and Las Vegas.”
    Now Chicago is battling any perception it has lost ground to Las Vegas by vastly expanding McCormick Place. The new $850 million West building addition, which broke ground this year, will add more than 700,000 square feet, including 250,000 square feet of meeting rooms and a 100,000-square-foot ballroom. It is set for 2007 completion and should ensure McCormick Place remains the largest under-one-roof convention facility in the world, with 2.7 million square feet of exhibition space. Take that Las Vegas!
    “We were experiencing a full building,” explains Chicago’s Bowers. “The medical associations needed more contiguous meeting space. The new building was put together to give us the flexibility to have a meeting going on while others are moving out and to have the square footage designed by the customers.”
    The supersized McCormick Place facility represents a definite edge for Chicago. Other advantages the city enjoys over Las Vegas include the country’s best air access and world-famous cultural institutions and architecture. Chicago also is closer to more potential attendees: 16 percent of the U.S. population lives within 300 miles, and the Windy City itself is home to eight million people. To be sure, a wealth of entertainment is available in Chicago, but the CCTB marketing efforts downplay such offerings. Instead, Chicago stresses its buttoned-down image with a slogan aimed at meeting planners: “Attractions Not Distractions.”
    Sounds like a potshot at Vegas. At least, LVCVA officials hear it that way.
    “It’s very cleverly worded and a great campaign for them,” admits the LVCVA’s  VP of sales, Nancy Murphy. “But people paying money to come here are professionals coming to do business. If someone’s coming to goof off, they can find someplace to goof off in any city.”
    Despite such suggestions that Las Vegas may be too distracting for business, it seems like the popularity of the city now is at an all-time high. Through super-savvy commercials and a slew of Vegas-centric TV shows and movies, the city has achieved for itself a glitzy moment of cultural dominance that city promoters have transformed into a booming convention trade and bucket-loads of cash for selling Vegas to groups.
    Consider this: More than 37 million visitors came to Sin City in 2004, breaking the 2000 record. More than $6 billion in economic development is under way, with $1.2 billion in improvements recently completed. Among the most anticipated additions to the hotel scene is the $2.5 billion Wynn Las Vegas resort, which will be the most expensive hotel ever built.
    But it is Las Vegas’ risqué marketing campaign, “Vegas Stories,” that has perhaps done the most to brand the city as the country’s number-one destination in the minds of many consumers and meeting planners. Its world-famous tagline, “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” has caught such fire, a 2003 survey by USA Today found “Vegas Stories” to be the most effective advertising campaign of the year.
    “You know what I saw the other day?” asks the LVCVA’s Nancy Murphy. “A little kid wearing a tee shirt that read ‘What happens at grandmother’s house, stays at grandmother’s house.’”
    When this penchant for marketing is coupled with the overwhelming budget of the Las Vegas Convention Authority about $190 million per year derived from taxes on the area’s approximately 125,000 hotel rooms it becomes a lot easier to see why the city today is a convention juggernaut, one the Windy City must scramble to stay apace with.
    “The Las Vegas budget is always bandied about,” says the CCTB’s Chris Bowers. “Yes, Rossi’s [Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the LVCVA] budget is still considerably larger, by multiples of 10, than ours. But they’re marketing a different kind of destination. If you think about the meeting and convention industry, it really started here in Chicago with the major hotels and exhibit space they had in those hotels. As the meetings got larger, there was a need for larger space. Why? It’s because of Chicago’s central location. ”
    But Las Vegas has been working to overcome its geographical disadvantage. This year, the LVCVA announced an ambitious five-year plan aimed at growing visitation to the city from 35.5 million in 2003 to 43 million visitors by 2009. (By comparison, Chicago had 29.82 million visitors in 2003, according to D.K. Shifflet & Associates Ltd., a research firm in Falls Church, Va.) In addition, Las Vegas will launch a $400 million expansion and renovation of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Plans include adding a new grand entryway, more meeting rooms on the second and third floors and an enclosed link to the city’s monorail system.
    “I was talking to a group of people here, out having dinner by Bellagio’s lake,” recalls Las Vegas’ Nancy Murphy. “I asked them to look up and estimate how many hotel rooms they could see from where they were sitting. They said they could see 45,000 from their chairs. Almost all the rooms a convention or trade show producer could want are all on one street. Plus, Vegas is a hoot.”

