Beyond Shriners, Daytona’s Ocean Center on the Rise

April 29, 2017

DAYTONA BEACH – When it comes to area conventions in 2017, this summer’s Imperial Session of the Shriners International is the event dominating the attention of hoteliers, tourism and civic leaders.

At the county-run Ocean Center convention complex, however, the Shriners visit July 9-13 is just one piece of a busy year that already has outpaced the event total of fiscal 2015-16, according to Angela Daniels, the Ocean Center’s marketing and event services director.

For the current year, the convention center has booked 117 definite events to-date, surpassing 2016’s 12-month total of 108, Daniels reported in a presentation to the Tourism Development Council last week. Definite rental revenue to-date in 2017 is $955,625, approaching the 2016 12-month total of $1,003,675, Daniels said.

“They are doing a fantastic job,” said Bob Davis, president of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County. “They have a great crew working to bring business to the Ocean Center. They have proven themselves through thick and thin.”

Lori Campbell Baker, executive director of the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, added that the Ocean Center is funded by county bed-taxes collected on area hotels, lodges and campgrounds.

The county collects that 6 percent tourism tax with half of the revenues going to fund the Ocean Center. The other half goes to the county’s three tourism ad authorities to market their respective areas — the Daytona Beach/Halifax area, Southwest Volusia and West Volusia — as destinations for tourists and special events.

“The point I like to make is that, while once upon a time the Ocean Center used money from the general fund — only up to the amount which was generated by the sales tax the venue generated — that is no longer necessary,” Baker said by email. “The center is now funded by the bed taxes that local accommodations collect and remit — many of those dollars, of course, being generated by the Ocean Center itself and its many events.”

Daniels attributed the business growth to expanding the focus of potential events to include more emphasis on associations and third-party event planners.

“Our sales managers have focused on business that for various reasons maybe we haven’t focused on in the past,” Daniels said in a phone interview this week. “At the same time, our branding has improved for the Ocean Center.

“Most people know where we are and that has been because of what we’ve done over the years to put our name out there in publications and E-blasts. We go to quite a bit of (travel) shows where we’re one of the few convention centers there. That means a lot when you can stand out and you’re aggressive.”

Daniels also reported that the Ocean Center’s arena and exhibit hall are operating at 53 percent occupancy through the second quarter of 2017, a figure that sounds low compared with the hotel industry, but represents good performance in the convention business, she said.

Conventions generally don’t favor scheduling events during holidays, and a lack of available rooms during special events such as Bike Week tends to eliminate those periods from consideration, she said.

“We have only so many dates that we can work with,” Daniels said. “For hotels, holidays are big, but a convention is not going to book a conference around Thanksgiving or other holidays when people want to be with their families. So it’s a little bit different for us.”

So far this year, the Ocean Center has 86 contracts returned, compared with last year’s 12-month total of 125, Daniels said. “So we’re definitely going to surpass that number,” she said.

That business includes more than a dozen new events, such as the Ferrari Dealers annual meeting in December, tied to the Ferrari World Finals’ first-ever event at Daytona International Speedway.

“They did their dealer meeting in our building, in the exhibit hall, and it was very upscale,” Daniels said. “Their production number was very high. They didn’t spare any cost.”

Looking ahead, the Ocean Center sales staff will focus on developing the interest of national and regional associations, in realms ranging from business to education, as well as third-party meeting planners, Daniels said.

“We try to do planner events in Washington D.C., as many as we can there,” Daniels said, “also, in Chicago, to get in front of those planners and develop a relationship.”

There’s already an association area familiarization tour scheduled for early May, Daniels said. Additionally, a similar visit by third-party meeting planners is being organized for the fall, she said.

“We try to do smaller groups,” Daniels said. “It’s easier to handle because we like to showcase the entire area, that could include Intracoastal (Waterway) tours, the Speedway, our building and the airport. These are mostly planners who have never been to our destination, so it’s great to showcase our area to those first-time visitors.”

In addition, the Ocean Center has revived two marketing strategies to generate business closer to home:
In June, the convention center will start “Chef’s Table,” monthly catered lunches at the Ocean Center to introduce area businesses and residents to what the convention center offers.

That dovetails with the “Bring a Meeting Home” initiative to encourage area residents involved in organizations to consider pitching the Ocean Center as a convention destination.

“Let us know the contacts and we will contact the planner,” Daniels said of the plan, to be promoted with a direct-mail push. “We’re trying to bring those conventions in other destinations to our backyard.”

As incentive, the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County would be willing to offer complimentary hotel stays to local residents who generate new convention business through the program, Davis said.

“The Lodging Association stands by its initial offer to provide a 2-day, 3-night gift certificate to anyone who brings a group of 50 rooms or more,” Davis said. “There are all kinds of organizations in this town. All you need to do is let them know that we’re in the market, a great new product on the avenue to sustain whatever they bring in.”

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