Why Yakima Needs to Improve Its Convention Infrastructure

The meetings and convention market is a crucial part of our local tourism industry and economy. It’s also important to other cities around the Pacific Northwest. Yakima competes with these cities to attract meetings. If we are to be successful in bringing and keeping conventions, we must maintain and improve our convention and hospitality infrastructure. If we don’t, we risk losing millions of dollars in revenue, taxes and jobs created by the convention industry.

Meeting planners review many factors when choosing a city to hold their event: location, costs, support infrastructure, surrounding attractions, activities, etc.  A recent survey of 398 U.S. planners conducted by the Kliman Group and Fulcrum found that the top three “destination strength elements that contribute to destination appeal” when choosing a city are lodging, air service and meeting assets (e.g. convention center). Yakima is largely a drive-to destination and while the City has made great strides in improving air service, it’s currently not a major factor for convention planners in our market. Quality lodging and the convention center, however, are crucial factors. The Yakima Convention Center has a stellar reputation for service, plus has had significant improvements since it was built. We must, however, do more if we are to remain competitive.

According to data we track, the primary reason for cancellations and groups not booking the Yakima Convention Center is due to a scheduling conflict with another group for the center (31%). The second most common reason was a lack of meeting or exhibit space for dates group desired (28%), followed by groups opting for a self- contained location, specifically at a hotel (20%). Collectively, these three reasons account for nearly 80% of lost convention business.

There is growing concern among current and past clients regarding the perceived lack of space at the center. Some of these groups have chosen other venues instead of the Yakima Convention Center, including Spokane and Tri-Cities, while others indicate they are on the verge of outgrowing the current Yakima facilities.

In 2015, the City of Yakima, with the support and involvement of the Yakima Public Facilities District, commissioned Kidder Mathews to conduct a market study on our convention center, lodging facilities and to assess competing markets. The researchers involved in the study have extensive experience in hotel and convention center analysis. Their study recommended that market conditions warrant an additional 51,000 square foot exhibit hall. As stated in their report, “By adding a dedicated exhibit hall to the Yakima Convention Center Campus, the city would create a definite competitive advantage over both Kennewick and Wenatchee. With the exception of the Spokane exhibit hall, Yakima would be the only facility with true exhibit space…. It would distinguish the new facility from alternative options in the competitive markets.”

The new exhibit hall would also increase the center’s scheduling flexibility, improving our ability to host multiple events and organizations concurrently. The added space would also allow the center’s sales team to target organizations that have outgrown the existing facilities. Both advantages would support efforts to recapture lost business due to capacity and scheduling, which accounts for 58% of total defectors.

Davenport Grand Hotel in Spokane, WA

Davenport Grand Hotel in Spokane, WA

Likewise, our headquarter lodging needs to be addressed. Last year, Spokane welcomed a new headquarter tower hotel connected to their convention center with more than 700 guest rooms, 60,000 square feet of meeting space and a parking garage. In the Tri-Cities, a new SpringHill Suites opened last summer, also connected to their convention center. In Wenatchee, the City recently sold land to a developer to build a 170 plus room Hilton Garden Inn along the waterfront next to an existing walkway to their convention center. These are our three main competitors.  We are losing conventions to these cities because of the condition and age of our headquarter hotel. Kidder Mathews recommends building a new headquarter hotel to replace the aging Red Lion. A number of scenarios and locations around the Yakima Convention Center Campus are being evaluated. Other possible hotel plans in the city core could have a bearing on the final configuration for the project.

Currently we are working with the City to secure an architectural firm to estimate costs and develop renderings of a center addition and headquarter hotel. This would help show what the vision could look like and assist us in advancing the project.

The Yakima Convention Center is a cornerstone in the health and vitality of Yakima. It currently pumps more than $11 million into the local economy. It brings visitors and locals to the city center, generates activity for partner facilities plus increases customers for businesses and attractions across the community.

I hope you will join me to work with the community, private and public sectors to ‘raise the bar’ and upgrade our convention amenities.

John Cooper

Yakima Valley Tourism

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Yakima Valley Tourism Holds 2016 Annual Meeting

20160525_101811Yakima Valley Tourism (YVT) held its Annual Meeting today at the Yakima Convention Center. Featured speaker was Mark Bocchi, Managing Director of Sales and Community Marketing for Alaska Airlines. He gave an update on the airline, including their re-branding and their recent purchase of Virgin America.

