As a member of the Portland Customer Advisory Board, I hope you will take my views into consideration as you work to develop Portland as an attractive convention destination. Formerly, I was the Director of Meetings and Trade Show Services for the Emergency Nurses Association. Upon joining the association, I reviewed future contractual obligations and began evaluating the contract with Portland to host our Annual Convention in September 2010. After traveling to Portland to view the entire convention package, I made a recommendation to the association’s executive director that we move to cancel this program due to the following concerns:
- The hotel package was concerning as we required hotels in the downtown area as well as hotels in the Lloyd District. Separating the group within such a broad radius is not something we were accustomed to. Convention delegates prefer to be in close proximity of hotels which leads to better networking.
- As we required approximately 2,000 rooms on peak night, we were skeptical about utilizing up to 25 hotels when we normally contract up to 6 in a given city.
- Relying on public transportation to transfer delegates to the convention center was also something we were not accustomed to. Attendees, as a general rule, expect the organization to provide transportation to/from the convention center.
- The hotel package surrounding the convention center lacked a “headquarter-type” hotel. Utilizing limited service hotels which surround the convention center (with the exception of the Doubletree, which is still not considered a headquarter type hotel) was not an ideal option.
- Our contracted headquarters hotel, the Hilton, located in the downtown area, lacked appropriate suites normally utilized by our high-ranking board members.
- Airlift into Portland was another major concern in transferring 2,000 delegates from all parts of the states.
Based on these concerns and after consultation with the Executive Director and the Board of Directors, we canceled the Annual Meeting in Portland for September 2010. However, in an attempt to defray cancellation penalties, we contracted our smaller Leadership meeting in Portland for February 2011 thereby avoiding cancellation penalties and utilizing 1,000 rooms on peak night as opposed to 2,000 as required for our annual meeting.
While we realized a successful conference in 2011, our attendee evaluations voiced concerns about the spread-out hotel package (the bulk of our room block was at the Hilton and we obtained additional housing near the convention center). Our President was extremely dissatisfied with the suite accommodations at the Hilton (which are quite limited and not the quality in which we are accustomed). While utilizing the MAX was well-received by a number of delegates, several still voiced apprehensions about utilizing public transportation and utilizing public transportation in the evening hours. Our opening reception ended at 10pm one evening and I contacted the local taxi companies urging them to line up taxis at the Convention Center in order to transfer delegates back to their hotels.
Delegates viewed the downtown nightlife and variety of restaurants positively, but severely lacking near the convention center.
From a meeting planner perspective, I view the convention center in a positive light, good ballroom space as well as breakout space, plus exhibit hall accommodations. I do have concerns about the distance separating the two ballrooms, but overall, a good convention center product. A major appeal is the no sales tax on food/beverage. As an association that expends a good deal of dollars on food/beverage, the exclusion of sales tax is a huge incentive.
Where Portland lags in comparison to other destinations is the lack of a major headquarters hotel either connecting or adjacent to the convention center; lack of acceptable suite accommodations for VIP’s; a hotel package that is not so spread out; small hotel room blocks requiring planners to contract with numerous hotels.
In conclusion, Portland is an outstanding destination with many positive appeals including an exceptional airport, good convention center, a professional hospitality community, cost-effective hotel room rates, plus no tax on food/beverage. However, where it lags behind other destinations is the lack of a major anchor hotel at the convention center (over 600 rooms is critical). Focusing efforts in revitalizing the Lloyd District area is also vital. The area is in dire need of a variety of restaurants, nightlife, safe, walkable areas and building an anchor hotel in this area could provide the impetus for further area development which is critical in attracting meeting planners to consider the destination.
Free light rail for convention delegates continues to be a huge appeal, particularly, transferring from the airport to the downtown area.
I hope that my observations will persuade you to move forward with plans to develop the Lloyd District and further, to allow the building of a major convention center hotel. Without such, you will be detracting other meeting planners in considering Portland as an optimum convention destination.
Helen S. Pollard, CMP