Representatives from convention centers, labor unions and tourism authorities across the state are calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to provide a timeline and specific guidelines for reopening the state’s meeting and convention industry.
It’s a rare show of unity among convention centers and local tourism authorities that—under normal circumstances—would compete for business. They are now joining together in an effort to prevent the state from losing billions of dollars worth of economic activity spurred by meetings and conventions.
In a letter sent to the governor, officials from the California Travel Association, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, among others, said California could lose business to other states, a process they say is already underway.
“We need the governor to provide guidelines to signal to our customers that California will one day be open to hosting events,” Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said in a statement. “We want the jobs and revenue here in California, not other states.”
Tourism and hospitality play a massive role in the state and local economy. According to a 2019 report by Los Angeles-based market research firm Beacon Economics, the sector is the second largest source of employment in Long Beach, superseded only by health care, and supporting 18,562 jobs and creating an economic impact of $1.8 billion in the year prior to the pandemic.
For every month California is not open for business meetings and events, the state is losing $4.1 billion in economic activity, according to an Oxford Economics study cited in the coalition’s letter.
Although unusual, this is not the first time several convention centers across the state have banded together in order to make their plea to the governor during the ongoing public health crisis.
In June, labor groups and convention centers from San Diego to San Francisco laid out their suggestions for a reopening plan in a letter to Newsom, an effort they say received “no meaningful feedback from the administration.”
Meanwhile, the Long Beach convention center has been offering “blended events,” which consist of virtual offerings as well as limited in-person attendance, for example in the form of panel discussions, since October.
In addition, convention center sales staff has been busy rebooking existing clients for future dates and securing new bookings for the coming years. But without a reopening date in sight, this task is becoming increasingly difficult, according to Goodling.
“Every day I’m on the phone with someone trying to convince them to not cancel and take their business to another state,” he said.
In their letter, officials made it clear that they don’t expect the state to reopen for business travel and events immediately, but that a timeline was necessary to assure clients future conventions could be held in the state.
“We’re not asking Governor Newsom to open California to business meetings and events tomorrow, we’re asking for a plan today so we can safely hold events in the future,” Barb Newton, President and CEO of CalTravel said in the letter.