COMPETING FOR THE OLYMPICS
New York City Olympic bid logoThe competition among bidding cities for the 2012 Olympic Games is proving fierce. Indeed, the International Olympic Committee’s long, drawn-out process for selecting a site for the Games can’t help but create rivalries among contenders.
    Historical precedent is at work here. Ancient Greece, original birthplace of the Olympic Games, also was the stage for the mother of all city rivalries the Peloponnesian War when Athens and Sparta clashed in 431 B.C.
    More recently, the spirit of Olympic rivalry devolved into scandal. In 1998, charges emerged that organizers of the 2002 Salt Lake City bid had bribed IOC officials to beat out other hopefuls. Although the bid process subsequently was reformed by the IOC, nasty intercity rivalries still result. Indeed, IOC president Jacques Rogge has had to beg the municipalities now vying for the 2012 games London, Madrid, Moscow, New York City and Paris “to focus on their own bid, stop looking at what the others are doing and stop bickering and accusing each other.”
    The lure of the 2012 Games is a major inspiration behind New York City’s planned New York Sports and Convention Center. Recently, the city’s deputy mayor Daniel Doctoroff told M&C: “We are facing competition from some of the great cities of the world, some of which already have their stadiums, like Paris and Moscow. To succeed, we need to have our stadium in place. It’s that simple.”
    The IOC will announce the winning city at a special presentation to be held in Singapore on July 6. -- B.M.L.

Boston

Boston vs. New York City
New York City
Some intercity rivalries are getting more intense all the time. The bad blood between Boston and New York City is traceable to colonial times, when the two competed for trade and political prominence. Between 1630 and 1750, Puritanical Boston was more powerful in terms of population, culture and economics. But by the time of the American Revolution, Dutch-founded New York City had overtaken its northern neighbor by dint of population growth and mercantile muscle. By 1810, New York was the biggest city in the United States. And Boston was embittered.
    Then baseball was invented, and history has taken second place; now it is an obsessive sports rivalry that sets the overall tone of competition.
    It all began when the Boston Red Sox’s young star pitcher and nascent home run hitter Babe Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees in 1920. The Yanks went on to triumph in 26 World Series, while the Sox triumphed in...none. Generations of Bostonians went gray seeing their hometown team come up short, while feelings of rivalry, jealousy and even nihilism only deepened over time. For Boston, New York City eventually became the unbeatable Evil Empire.
    Then, suddenly, in 2004 all that changed: The Red Sox won the World Series and best of all vanquished the New York Yankees on the way to their historic victory.
    “For the Red Sox to win the World Series like that, after beating the Yankees, was a miracle,” says Pat Moscaritolo, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Fifty percent of the people up here said ‘I’m content’ after we beat the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. I said, ‘No! Come on, we’ve got to win the World Series!’ But because of that longstanding rivalry, people said beating New York was as good as it gets.”
    But, now that the Curse of the Bambino has been broken, do Boston’s newfound winning ways extend to its convention industry?
    “We’ve been on a roll. There was a series of things starting with the Patriots winning the Super Bowl in February of 2004,” explains Moscaritolo. “Our new convention center opened in June; then in July, the Democratic Convention came to Boston; in October, we rallied from three games back to beat the Yankees. It has just been a great year for the psyche of Boston and especially for people in the visitor industry. We had the highest hotel occupancy rate we’ve had since 2000. There was a great rebound for corporate travel, meetings, conventions and international travel.” Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the Patriots won the Super Bowl yet again last month.
    Even New Yorkers are willing to acknowledge the benefits sports championships may bring Boston in terms of profile and karma. “It helps them a tremendous amount,” concedes Cristyne L. Nicholas, president & CEO of NYC & Co., New York’s official tourism marketing organization. “There’s always a lot of televised footage of the city. It helps the morale of Bostonians. There is a value to that civic pride that sports teams lend to cities that isn’t necessarily quantitative.”
    Another factor for marketers: Boston’s skyline has been transformed since the turn of the millennium. The mammoth decade-plus “big dig” construction project finally is reaching completion: Interstate 93, which used to bisect the city, now dips under downtown Boston into a futuristic tunnel. The soaring Leonard P. Zachim bridge has given the city a fresh  21st-century profile. 
