The advent of the Convention Center has become a paradox to some of D.C.'s bigger hotels: Although the center has brought promises of large shows guaranteeing higher occupancies, it also has robbed several big hotels of some convention business that was theirs in the past.
One of the hotels most likely to be in competition with the center is the Sheraton Washington Hotel. "It won't be head-to-head competition, but sure enough there are going to be cases when the center and us might be going after the same group," said Penny Cummings, public relations director for the Sheraton Washington.
With 1,505 rooms, the Sheraton is the largest hotel in the District. Cummings said she feels that the groups that "want to stay in a building where everything is under one roof" would choose to hold a convention outside of the center.
Charles Banner, managing director of the neighboring Shoreham, doesn't expect to be competing with the center, he said, because it will be attracting conventions too large to be accommodated by the Shoreham. "We wouldn't be competing with them because we don't have nearly the exhibit space they do," he said.
However, the Convention Center is gaining business from smaller groups that usually conduct their meetings in the area hotels but were unable to book space this year. Pepco held its 800-delegate annual stockholder's meeting at the center because it couldn't get guaranteed advanced booking from any District hotel. Carol McCall, Pepco's media representative, said that in the past her company's meetings have been in the Hyatt Regency, Four Seasons, Sheraton Washington or the Shoreham hotels.
In the case of Andrew Rice, president of the International Development Conference, it wasn't a matter of the Convention Center stealing his show. The center was the last resort.
"For some reason, this year none of them could accommodate us," he said, referring to the Shoreham, Mayflower, Capital Hilton and Sheraton Washington which had provided sites for previous conferences.
Rice's problems stem from the fact that his conference in mid-May fell during the peak period for tourism in Washington.
Rice said he can recall a time when the major hotels would provide the meeting space for free, asking only that the group stay at the hotel.
But even though the conference was at the Convention Center, several area hotels benefitted from the lodging his conventioneers needed.
In fact, many of these large hotels have more to gain than to lose from the Convention Center. Guttenberg Expositions, with its expected 30,000 attendance, will be bringing in many out-of-towners that otherwise would have never been here.
David Jacobson, president of Guttenberg Expositions, said, "We've been on the West Coast for 11 years, and this is the first year we have done it out East."
Jacobson, whose print show is the largest of its kind, originally planned to have his show at the old New York Coliseum but "they wanted too much money--they wanted four to five times more than what I'm paying here" at the Washington Convention Center.
Jacobson also had considered holding the event at Baltimore's Harborplace, but he said it was too small. "It's a quarter of the size of the Washington center." Baltimore's Harborplace has 100,000 square feet of usable space while the D.C. Center has 300,000 to 400,000 feet available, he said.
His group already has booked 2,500 rooms, but he says that's an early figure and expects many more rooms to be booked as the show's Oct. 20-23 dates draw near. He has booked 500 rooms each in the Capitol Hill Hyatt and the Mayflower along with seven other hotels near the center.
Scotti Korp, entertainment coordinator for Travelfest, said this year was the first the group has been able to hold a Travelfest in Washington because the center affords adequate space.
The area hotels lost the the Federal Bar Association Conference to the center this year. A spokesman for the bar association said the center provided lousy service. "The telephone system was an outrage, it's hard to get them to respond quickly, the food was cold . . . .with the hotels, they're far more reasonable." Next March the Federal Bar Association plans to hold its conference at the Capitol Hilton.