Forecast missed on convention delegates

The Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre fell 24-percent short of an earlier estimate for nonresident delegates for the 2004-05 fiscal year. The earlier forecast, conducted by KMPG in 2000, was the justification for a $565-million expansion to VCEC.

Pavco, a provincial Crown corporation, reported in its recent annual report that VCEC hosted 146,484 nonresident delegate days in 2004-05. The KPMG report forecast 191,500 nonresident delegate days for the past fiscal year.

"When the initial planning for the Expansion of the Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre was completed in 2002, it was estimated that non-resident delegates would grow as indicated above," Pavco stated in its annual report. "Events of 2001 significantly reduced non-resident visitors to Vancouver, and although there has been a subsequent growth in attendance, levels have still not reached expectation."

VCEC spokesperson Rod Cameron told the Straight that the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks had an impact last year because conventions are booked years in advance. "So when people were feeling uncomfortable in 2001 and 2002, the effect was being dragged out," he said.

Last January, the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution published a study that questioned the wisdom of convention-centre expansions taking place across the United Statues. It stated that over the previous decade, public capital spending on convention centres doubled to US$2.4 billion annually, even though attendance at the 200 largest trade shows remained stuck at 1993 levels.

"The overall convention marketplace is declining in a manner that suggests that a recovery or turnaround is unlikely to yield much increased business for any given community, contrary to repeated industry projections," wrote the author of the study, Heywood Sanders, a professor of public administration at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

VCEC's Cameron, however, said there has been a "significant turnaround" in the pace of convention bookings this year in Vancouver. The VCEC expansion project will increase the amount of meeting, exhibition, ballroom, and theatre space from 133,000 square feet to 516,000 square feet. The expanded facility, which is on the Coal Harbour waterfront, will have a gross area of 1.1 million square feet, including parking, retail, and loading space.

It is expected to be completed in time to be used as an international broadcast centre for media attending the 2010 Winter Olympics.