Hotel rooms booked for future years by convention or business groups declined nearly 8 percent in the past fiscal year, Baltimore's convention and tourism agency said Thursday.

Visit Baltimore said 457,051 rooms were booked for business conferences between next year and 2020, down from the 495,896 hotel room nights booked in fiscal 2010 for future years.

"It's still a fantastic year," said Tom Noonan, president and chief executive of Visit Baltimore, who announced the figure at the organization's annual business meeting.

Noonan said the fiscal 2011 hotel bookings were affected by several factors, including an industrywide trend among meeting planners to book fewer hotel rooms to avoid overbooking.

In addition, hotels are relying less on Visit Baltimore to provide in-house hotel bookings and sales leads than they did during the recession, Noonan said.

Visit Baltimore has been focusing on attracting citywide convention bookings, or sales to groups that might require several thousand rooms on peak nights. Using that measure, 301,074 citywide rooms were booked in fiscal 2011 for future years, down from a peak of 353,763 rooms in the previous fiscal year.

Noonan said Visit Baltimore has been turning away business averaging 200,000 hotel-night bookings annually, because either the convention center was too small to meet groups' needs or dates requested were already booked.

Noonan supports an expanded convention center and a new arena proposed for the Inner Harbor to help Baltimore compete against other cities that are expanding or building bigger facilities.

The proposal, recommended by the Greater Baltimore Committee, would more than double the ballroom, meeting and exhibit space in the convention center to 760,000 square feet. The upgrade would cost an estimated $900 million.

Rod Petrik, an analyst who covers hotel companies at Stifel Nicolaus, said the convention business is especially competitive along the East Coast, where several cities, including Washington, are expanding or building convention centers and hotels.

"A lot of these citywide conventions rotate, so you get those years where the stars and moons align and you have a really good year and next year it can be bad," Petrik said.

Signs are looking good for Baltimore, Noonan said, with Visit Baltimore meeting or exceeding booking targets for the next several years.

The group is booking at 99 percent of its target for next year and in 2013; at 103 percent for 2014; at 163 percent for 2015; and at 219 percent for 2016, Noonan said.

"We're far ahead of pace in 2016 and it looks like it's going to be a banner year," he said. "And same thing for 2014 and 2015 as well."

Visit Baltimore President and CEO Tom Noonan says the organization has been turning away business averaging 200,000 hotel-night bookings annually. An earlier version of this article stated a different number.

Hanah.cho@baltsun.com

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