Catering to the Masses, Conventions and meetings in Albany

KK Snyder

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

While it isn’t Atlanta, Vegas or Chicago, Albany draws its fair share of convention business for a city of its size, and local efforts are being increased to shine an even brighter light on the area as a convention destination.

With 14 gatherings on the books for this month alone – counting only those assisted by the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACVB) – convention business in Albany is healthy and gaining momentum. From the Georgia Archeology Society to the Colonial Dames to Georgia Professional Photographers, groups come and go in the Good Life City, often unbeknownst to those who live here.

In 2009, 101 meetings and conventions were held here, the same number recorded for the year before. Government meetings, religious gatherings, class and family reunions, sports tournaments – all bring the masses to Albany, injecting the local economy with much-needed dollars. Such events generate millions for the local economy each year, estimates Lisa Riddle, director of the ACVB.

How such groups find their way to Albany differs, from events bid on by the ACVB – such as the massive Governor’s Conference - to meetings routinely held here every year. “A lot of times, (conventions and meetings) stem from something already associated here,” explained Riddle. “People here vie for the business.”

Another large-scale event coming to Albany this year is the Georgia Baptist Convention planned for November, with an estimated 2,500 attendees. Riddle encourages Albany area residents associated with various organizations to put in a good word for Albany as a future destination for the group’s annual meeting or convention.

“We’re trying to get the word out to people to work to bring events they are going to in other areas back here.”

Albany has a lot to offer convention-goers, Riddle said, making even this small town a tempting prospect for event planners. While they can’t go hands-on for every group, the ACVB can assist larger groups by serving as step-on guides for tours, suggesting activities for entertaining spouses who attend the events, but are not participating in meetings and providing welcome bags for groups booking Albany hotel rooms. In addition, the ACVB has a whole laundry list of souvenir items – from pencils to T-shirts - planners can purchase as giveaways for attendees.

“We have a lot to offer people as far as museums, the aquarium; we have so many different attractions that cater to different markets,” she said. “When (convention-goers) do have down time, we have something for them to do.”

And while convention business often rotates to different geographic areas around the country to give attendees a change of scenery from year to year, Albany also has a lot of return convention business, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who returned last year after an absence, hosting two Albany conventions this year. The group expects an average attendance of about 2,500 at each two-day event, Riddle said.

While not everyone seeks the assistance of the ACVB in planning their events, the staff there has much to offer organizers and the crowds they bring to town. Once a planner makes contact with the ACVB, they are sent an information packet, listing all event facilities and hotels in town, and what they have to offer with regard to space and meeting amenities. Information on local attractions and resources, from caterers to printers, is also provided.

Once a planner is interested, the ACVB can assist with securing room rates for the event. “We can send out bids to all hotels so one event planner doesn’t have to call all of them for room and event rates,” Riddle said, noting that the ACVB does not negotiate room rates for events, but merely serves as a one-stop-shop for that information gathering. They also conduct site tours for planners preparing for Albany events.

While larger metropolitan areas have already experienced the result of a downturn in hotel stays, Albany is behind the eight ball, said Riddle, and is just now feeling the effect of the loss a down economy has had on tourism and hotel stays.

The ACVB, though associated with the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, is an entirely separate entity and is funded solely through its 50 percent cut of the 7 percent hotel and motel tax collected when someone pays for one of Albany’s 2,200 hotel rooms. The other 50 percent goes to the City of Albany, said Riddle, who hopes to see an upturn in the economy soon.

“Everybody that comes here is blown away and says they didn’t know Albany has all we do,” she said. “I’ve never had anyone come here that didn’t want to come back.”

For more information about the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau, visit them online at .