In addition, YVT CEO John Cooper gave a fifteen minute program on the Rotary International Vocational Training trip he led this spring to Australia. In celebration of that, the luncheon had a ‘down under’ theme with decor and music. Around 120 people attended the event.

Here are a few pictures from the meeting.

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Yakima to Host Large Music Conference This Month

Steve Treseler, the author of The Living Jazz Tradition, conducts a workshops to middle school, high school and college educators at the 2014 WMEA conference. Photo by CMA Press.

Steve Treseler, author of The Living Jazz Tradition, conducts a workshop to middle school, high school and college educators at the 2014 WMEA conference. Photo by CMA Press.

The Washington Music Educators Association (WMEA) will hold its 43rd Biennial Conference and All-State Honor Group performances February 11th – 14th at the Yakima Convention Center and numerous other venues around Yakima. Over the course of the weekend, more than 4,000 students, teachers, staff and families will make their way to Yakima for the event.

Included in that figure are 1,200+ All-State and Junior All-State students. In addition, about 1,100 music teachers from around the state will attend 120 sessions for continuing education as well as 15 concerts their students are performing. An additional 1,700 or more family members, friends and staff will be in Yakima for the event.

According to Yakima Valley Tourism, this is the largest convention slated for 2016. “We work on this event for more than a year,” stated John Cooper, President & CEO for Yakima Valley Tourism. “This conference fills hotels for miles and brings significant visitor spending to the Valley.”

There are more than 20 ensembles (Bands, Orchestras, Choirs, Jazz Ensembles, and Percussion Ensembles, etc.) from all over the state. Along with their teachers, students will perform at “Concert Hours” and “Demonstration Sessions” throughout the weekend. To coordinate the programs, WMEA bulks up for the conference to about 80 staff members (from an office staff of six). This group will take care of details from presiding at conference sessions, moving percussion gear around concert sites and making sure that All-State Students are properly fed and rested.

In order to attend events at the conference, people have to be registered or they have to be involved with presenting, performing or staffing. The Junior All-State and the All-State Concerts, however, are open to the public.

The schedule, time and locations of the concerts are listed below:

Friday, February 12th at 3:00 PM

All State Jazz Concert – Yakima Convention Center

Saturday, February 13th at 4:15 PM      

  • Junior All-State Instrumental Concert – Eisenhower High School
  • Junior All-State Choral Concert – Capitol Theatre

Sunday, February 14th at 1:00 PM

  • All-State Bands – Eisenhower High School
  • All-State Orchestras – Capitol Theatre
  • All-State Choirs – Yakima Convention Center

Concert tickets are $20 if purchased in advance, or $25 the day of or at the door. Children grade eight and below are admitted free. Tickets may be purchased in advance by calling 509-853-2787, on the WMEA website at www.wmea.org under 2016 Conference Information, or online at www.ticketswest.com/events/wmea-all-state-concerts/14702/. Tickets will be sold at the door of each concert venue, plus at the Capitol Theatre Box office starting at 11:00am on Friday for Friday’s Jazz Concert at the Yakima Convention Center, and starting at 11:00am on Sunday for the three Large Group Concerts. Tickets to any of the Sunday concerts allow access to all three events that day.

Yakima has been the traditional location for the WMEA State Conference and All-State Honor Groups for more than 20 years. The event is staged in Yakima around President’s Day Weekend every even numbered year. “We always feel special here,” stated WMEA Executive Director Scott Ketron. “The team of folks at the tourism office and hotels that help us manage this event are like family and they know what to do. We value Yakima, its people and our ongoing relationship with the community.”

Yakima Valley Tourism Awards Luncheon

Pat_Casual (2) We’re off to the races with our next Tourism Awards Luncheon! Adopting a Kentucky Derby theme, there will be lots of springtime fun. Our Master of Ceremonies and speaker will be Pat Cashman, Seattle comedian and television personality. Many will remember Pat when we brought him here in 2008 as our “Tourism Party” Presidential “candidate” for our annual lunch. The reviews were stellar!

Pat Cashman has been a broadcast performer and writer for more than twenty years. Along the way, he has been a TV weatherman, talk show host, stand-up comedian, short story writer, newspaper columnist, TV sports reporter, radio and TV voiceover announcer—and character voice talent in cartoons and video games. He is the announcer on Nintendo’s “Super Smash Bros”—currently the most popular video game in the world.

