Leveraging Our Conference Dollars

African Americans are the convention industry's biggest customers–to the tune of $5.6 billion. it's time we flexed our collective muscle and cashed in on some benefits

Before the National Baptist Convention books a city to hold its annual session, the 8.2 million member group uses its clout to rack up such perks as free meeting spaces, hotel rooms, and limousines, a savings of about $175,000 to $300,000 per event. The nation’s largest black religious group also flexes its financial muscle to reap the best rates for delegates.

It’s no wonder cities scurry to meet this group’s demands–as the saying goes, there is power in numbers. Last September, the National Baptist Convention’s 121st session attracted about 35,000 ministers, deacons, laymen, and women missionaries to the Minneapolis Convention Center. Its out-of-town delegates spent an estimated $45 million while visiting the Minneapolis/St. Paul area making it one of Minnesota’s largest black events. The event made a strong impression, particularly since it occurred when the state’s convention business is normally slow.

The National Baptist Convention’s annual conference, however, is just one black event among many. African Americans are one of the most popular and one of the fastest growing segments of the nation’s $545 billion travel industry, according to the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA), a Washington, D.C.-based travel and tourism group. TIA also reported that African American travel rose to 69.6 million personal trips in 1999, up 16 percent from 60.1 million in 1997, the biggest gain among any minority group and much higher than the one percent growth for all U.S travelers in 1999. The increased activity among African American travelers translates into billions of dollars for U.S. cities, especially among those hosting major conventions, conferences, and festivals.

But while African Americans are among the nation’s biggest travelers and conference goers, experts say they typically fail to get the best deals from local cities, convention and visitors bureaus, hotels, convention site operators, and travel businesses. In fact, some black groups are even tricked into overpaying because hotels and other service providers often tack on hefty service fees for the large number of “paying” guests the group is bringing in.

But smart event planners know better and this piece will tell you why you have clout, how you can use it, and what benefits you stand to gain. So whether you’re planning a full-fledged black convention or your next family reunion, you’ll know the financial juice your group brings to the hosting city and be able to claim your fair share of benefits.

WHY YOU HAVE CLOUT
In 2000 there were an estimated 1,600 black conventions and conferences with an economic impact of $5.6 billion in the U.S., up from 1,500 such events in 1999 where $4.9 billion was spent, according to Black Meetings and Tourism magazine, which tracks the black travel industry. And those numbers are conservative because they only include what was spent on things like hotels, food, and shopping, not other expenses like airline travel. Those numbers also don’t include the additional dollars spent at events and retreats where overnight stays are not required. The millions of dollars African Americans spend on shopping, dining, and partying are also not recorded.

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