Like any good fisherman, Rick Davis waited patiently for nibbles - watching his prey swim past and deciding the best moment to dangle his bait and set the hook.
But Davis was fishing for something unusual - conventions for Salt Lake County. And he was doing it in the richest waters possible: Washington, where virtually every large national association that holds conventions has an office to be near and lobby Congress.Davis did his fishing pretty much like the other salesmen for the 185 cities from 47 states and 17 countries at the recent annual Destination Showcase.
He stood with a smile and a pile of brochures as bait in front of a booth while convention planners swarmed for information between their stops for the free food and drawings for cars, big-screen TVs and Super Bowl trips that helped lure them to a posh hotel.
Davis, the president of the Salt Lake County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said his fishing was good Thursday.
"We expect 60 to 70 people to stop by today. About 20 will seriously be interested in Salt Lake. About half of them will eventually book with us."
The trick to really set the hook, Davis said, is to convince them to visit Salt Lake City through a free familiarization trip where airlines pay for travel, local hotels provide free rooms, and restaurants provide free or low-cost meals.
"When people actually see Salt Lake, they book," Davis said. "We're not a glamorous destination in most people's minds. We have to educate them about what we can offer."
And as convention planners filed past, Davis found they had many misconceptions about the state that needed correcting.
"The most common question is, `Can I get a drink in Utah?' They say, `I was there 20 years ago and couldn't,' " Davis said.
He adds that Salt Lake County has some problems with the larger conventions because the Salt Palace is considered out-of-date by their planners.
"It is smaller than most convention centers. . .. The walls are cinder block, and rooms in more modern convention centers look pretty much like the nicer ones in hotels," Davis said.
"We also have a problem because we don't have a large ballroom. Many conventions want to have 2,000 or 3,000 people at a dinner, but the largest ballroom we have is for 1,100 at Little America," he said, adding that the Legislature and other local governments are considering remodeling the Salt Palace to solve some of those problems.
Despite such problems, Davis was finding a steady stream of interested convention planners.
An electricians' union had stopped by saying it was interested in Utah because it wanted to introduce some people to a right-to-work state, and wanted to possibly do some labor organizing while there.
A computer services organization passed by and dropped off a list of what its convention requirements would be, and wanted to know if Salt Lake City could meet them.
At the booth next door, Kathy Murray, sales director for the Park City Convention and Visitors Bureau, was also fishing for conventions.
A convention planner for a medical group told her "he had been to Park City skiing and wanted to know what there was to do there in the summer because he was interested in taking his group there then."
That was music to Murray's ears, because she would especially like to book more summer conventions. "Park City is already known for winter and skiing. So we promote summer resort activities."
She reported that her fishing for conventions was also good - expecting 50 people or so to stop and express interest. But she said she is going after smaller fish than the Salt Lake salesmen next to her.
"We go after meetings of just a few hundred people. That's all we can handle because we don't have anything like the Salt Palace," she said.