He was a featured performer, writer and producer on the Seattle-based sketch TV show “Almost Live!”—a program that was syndicated nationally and appeared for two years on the Comedy Central network. For his work on that show—and other TV efforts from performing to writing, directing to editing—Cashman has won dozens of Northwest Emmys, advertising awards, radio honors and medallions from the International Film and TV Festival of New York.  He’s now working on KING 5 TV’s  The (206), poking fun at all things Seattle and beyond. Check it out here!

A highlight of the program will be the awarding of the Tourism Business of the Year Award and Tourism Person of the Year Award.

Keeping with the Kentucky Derby theme, we’ll be giving away prizes for the best derby hats so we encourage participants to come with their wildest and most colorful hats! We’ll also be doing  a “horse race” like you’ve never seen before!

Details:

When: April 30th, 11:45 a.m

Where: Yakima Convention Center, 10 North 8th Street Downtown Yakima

Cost: $27 per person

RSVP by April 23rd: laura@yakimavalleytourism.com

Cancellations after April 23 and “no shows” will be invoiced.

509-575-3010 or 800-221-0751

SPONSORS: Charter Business,  Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce, Hilton Garden Inn, Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express,  Horizon Distribution Inc., Miller & Associates Wealth Management LLC, Ron’s Coins & Collectibles, Tree Top, Inc., Treveri Cellars and the Yakima Valley Hotel and Conference Center.

Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau Changes Name

The agency responsible for developing and marketing tourism for the Yakima Valley will be doing business under a new name. Effective today, the Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau will be doing business as Yakima Valley Tourism. The change resulted from a board retreat last year as the organization made future plans for tourism in the region.

Yakima Valley Tourism made the announcement today at the Yakima Convention Center where it presented updates and issues facing the local, state and national tourism industries to the public.

“The new name is easier to remember, better reflects our mission and coincides with the launch of our six-year strategic plan,” stated John Cooper, President & CEO. “Our organization is responsible for all facets of tourism including conventions and groups, visitor services, sports and leisure travel. Tourism is an inclusive word for all sectors of the industry.”

The main website to promote Yakima Valley will be www.yakimavalleytourism.com

Yakima Valley Tourism is a non-profit trade association. It has been known as Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau since forming in 1957.

A Look at Tourism in the Yakima Valley in 2013

As the new year begins we’re busy finishing up an our Annual Report, which will be out later this month. In the mean time, here are a few the year’s highlights through November:

Convention & Group Sales:  At the end of November the sales department confirmed 94 conventions held (up 11% over same period in 2012), reached 90% of their group leads goal and exceeded their annual hotel room nights confirmed goal by 5% with 35,842 room nights!

The Yakima Convention Center welcomed Centerplate as the new caterer in May after the Red Lion Corporation (which owned M&M Catering) discontinued their contract. Centerplate caters at 300 convention and event venues across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom and annually serves more than 115 million guests.

Web marketing: Our main website performed very well. Through November the site saw more than 293,590 visitors, an increase of 24% over 2012. Much of the increased traffic was a result of seasonal campaigns like the current “win a ski day contest with Andy Mahre”.

New websites: The Spirits and Hops Trail was launched in July and celebrates locally made adult beverages and our hop heritage. Yakima Valley Made is a directory of more than 100 locally grown and crafted goods and products. Both sites have been popular and  help us to market Yakima Valley artisan products.

Public Relations/Media: We placed more than 90 travel and lifestyle media pieces in 2013 with an advertising value exceeding $538,000. Click here for a sampling of the stories and features that resulted from our efforts.

Our  Yakima Valley Sports  Commission saw record attendance at their Hot Shots 3 on 3 Tourney with 497 teams, an increase of 8.5% from 2012 and the sixth straight year the team numbers have grown.  In its second year, the Pirate Plunder Adventure Race plunged ahead with 1,484 racers… that’s 60% more participants than in 2012!

The Yakima Valley Visitor Center celebrated 10 years of service in May with a community party. Pam Lakman is the new Manager at the VIC, replacing Pam Alamos who retired.

Wine tourism: The Washington Wine Country alliance continued the Taste and Tote “wine flies free” program with Alaska Airlines. In October we welcomed Hertz as the new rental car partner for the program. Our CEO John Cooper was a speaker at the national Wine Tourism Conference held in Portland last month, highlighting partnerships and local marketing projects. Other projects included seasonal websites for major wine events and wine country focused advertising.

These are just a sampling of the successes and projects for 2013.  Stay tuned for the full Annual Report soon.

