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Baltimore’s hotel bookings soar with convention growth

Charm City’s conventions tourism industry is growing steadily, according to numbers released Thursday that show fiscal year 2012 as Baltimore’s third-most-successful year for booking convention attendees’ hotel rooms in advance.

Baltimore hotels are in a comfortable position for the next several years, Visit Baltimore officials said, because sales teams wrapped up FY 2012 with 475,554 convention room nights confirmed for future years. That figure is 18,000 room nights higher than the number booked at the end of last fiscal year.

The city’s official tourism agency cited successful marketing techniques and expanded accommodations around the convention center as reasons behind the increased number of future bookings. The confirmed room nights represent an estimated economic impact of $353 million, according to officials.

Officials had originally received tentative inquires for about 1.5 million room nights from interested parties, said Thomas J. Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, which means their successful conversion rate was about 32 percent.

“I like to call it our batting average,” Noonan said, explaining that other competing convention cities, such as Philadelphia and Washington, average about 26 percent conversion. “So that means we’re being a little more strategic,” he said.

The Baltimore Convention Center will host 61 meetings and conventions in the upcoming years, representing 341,887 of the total room nights booked by FY 2012. Of these bookings, 66 percent take place in 2016 or later, which Noonan said ensures a strong base of future convention activity.

The rest of the advanced bookings — 133,667 room nights — were booked at other downtown hotels by groups planning to use meeting spaces other than the convention center. If a convention organizer books 50 rooms for attendees who all stay for two nights, that’s 100 room nights.

The Hilton Convention Center Hotel opened in 2008, fulfilling many organizers’ dreams of having such a facility attached to the Baltimore Convention Center. Noonan said the latest booking numbers illustrate the positive impact the $301million project has had — and will continue to have — on Baltimore’s economy.

“Now, we’re always on the hunt for convention groups that are two-, three-, four-thousand [people] because they fit here, and they fit here easily,” Noonan said. “Until the Hilton came on board, we didn’t have those big meeting rooms right next to the convention center. It made our city much more attractive.”

Thursday’s announcement follows Visit Baltimore’s unveiling earlier this week of a new mobile app that generates a virtual tour of the city. Officials say the app will assist sales representatives in selling Baltimore to meeting planners interested in holding conventions here because they can better visualize nearby attractions, travel routes and other details.