    In addition, Boston’s convention infrastructure is all new. For years, the 193,000-square-foot Hynes Convention Center in Back Bay was the sole convention facility in town. While the Hynes center has many pluses, such as its central location and abundance of nearby hotel rooms, its small scale kept Boston out of the running for the biggest and most lucrative of conventions.
    Today, however, Boston is back in the space race. At a cost of $800 million, the city opened the the new 516,000-square-foot Boston Convention & Exposition Center in June 2004, intending to catapult Beantown into the top tier of convention destinations. The shimmering facility has 160,000 square feet of meeting space divided into 82 rooms, along with a 40,020-square-foot ballroom with river and skyline views.
    While the BCEC’s initial performance has fallen short of expectations, critics and planners say lower-than-expected numbers can be blamed on the lack of hotel rooms in South Boston near the new facility. Case in point: “We are meeting in Boston next year. We will use the Hynes Convention Center, and we are booking the hotels that are attached to the Prudential Center,” says Alan Davis, executive director for the Columbia, S.C.-based National Association for Campus Activities. “We’re not using the new facility, because we need a full-service hotel adjacent to the center.”
    However, the BCEC will be easier to use by summer 2006, when a new 790-room, $200 million Westin opens next door to serve as the new center’s headquarters property. Finally, with that last piece of the convention puzzle in place, Beantown’s fervent boosters hope to give the Big Apple a run for its money in the battle to bring in large events.
    “Until now, we didn’t have the facilities to compete with New York,” says Boston’s Moscaritolo. “Trade shows weren’t that big for us, simply because Hynes was too small for the majority of that business. Now, the BCEC will allow us to go after shows that need to be refreshed, need a new element to them  and are looking for a destination that is as strong as New York.”
    In fact, this year saw the return to Boston of the Macworld Conference & Expo. The event had originated in Boston, then outgrew the Hynes and headed to New York. In 2004, Macworld was held at the BCEC, the reality of which prompts NYC & Co’s Nicholas to wish aloud, “Let Macworld and this past American League Championship Series be the only things we lose to Boston.”
    “There’s no doubt the BCEC put Boston on the map for trade shows and conventions in excess of 50,000 square feet,” says Darrell Baker of IDG Worldwide, which owns Macworld. “It’s a huge difference. The meeting space and the exhibit space in the new center rivals New York’s.”
    “The new convention center up in Boston is something we’re keenly aware of,” says Cristyne L. Nicholas. “It’s still smaller than our expansion plans, so we won’t be competing for exactly the same pieces of business. But we’re not taking it lightly. Boston is comparable to New York City in its current phase. It makes the argument for an expanded Jacob K. Javits Center so we won’t lose shows.”
    Indeed, the Big Apple is taking steps to transform its 814,000-square-foot Javits Center and develop Manhattan’s long-fallow Far West Side into a magnificent convention corridor.
    “Within this year, we will know what the groundbreaking date and date of completion will be for the Javits expansion,” says Nicholas. “We’re very optimistic we will have a state-of-the-art convention center that will be able to bring in the large-scale conventions and meetings and that will set New York City apart from other cities like Boston.”
    New York’s plans also include construction of a mixed-use facility to be called the New York Sports and Convention Center, which would double as a 200,000-square-foot exhibition venue and home stadium for the New York Jets football team. The NYSCC would sit adjacent to the expanded Javits Center.
    In February, however, Cablevision made a strong offer to buy the site of the proposed arena from the city’s Metropolitan Transit Authority to erect offices and residences, which would not compete with the media giant’s Madison Square Garden. The MTA, in turn, decided to put the site up for open bidding. The matter remained unresolved at press time.
    While New York City, like Boston, attempts to renew itself, the Big Apple has good news on its tourism and hospitality front. In 2004, the number of visitors jumped 4.6 percent over 2003 to 39.6 million. International visitors were up by more than 10 percent the first such rise since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In sum, visitors to New York spent a hefty $15.1 billion and generated an estimated $220 million in hotel tax revenue last year alone. But Cristyne Nicholas says there’s more to do in selling America’s biggest city: “Certainly, we need to market New York to the meetings and conventions industry now that our expansion is under way,” she notes. “We’d like a stronger mix of international and domestic visitors, because that still hasn’t returned to pre-9/11 levels.”
