Caterers suffer convention cancellations

December 29, 2008 10:21:53 PM PST
San Francisco's popularity as a convention and meeting city could find 2009 a challenging year. The recession has already caused organizers to cancel two conventions.

Three other conventions are in doubt. The two cancelled conventions are worth $47 million in spending, which were sponsored by Network Appliance and Cisco Systems. Now ABC7 is getting word that even caterers are seeing a drop-off in orders and that means an all-out effort to drum up new business.

Conventions are a big business generating millions of dollars in revenue for hotels, restaurants, and other ventures.

Let's use the Modern Language Association as an example. It has 9,000 college faculty and scholars in town this week. Its projected impact will be over $13.7 million.

While Moscone Center has lost two major conventions so far, the Convention and Visitors Bureau is trying to fill the breach with other association conventions.

"Those tend to continue to meet, even in a down economy. Whether they're medical groups, groups like that will continue to meet because of the necessity of their types of meetings, and we have a very large number of those for San Francisco," said Joe D'Alessandro, the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau president.

However, San Francisco will be up against other cities facing similar problems. Competing cities are anxious to win new convention business.

"We're already seeing it. I get calls and visits from representatives from the convention bureaus of different cities on a regular basis, and we're already seeing incentives for large conventions in the upcoming years," said Rosemary Feal, the Modern Language Association executive director.

The city's catering operations are also seeing an impact from the economic downturn.

Dan McCall's company handles some of the city's biggest conventions and events. He showed ABC7 photos of the Black and White Ball, the opening of the opera and symphony, and corporate events he has done through the years. However, his 2009 calendar indicates business is off 15 percent for the first three months of the year. And to keep a team of 150 full-time and 250 on-call staff working, McCall is expanding what he does. During busy times, he wouldn't do lunches.

"Now we do because it keeps that team working. We will take smaller parties than we were taking. We have also diversified and are opening several cafes and those will be in museums," said Dan McCall, the McCall Associates Founder.

Conventions are important because of the way they fill up hotel rooms in large numbers. However, the city's visitor industry is also worried about tourists and business travelers. During a recession, those numbers could drop too.


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