For San Jose, California, technology meetings had been a golden goose. According to Matthew Martinucci, vice president of sales and destination services, Visit San Jose, six major annual events had been responsible for 35%-40% of the revenue at the city’s convention center, which is operated by his agency.
Not only did tech companies hold very large events, but many of those conclaves were nationally and internationally publicized -- important for putting San Jose on the map and for the city from a branding standpoint. Conference organizers would highlight the destination by wrapping city buses, branding entire buildings and so forth – and since the city is fairly small, a meeting could “own” it for a week.
Then came the pandemic. While much of the country’s meeting industry has recovered nicely, the Bay Area as a whole has lagged, partially because for better or worse it had locked down longer and harder than elsewhere. “Everything was so easy for long,” said Martinucci, “but now we have to look at our business model differently.”
While the city believes tech events will return at some point -- maybe not as lavishly as before -- officials couldn’t afford to stand still and wait. Consequently, Visit San Jose took a “mosaic” approach, “looking at different pieces in varying shapes and colors that all together can make for a beautiful picture,” said Martinucci.
One piece was groups that might be light on driving revenue but were reliable in booking room nights. That would include state and national associations. “They always show up,” said Martinucci, “often because it’s a part of their business model to make money from conferences.”
There were other “pieces.” One is sports events. While the city has long hosted those, it had never reached out to the youth sports market, which turns out to be a huge and accessible segment that lends itself to repeat business as well.
While these “pieces were great for economic impact,” said Martinucci, “they were not so great for the convention center itself.” So his agency looked beyond tech to pharma, bio sciences, medical devices – all present in the Silicon Valley.
In addition, the way the convention center is laid out, it’s easy to have more than one group in the building at the same time, so the bureau is being more proactive about seeking out groups that might take just a part of the facility. And when a group is not big enough for the convention center, said Martinucci, “We are happy to help them find a hotel with meeting space.”
Of course, no group of any kind will choose a city unless it has innate appeal for delegates. Martinucci said San Jose has a great visitor appeal story to tell, with a busy cultural and performing arts scene, including four theaters directly across the street from the convention center.
San Jose is making other moves to get its brand into the marketplace – like a recently signed contract for branded clothing. The city is launching initiatives like funding local artists to create murals; and offering pre-paid debit cards to attendees where spending is restricted to the city limits.
“We like to call ourselves the heart of the Bay Area,” said Martinucci, “because of our central location. While we are known as the capital of Silicon Valley, we don’t want to have a one-dimensional message. We love when the tech people come -- and will be very happy when they come back. But meanwhile, there are a lot of other opportunities out there.”