Conferences ring the register for host of businesses

'Retailers said they wanted an AKA event every weekend.'

When the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, a college-founded service organization, recently held an annual meeting in Providence, locals had only to venture downtown to know its impact. More

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Conferences ring the register for host of businesses

'Retailers said they wanted an AKA event every weekend.'

Posted 5/14/12

When the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, a college-founded service organization, recently held an annual meeting in Providence, locals had only to venture downtown to know its impact.

Some 2,600 members – roughly 10 percent of AKA’s worldwide membership garnered over its century-plus existence – descended on the city in April for its 81st North Atlantic Regional Conference, staying in local hotels, dining in regional restaurants and hosting various events – some attended by the public – over four days, mostly while clad in their sorority letters and colors.

AKA officials say attendees left richer from the experience. Providence waved goodbye with something in its pocket, too: the $3 million conference-goers were expected to spend here.

“We know economically, we gave the city a boost,” said Lettita Harris, president of AKA’s Psi Omega chapter in Boston, Mass. “Cab services, restaurants, the mall … they should have seen an influx of visitors throughout our stay.”

In the most recent data available, for 2010, group meetings and conventions contributed an estimated $90 million in spending according to the Providence-Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“That’s only for groups that we’re involved with,” said Martha Sheridan, PWCVB president and CEO. There are other meetings that book directly with hotels.

The R.I. Economic Development Corporation reported last week that tourism – travel into the state for work or leisure – generates $5.2 billion in economic activity per year, while employing 41,000 people.

“The Economic Significance of Meetings to the U.S. Economy,” a study published in 2011 by the Convention Industry Council – a member organization for the meetings and events industry in Virginia – found that the industry annually contributes $263 billion in spending and is directly responsible for 1.7 million jobs nationwide.

It’s easy to understand that numbers like those are a good thing and that tourism then is vital to the nation’s economy.

But how it all boils down to better business at the storefront level isn’t always easily translated.

AKA, which brought in addition to attendees roughly 160 exhibitors, booked 3,000 nights of room stays at six hotels, including the Providence Biltmore Hotel on Dorrance Street in Providence, which benefits, like many others, from its walking-distance location to the R.I. Convention Center and other downtown attractions.

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