Rooms to Grow

Like it or not, a Salt Lake Convention Hotel is in the Works

By Peri Kinder | Illustration by Mike Bohman

May 8, 2014

Darrell Denny, senior vice president at Emerald Expositions, says the outdoor industry prefers to be in an environment that is amenable to the recreation opportunities it endorses, and Salt Lake certainly fits that description. When the show’s in town, it occupies at least 80 percent of the hotel room inventory. Additionally, several hundred people associated with the event have developed relationships with local residents, staying in private homes during the convention.

 While organizers love many things about the city, including the cleanliness, safety and amiability, concerns like limited hotel space, lack of taxis in the city and misperceptions relating to the state’s image are something to consider when deciding future locations for the event.

“One of the things inordinately unique about doing things in Salt Lake is that everywhere you go, there are banners welcoming back Outdoor Retailer. You gain a degree of intimacy in the city that you can’t gain in a bigger area,” Denny says. “We must be a good steward for the industry and be in the right environment from a business standpoint. But we might be willing to forgo better financial performance if it means we have the right event in the right place at the right time.”

Because there is no convention hotel near the Salt Palace, and no way to concentrate delegates in an organized, cohesive manner, Denny worries the city is missing out on some big events. On the plus side, the fees companies pay at the Salt Palace are much lower compared to other venues—as much as 49 percent less compared to Las Vegas.

Denny says the friendly-factor in the city is superb. When a tornado touched down in Salt Lake, destroying a temporary pavilion set up for the 1999 Outdoor Retailer event and killing one worker and injuring dozens of people, organizers were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the community that he says wouldn’t be seen anywhere else in the country. He thinks with the right property, convention planners will flock to Salt Lake.

“The state is a little enigmatic for those who haven’t been to Utah before. Outdoor Retailer has probably prepared the city to be a good host to a lot of people.”

Beck acknowledges the Outdoor Retailer trade show helped the city see a meteoric rise in conventions, but says you don’t build a convention hotel for one event. Salt Lake continues to lose conventions to competitive markets, and attracting associations with at least 8,000 delegates is becoming more difficult.

“This hotel is going to say to convention planners that Hyatt, or the Marriott, or the Westin believe it’s a strong enough market that they want to be here,” Beck says.  

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