Doggett plans revival of convention industry

Leslie R. Doggett plans to do something this year that the city's convention bureau has never done before.

She will sit down with officials at the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts and create a "Top 10" list - a wish list of events and groups that the city would like to entertain over the next five years.


"I'd like to see us come up with some signature events to really brand the city," said Doggett, who became president and chief executive of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association last summer. "These are ways to make Baltimore top of mind, to highlight the city and to get people who come in, to help sell the city. There's a cost associated with getting these things, but with a list we'll be more strategic."

After months on the job, Doggett - and the city's tourism industry - face a large challenge in 2004: getting the local convention industry back on track after a troubled period that included inflated data, a falloff in conventions and the dismissal of Carroll R. Armstrong, the longtime president of BACVA.


Doggett, a tourism official in New York City under then-Mayor David N. Dinkins and in the Clinton administration, may seek to be a more visible face of tourism in the region, attempting to broaden the organization's influence. BACVA also faces challenges brought on by a decline in business travel that has increased competition with a glut of convention space in many cities across the country.

Doggett cites the Army-Navy football game as an example of a signature event, one to which Baltimore played host in 2000 and is due to do so again in 2007. "You can showcase your city to the world," she said.

But the Top-10 list probably also would include high profile groups of meeting planners whose impressions of a place can influence meetings around the country for years to come.

"We both agree that the city could use a couple really high-profile events similar to the Volvo [Ocean Race] that we could use to sell around and then in branding," said Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts. The promotion office's mission is to attract visitors through special events and arts and cultural events, compared with BACVA's role of attracting conventions and leisure travelers. "It just adds to the cachet of a city. And [the events] are out there."

"It's wonderful to have the head of a [convention and visitors bureau] who understands the fact that arts and events equal economic impact," Gilmore said of Doggett. "Her background and experience have given her a tremendous understanding of what we do. She gets it."

Doggett recently instituted an "ambassadors program," for which she enlisted area business leaders to help clinch meetings for Baltimore at the board of directors level where decisions about destinations are made. About 30 volunteers from area businesses have helped deliver nine solid leads, she said.

"It's part of team Baltimore," she said. "They can open doors that we would have a hard time opening. That gives us some competitive edge."

She plans to focus on the religious, medical and African-American markets, areas in which the bureau has made inroads. Part of the challenge for the year will be determining how to measure success in an uncertain economy, given the significant changes in corporate travel habits.


"Success may mean you hold your market share even though the market may be shrinking," she said. "It may mean it grows. It's so fragile. It's hard for me to say."

Doggett intends for BACVA to take a more active role in planning the city's future than the organization has in recent years.

"I want us to be seen as a serious player - to be at the table when those discussions are going on," she said. "I think convention and visitor bureaus are in a shift. They used to be seen as merely marketing and independent from public policy, so there's a disconnect between the plan for the city and how it's marketed."



Baltimore opens expanded convention center at a cost of $151 million, with three times the exhibit space of the original building.



Carroll R. Armstrong, president and chief executive officer of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, resigns after seven years following a critical evaluation.


Armstrong's successor, Leslie R. Doggett, plans to have BACVA take a more active role in planning for the city's future.