Tourism 2020: State of the Tourism Industry in the Yakima Valley

headerImageBlockTM-copyAs the New Year begins, the Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau is rolling out a number of programs aimed at building all forms of tourism in the Yakima Valley in 2014 and beyond.  To outline these projects, the Bureau will hold a presentation Friday, January 17th 10:00 a.m. at the Yakima Convention Center, 10 North 8th Street in Downtown Yakima.

Among the topics to be covered:

  • Update on the state of the tourism industry nationally, state wide and locally
  • Brief review of Tourism 2020, the organization’s  strategic plan for tourism in the Yakima Valley
  • Review proposed legislation to fund new Washington state tourism efforts
  • Announce an important change for the Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau

There is no charge to attend the session and the event is open to the public. To RSVP call 800- 221-0751 or contact laura@visityakima.com

Yakima Hosts Meeting Professionals

Over the course of two days this week, the Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau, Yakima Convention Center and the local hospitality industry hosted an educational forum for twelve state and regional meeting planners and association executives.

During their stay, the meeting professionals discussed issues facing the meeting industry and tactics to improve their programs and services. In addition, hotel management staff were in attendance to learn and share insights.

The sessions were coordinated by Linda DiMario, a long time tourism and meetings expert from Long Beach California. This is the third time Linda has conducted the forum and was well received by the attendees.

In addition to the formal programs, the planners and executives were treated to social events, enjoyed catering creations from the new Convention Center caterer Centerplate and a participated in luncheon at the Yakima Valley Museum.

Driving Meeting and Sports Business to the Yakima Valley

2013-04-16_11-34-58_648This week the hospitality industry of Yakima went to the  LeMay Car Museum in Tacoma to show Washington state meeting and sports planners that the Yakima Valley is ready to drive results for their meetings and events.

Sixty-two staff from thirty-one  groups came to the museum to learn about new services for the meeting and sports industry in Yakima, network, enjoy food and have fun. The event was sponsored by Yakima Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau, Yakima Convention Center and Yakima Valley Sports Commission. It was also an opportunity for the participants to meet staff from Centerplate, the new caterer for the Yakima Convention Center.

“These social events with meeting planners and sports organizers are a key way we keep in touch,” stated John Cooper, President and CEO of the Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau. “It gives our industry an opportunity to provide the attendees with updates while learning how we can better serve them.”

Yakima Convention Center and Centerplate staff working the trade show

Yakima Convention Center and Centerplate staff working the trade show

Yakima Convention Center Choses New Caterer

logoCenterplate, one of the largest hospitality companies in the world, will become the exclusive food service provider for the Yakima Convention Center on May 1st.  Centerplate serves more than 115 million guests each year in more than 300 venues throughout North America and the United Kingdom.  Centerplate’s current client list includes convention centers in Dallas, Miami, and San Diego, major entertainment venues like the Spokane Arena, the Tacoma Dome, and the New Orleans Arena, and pro sports franchises such as the Denver Broncos (NFL), Seattle Mariners (MLB), and Portland Timbers (MLS).

“We’re excited about the experience and quality that Centerplate brings to the Yakima Convention Center,” said Yakima City Manager Tony O’Rourke.  “Centerplate clearly has a proven track record for outstanding customer service that our Convention Center guests will enjoy.  We are looking forward to a long and productive relationship,” said O’Rourke.

Centerplate will offer several new selections that include a Northwest take on fresh, local ingredients sourced from neighboring suppliers have been created for the Convention Center’s menu by renowned Executive Chef Matthew Lecours, who has served as Microsoft’s District Chef and as Centerplate’s Executive Sous Chef at Safeco Field.  Yakima Valley wines will also be prominently featured on the Convention Center’s menu.

“We know the Yakima Convention Center is a valuable asset to the community,” said Centerplate Regional Vice President Adrian Dishington.  “Centerplate’s goal is to provide each guest with a one-of-a-kind authentic experience while also providing local businesses with opportunities to partner with us.  By working hand in hand with meeting planners and event specialists, we’ll deliver world class hospitality for each and every guest at the Convention Center,” said Dishington.

Centerplate has been the hospitality service provider for numerous major events including thirty U.S. Presidential inaugural balls, thirteen Super Bowls, twenty one World Series, and the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.  The company was recently named by Nation’s Restaurant News as the fastest growing restaurant/hospitality groups in the United States.

The Yakima Convention Center is the premiere meeting facility in Central Washington and last year served more than 125,000 guests and generated nearly $9 million in economic activity. The center is owned by the City of Yakima and managed by the Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau.