City refocuses on targets, ramps up goals for tourism

January 21, 2011

The Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association plans to get even more aggressive this year in its attempts to attract visitors to the city from both the convention and leisure markets, including targeting potential vistors from Chicago and the United Kingdom.

ICVA officials, fresh off the official opening of the $275 million expansion of the Indiana Convention Center on Thursday, outlined marketing goals at the organization’s annual meeting Friday morning.

They include increasing room nights booked for future conventions from 650,000 in 2010 to 725,000 this year, on the way to an ultimate goal of 850,000 by 2015. For leisure travel, ICVA hopes to grow room nights from 559,000 booked in 2010 to 570,000 this year.

“We’re more focused on direct sales than we’ve ever been,” James Wallis, ICVA’s executive vice president, said.

Officials hope to hit the targets by advertising more in convention trade publications and by increasing its marketing efforts in Chicago and the United Kingdom.

A $1.3 million ICVA leisure ad campaign last year that ran in eight regional cities, including Chicago, St. Louis and Cincinnati, generated a surprising return from the Windy City.

Chicagoans accounted for 57 percent of those visiting Indianapolis from the eight cities as a result of the campaign, prompting ICVA to shift “significantly more money” allocated to the campaign to the Chicago region this year. Specifically, ICVA spent $294,000 on advertising in Chicago in 2010 and will increase that amount this year by 36 percent to $400,000. The overall $1.3 million budget will stay the same.

ICVA also is ramping up its international efforts by engaging a public relations firm in the United Kingdom to market Indianapolis as a convention and tourism destination, as well as promoting its motorsports industry and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

So far, eight English tour operators have added Indianapolis to their product offerings this year, according to one official.

ICVA also plans to spend $300,000 in 2011 to place 84 insertions promoting the city and the convention center in eight major trade publications. That’s an increase from 69 advertisements last year.

ICVA has 13 large conventions—those that consume at least 3,000 hotel rooms—booked this year and 19 in 2012.

Overall, it’s attracted or retained 69 large conventions in future years that would not have chosen Indianapolis if not for the expansion to the convention center, said Michelle Travis, ICVA’s vice president of sales.

They include the locally based Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association and the International Motorsports Industry Show, in addition to the California-based Dealer Expo and the Washington, D.C.-based American Association of Homes & Services for the Aging.

Travis said AAHSA is  a “huge win” for the city, noting officials chose Indianapolis over their original selection, Minneapolis, after visiting the city and leaving impressed with the connectivity of hotel rooms to the convention center. ICVA boasts in its marketing materials that the city has 4,700 hotel rooms connected to the center via a network of tunnels and walkways.

ICVA for the moment is embarking on its new chapter, with a larger convention center that pushes the city from 32nd to 16th in terms of total exhibit space, without a CEO.

Outgoing CEO Don Welsh announced earlier this month that he has taken a similar position in Chicago and will leave ICVA late this month.

ICVA Board Chairman Michael Browning said Friday morning the board has launched a national search and has no shortage of candidates.

“There’s no question that Indianapolis is now a first-tier location,” he said. “[The expansion] has created a true national buzz in the convention industry.”

Nearly 350,000 square feet of exhibit space was added to the convention center. The facility, when combined with exhibit space at Lucas Oil Stadium, will have a total of 1.2 million square feet of exhibit and meeting space.



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