Convention Bureau sees more business, despite loss of biggest event

Convention Bureau sees more business, despite loss of biggest event »Play Video
TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- We reported last year that the annual Jehovah's Witness convention, along with the almost $10 million in revenue, won't be coming to Tri-Cities this summer.

The Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau is hard at work trying to offset the loss by bringing in new groups. They've made a dent in scheduling out those weekends, but they're only halfway there.

Kyle Chism is a manager at Kimo's off Columbia Center Boulevard.
The already popular spot gets a much needed boost come July, when more than 16,000 people flood into Kennewick.

"We see a lot of influx down here, especially because we do so much with the Americans right up at the Toyota Center. A lot of business is driven down here," he says.

Three weekends spanning July and August account for almost $10 million pumped into the local economy. So when Kyle got the news that the Jehovah's Witnesses had summer plans that didn't include Tri-Cities, he got a little worried.

"Those are going to be definitely weekends that wish we could have back. Business will probably be cut in half, just because there's a lot of people that come in for that three-week span," he says.

Reps at the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau have spent the last year trying make up that loss. With just five months to go, they're only halfway.

"That 16,500, we've been able to cut that by 8,000," says CEO Kris Watkins.

The good news is that the open weekends have allowed them to bring in new business. A Washington State Republicans convention in June will bring in 2,000 people. A Premier soccer tournament in August is expected to attract more than 4,000. And 2,500 people are expected for a BMX event in September.

When all is said and done, the new business has the bureau seeing more people slated to visit Tri-Cities than in previous years - including those with the Jehovah's Witness convention.

"We're 10,000 ahead of where we were last year. We've got business on the books until 2019," Watkins says.

It's a good sign for our local economy, despite the initial bad news.

Officials say they anticipate the Jehovah's Witness convention will return in 2015.

The convention bureau says they've been able to fill most of the summer with smaller events in addition to the large ones we mentioned.