Convention Planners to Convene in Salt Lake for ‘Super Bowl’ of Conventions

Salt Lake City – Salt Lake will be pulling out the stops in August in an all-out effort to impress a flood of association leaders who will be in town for the American Society of Association Executives’ (ASAE) Annual Meeting and Expo.

The meeting is a big deal for the city because the attendees are “decision makers in their organizations for where they hold meetings,” said John Graham, president and CEO of ASAE. The group provides education, networking and advocacy for association executives, who come from associations from every industry imaginable.

According to Graham, ASAE has 10,000 different organizations represented in its membership.

“There is an association for everything,” he said. ASAE anticipates more than 5,000 people will attend its annual meeting in Salt Lake.

Based on registration data, said Graham, about 85 percent of the attendees either have never been to Salt Lake or haven’t been here in the past 15 years. And if past results are any indication, 20 percent of them will book a meeting or event in Salt Lake within five to 10 years of the ASAE convention in Salt Lake.

That would add up to an economic impact of $500 million, said Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake, making the decision to bid for the convention a “no-brainer.”

And Salt Lake intends to make a big impression on the ASAE attendees. The convention will kick off with a networking party at Library Square, co-produced by Visit Salt Lake, Utah’s Own and the Utah Office of Tourism. The party will be a “celebration of all things Utah,” said Beck, featuring “events, activities and food and beverage that reflect everything from Beehive Cheese to Squatters beer.”

The evening will be devoted to facilitating networking for the ASAE members, who Graham describes as consummate networkers. To that end, the entertainment will be a visually stunning performance by Bandaloop, a classically trained dance group that will perform on the side of the library building with the aid of rappel gear. The performance, which will take place three times throughout the night, is engaging enough to take your breath away—but not if you want to continue networking.

“Sunday night is an open night,” said Beck. “It’s a night for the community to show off.”

Various companies and groups will be wining and dining ASAE members throughout the city. Visit Salt Lake is aware of at least 70 gatherings taking place in venues like Pallet and Valters.

“All of these places are reserved by people who are entertaining clients,” said Beck.

The next night, The Grand America will be transformed into a cinematic celebration as it hosts a “Night with the Sundance Festival.” The event serves as the annual fundraiser for ASAE, and The Grand will screen eight movies that premiered at the Sundance Festival over the years. Other activities and food will play off the movies—for example, Rico’s Catering will be serving tater tots in honor of Napoleon Dynamite.

On closing night, attendees will attend an exclusive Neon Trees concert at Red Butte Garden. Beck said the local band with global fame will represent the city well.

“I think they’re going to be good ambassadors,” he said. “There’s a diversity there that’s very unique. There’s a little edgier tone to them that will think will be unexpectedly fun.”

All of these activities and gatherings are designed to show the convention attendees a good time—and help Salt Lake City make a big splash.

“For our attendees, what they’re looking at is ‘Do I see my meeting here? And if I did have it here, what would it look like and what would I be doing?'” said Graham. “So being exposed to all these various venues is as educational as it is fun, because then they see the opportunities to do something like that for their own group.”

Beck added, “The ability of the destination to showcase itself is as high as with any other meeting that I can think of because it’s such an important part of their experience.”

The ASAE meeting has been referred to as the “Super Bowl of Conventions.” Beck said the city being awarded the meeting validates Salt Lake as a strong, second-tier city with the capability to host this kind of elaborate gathering.

Previous host cities include Detroit, Nashville, Atlanta and Dallas. In 2017, the meeting will be held in Toronto. Being included in that list elevates the stature of Salt Lake, said Beck, who compared it to being invited to sit at the grownups’ table at Thanksgiving.

“We have a few perceptions about Utah that still make the decision to come here a little harder than for most destinations,” he said. “So what we’re excited is for people to see how easy it is to do business here.”

“We know people don’t think they can get a drink. They’re going to get a drink,” he added.

The ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo will be held August 13-16 at the Salt Palace Convention Center.