DAYTONA BEACH - Anticipated to be the largest convention ever held in Daytona Beach, advance hotel room bookings for the 2017 Shriners International gathering at the Ocean Center is already exceeding expectations, organizers say.
"We are ahead of average room nights from recent conventions for two years out of the event, and I think the destination plays into that," said Gary Bergenske, the Orlando businessman who is slated to be installed as the Shriners International's imperial potentate at convention set to be held here less than two years from now.
The convention, which will be held in July 9-13, 2017 initially had been projected to attract 17,000 visitors to Daytona Beach, but that estimate now has been increased to 20,000, according to Daytona Area Convention and Visitors Bureau officials. Two of the event's three official host hotels - the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort and The Plaza Resort and Spa in Daytona Beach - already are sold out, as well as six of 25 overflow hotels, Bergenske said.
The third host hotel is The Shores Resort and Spa in Daytona Beach Shores.
In all, 10,000 room nights already have been booked for the convention, Bergenske said.
Because of the beach, more Shriners will approach this year's convention as a potential family vacation opportunity, he said.
"We have 1,150 rooms in overflow hotels that are booked already for an average stay of four nights," he said. "At the headquarter hotels, we have about 1,100 rooms there. Those people stay an average of five nights. For the most part, it's couples and some will have kids or grandkids with them."
The convention is expected to pack the 322-room Plaza Resort and Spa, said Don Bosworth, the resort's marketing director.
"They will fill our hotel for four nights, possibly five, and that's a beautiful thing," Bosworth said. "It's also a beautiful thing because much of the convention happens during the week, which is a softer period for the hotel. We do much better on the weekends in the summer than we do during the week."
The prospect of the Shriner influx is reason for optimism.
"History from other cities tells us that this is a great piece of business at a solid summertime rate," Paige Koerbel, area managing director of the 744-room Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront, said by email.
Shriner officials expect some attendees to arrive ahead of the convention to attend the Coke Zero 400 NASCAR race at Daytona International Speedway on Fourth of July weekend.
"We've had some comments about Daytona being a smaller city than we usually go to," Bergenske said. "People wondering, 'Will there be as many activities?' As we've worked on this, we've learned that because the destination is a vacation spot there are actually many more things to do than we're used to. That will all play into more people coming, we believe."
LOCALS PROMOTE EVENT
The area's attributes were touted by a group of Volusia County officials who visited the Shriners' 2015 convention last month in Houston, Texas.
In the contingent were Tom Caradonio, executive director of the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau; Linda McMahon, CVB group sales director; Lynn Miles, CVB group sales manager; Angela Daniels, Ocean Center marketing director; and Lori Hunter, Ocean Center sales manager.
Volusia County, which owns and operates the beachside Ocean Center convention complex, spent $4,073.75 to send Daniels and Hunter for the week-long convention, county spokesman Dave Byron said. CVB officials didn't provide cost figures for the trip but did say that expenses included $21,000 for a reception for 500 delegates representing the Shriners' 196 chapters worldwide.
The Houston trip was part of an overall budget of $225,000 to plan, market and execute the 2017 and 2018 conventions, Caradonio said.
"Our purpose of being there was to sell rooms and it was accomplished," Caradonio said. "We sold 4,400 rooms and we're almost a third of the way to selling all the rooms we need to accommodate the Shriners' 15,000 visitors."
Bergenske said Volusia officials were a hit at the convention's marketplace, a trade-show-style event, and elsewhere at the Houston gathering.
"The group that came from Volusia County did an outstanding job both in their preparation and the execution of the events they sponsored," Bergenske said. "The Convention & Visitors Bureau, the county and city are assisting us in a big way to promote this as a destination, a place where you'd want to bring your families."
In Daytona Beach, the Shriners will incorporate the beach into their activities. The traditional parade will travel from Volusia County Lifeguard Headquarters, 515 S. Atlantic Ave., to the Ocean Center and will be followed by fireworks, Bergenske said.
"We're working to figure out a great way to use the Bandshell and that area on the beach," he said. "We want to use that as major gathering area in the evenings."
The Shriners are scheduled to return to Daytona Beach for their 2018 convention, the first time in over 60 years that the organization has visited the same city in consecutive years, Bergenske said. In recent years, the event has been hosted by Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Denver, Colorado.