- The Washington Times - Monday, April 14, 2008

The Washington Convention Center Authority plans to step up efforts to generate more revenue, its chief executive and general manager told the D.C. Council late last week.

“While we are certainly a catalyst for economic development … the WCCA does not generate significant operating revenues,” Reba Pittman Walker said Wednesday.

Ms. Pittman Walker said the WCCA, which runs the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, has started an “intense revenue generating campaign.”

The WCCA said it will increase its sales staff and focus on improving its list of corporate events and meetings.

The convention center’s 66 small meeting rooms — not the large spaces that host trade shows or conventions — are “vacant a lot,” Ms. Pittman Walker said. Her goal is to have those spaces booked 255 or more days per year. Currently, those spaces are booked from 80 percent to 90 percent of those 255 days.

Ms. Pittman Walker said sales staff are now going to be instructed to reach out to potential clients. Previously, the WCCA staff only responded to incoming sales inquiries.

The WCCA books its own business — corporate meetings or events — for the next 18 months. Destination DC, the city’s tourism marketing group, is responsible for booking big trade shows, which are usually planned years in advance.

But it’s the smaller, daylong events that WCCA is hoping it can book to generate revenue between the large trade shows.

Like many tourism and business tourism destinations, the WCCA finds itself competing with a growing list of entertainment destinations, many of which are well-funded. But it’s also competing with the new National Harbor and Gaylord National Resort Hotel and Convention Center.

The large complex in Prince George’s County near the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge is marketing itself as a flexible alternative to a traditional convention center, with 470,000 square feet of meeting space and 2,000 hotel rooms — more rooms than any hotel in the District.

“I’m somewhat concerned someone’s going to eat our lunch over the next 18 to 24 months,”said D.C. Council member Kwame R. Brown, at-large Democrat, referring to National Harbor and the Gaylord hotel.

Ms. Pittman Walker said the new sales initiatives should counter Gaylord’s impact.

Although the D.C. Council has not yet approved a budget for fiscal 2009, the convention center is slated to get $89.6 million from the city, a 4 percent increase from 2008. Those funds are generated from restaurant and hotel sales taxes.

D.C. walks on

Cultural Tourism DC is hosting its eighth biannual WalkingTours program the weekend of April 26-27 to encourage residents to enjoy the walkable nature of the city.

A study by the Brookings Institution recently named the District the most walkable city in the country.

Cultural Tourism is hosting 80 tours, conducted on foot or by bike, of hot spots across the city. A few will cover the District’s up-and-coming neighborhoods, including H Street Northeast, “NoMa” (the area north of Massachusetts Avenue and Union Station) and the Capitol Riverfront near the new Nationals baseball stadium.

All tours are free, but some require advance registration. Details are available at WalkingTownDC.org.

Retail & Hospitality appears Mondays. Send news to Jen Haberkorn at jhaberkorn@washington times.com or 202/636-4836.

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