BROWARD WOOS BIG-MONEY CONVENTION
December 14, 2012 | By Doreen Hemlock | Sun Sentinel
Broward County's push to attract more black tourism is paying off: The civil rights group National Urban League is expected to hold its annual conference in Fort Lauderdale for the first time in 2015, tourism officials said Thursday.
“The conference could bring more than 10,000 people and $8 million in economic impact to the area — just as it is forecast to bring to the host city of Philadelphia next year,” League President Marc Morial has said.
And that's without counting all the media coverage of the event that typically lures speakers from the White House, Congress and corporate America, as attendees help set the country's black urban agenda.
"The media exposure is going to be incredible for our market," said Albert Tucker, who heads up multicultural marketing for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"When CNN is here talking about Fort Lauderdale, people will say: 'If the Urban League can go there, then we can go.' It really opens up a multitude of doors for other organizations to come."
The news comes as Broward boosts tourism marketing to black groups, partly to make up for the recent loss of a big annual medical convention. The ARVO eye-doctor group left the county after 18 years, seeking a bigger space with a convention-center hotel for its 12,000 attendees yearly.
To help compensate, the tourism bureau has wooed the National Association of Black Accountants to hold its annual convention in Fort Lauderdale in 2016. That group, which first held its convention in Broward in 2006, has booked more than 5,000 room nights so far for its 2016 meeting, officials said.
Helping Broward lure black groups is an active community of residents of African, Caribbean and Latin-American descent. Many national groups decide on sites for conferences based on efforts by local affiliates.
The Urban League convention is linked to its high-profile Broward affiliate, led by Dr. Germaine Smith-Baugh, said Tucker. For three years, Fort Lauderdale has been hosting the league's midwinter meeting of national staff and chief executives of affiliates, with about 100 people attending annually. Smith-Baugh and Tucker, who serves on the local league's board, helped organize community activities for attendees. Broward's tourism bureau also hosted a reception for the executives yearly.
That partnership helped convince the league to consider the 2015 convention in Broward: "Our big asset is that we have great outreach to the community that they serve," said Tucker.
In hosting black groups, Tucker said the bureau works to involve local black businesses and groups, some in Fort Lauderdale's historically black Sistrunk Boulevard. That link can spark investment.
A case in point: The American Tennis Association, a black group, held a tennis history and art exhibit along Sistrunk this summer as part of its annual National Championships and Conference. Now, the group is considering making Broward its permanent home and headquarters for a Black Tennis Hall of Fame, the bureau said.
Tucker long has handled multicultural tourism marketing for Broward, but about two years ago, the bureau added two sales staff to help him target more black and Latino visitors: "When you have a team working on it, instead of an individual, it really increases your chances of success," said Tucker.
He figures multicultural visitors now make up more than 10 percent of Broward tourism, easily double the levels several years ago. Greater Fort Lauderdale reported record tourism for the year ended Sept. 30, hosting a total 12 million overnight visitors who spent $9.8 billion in the county.