How Seattle Is Getting Its Meetings Mojo Back

By Kelsey Ogletree, May 20, 2016

In the seven years Tom Norwalk has served as president and CEO of Visit Seattle, he’s helped create a funding mechanism that’s doubled the CVB’s budget, allowing him and his team to develop creative new ways to drive sales. By eliminating reliance on dollars from the city, Norwalk says he hopes Visit Seattle will be perceived as a service-oriented resource that will do “whatever it takes” to meet planners’ expectations. He shares six insights on how the city is ramping up its meetings mojo and speaks candidly about one of its notorious problems.

On winning back lost business:

“Every year, on average, we’ll do about 45 national citywides. We track the turn-away business, and over the last five years, we’ve turned away more than 300 groups—valued at $1.5 billion—primarily because we couldn’t find dates they wanted. We’re building a second convention center [slated for groundbreaking in 2017] in hopes we can salvage the 20 to 30 meetings per year we currently have to turn down. With the beauty of our city, its location and walkability, over 60 percent of our groups are repeat. But new business is really important. We think they’ll come back once we get them.”

On increasing global street cred:

“International business demand and new interest in Seattle as an international gateway city, especially from Asia, has been off the charts. Sea-Tac Airport is among the fastest-growing major airports in the country. Delta decided several years ago to invest and build its Asia-Pacific hub in Seattle, and in the last three years its availability of seats has increased more than 100 percent. It’s also added flights to Hong Kong; Seoul, South Korea; Shanghai; and Europe. International attendance at conventions is growing, though it has always been good.”

On the city’s homelessness problem:

“In all honesty, it’s a serious issue for a lot of cities. It seems to be a West Coast thing. We’ve been actively trying to fix it for the last five years. We created a communications program called ‘See It, Send It,’ where we encourage people to send comments or pictures of things that just don’t look great to elected officials.

We’ve been at the table trying to alleviate concern about word of mouth and reputation, but how do we become part of a solution? We’re still working on that.”

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