    New York City is in the running for the 2012 Olympics, an event that would boost international exposure and certainly bring in visitors from around the globe. But the competition is formidable: London, Madrid, Moscow and Paris all are vying for the same Games. (See “Competing for the Olympics,” above.)
    Meanwhile, the fight for meetings and conventions continues to roil the Northeast. “It’s kind of like a game of tag,” says the GBCVB’s Moscaritolo. “They had their Javits facility, then we got ours up and running. Tag they’re it! Now, they’re tying to get their modern state-of-the-art facility up and running. We probably will be competing with them more than we ever did.
    “There will always be this issue of the two cities and underlying rivalry, be it sports or the meeting industry or entertainment,” Moscaritolo continues. “There are so many people who go back and forth between the Boston-New York corridor, like New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who is from here. By the way, I know if you looked at Bloomberg’s blood under a microscope, you’d find some Red Sox DNA in there.”

MinneapolisSt. PaulMinneapolis vs.
St. Paul

The conflict between Minneapolis and St. Paul is as old as the Twin Cities themselves, mainly because these two largest cities in Minnesota are contiguous yet have a deep cultural divide and vividly contrasting characters.
    Their 19th-century struggle for dominance resembles a comic opera. For example, both towns inflated their population counts for the 1890 U.S. Census , and each snitched on the other’s fraudulent statistics. Thus, Minneapolis and St. Paul both came under federal investigation, and several Minneapolis census workers wound up going to jail for passing fake numbers to the Census Bureau.
    The rivalry continues unabated to this day. “St. Paulites like who they are and Minneapolitans like who they are,” says Jean Freidl, spokesperson for the St. Paul Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. “They’re white bread and we’re pumpernickel. We are down-to-earth and humble folks in St. Paul. In Minneapolis, they’re all about skyscrapers, glitz and glass. We’re more bricks and mortar here in St. Paul.”
    “It’s a good-natured rivalry,” says Greg Ortale, president and CEO of the Greater Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Bureau. “In St. Paul, it is sacrilege to say that the Minneapolis St. Patrick’s Day parade is bigger than theirs. Them’s fighting words, usually based on a lot of green lager.”
    In terms of convention infrastructure, Minneapolis gained the size edge over rival St. Paul with construction of the Minneapolis Convention Center, which has more than 475,000 square feet of exhibition space and 87 meeting rooms. “We’ve taken a quantum leap forward in terms of conventions and group meetings,” Ortale asserts.
    True, St. Paul’s RiverCentre is smaller than the MCC with 68,699 square feet of exhibition space and nine meeting rooms. Nonetheless, planners and attendees like the facility’s cozy feel: “We can get our preferred dates at the RiverCentre,” says Dianne Blake, associate executive director of the Minnesota Dental Association. “Our event is a perfect fit. The MCC is wonderful but very large, so we only can use a tiny portion plus, you could have a national group that could come in and supplant you. But we take big room blocks and take up the entire RiverCentre in St. Paul.”
    Alan Davis of the National Association for Campus Activities considers the rival facilities “two very different venues that just happen to be geographically close.”
    St. Paul officials like to play up their level of service and attention to detail, as compared to their sibling city. “That’s where we have an advantage. When you come here, you’re the only convention in town. You’re the big fish in the pond,” says Julie Larson, vice president of convention sales and marketing with the St. Paul Convention and Visitors Bureau.
    These days, with the size gap in their respective convention centers, the twin cities compete more for smaller groups and the SMERF (social, military, educational, religious and fraternal) meetings market than for mega-conventions. And, the truth is, visitors to the Twin Cities area do not restrict their activities to one municipality.
     “A visitor is not going to have a geopolitical identification and say, ‘I’m only visiting Minneapolis, therefore I’m not going to the Science Center in St. Paul,’” says Minneapolis’ Greg Ortale. “We are complementary as much as competitors. Minneapolis and St. Paul are Siamese twins, and if one of them gets sick, the other will get sick as well so it’s important that we both thrive.”
    If this sounds like a case for merging the two cities’ marketing efforts, don’t be fooled. The cities support two respective daily newspapers, two campuses of the University of Minnesota and separate professional sports teams. So, even if according to Ortale, “there is only one hotel inventory” in the Twin Cities, it will not soon be marketed by one single CVB. The sibling rivals have too much independent identity at stake.