Is selecting a site to hold a convention or a meeting similar to selecting a new car?

Richard Gilliland, vice president of sales and marketing for the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau, believes it is. "Just like some people like to kick the tires in a showroom, people selecting a site for a meeting want to look at the city," Gilliland said.That's why last week and this week, the bureau is sponsoring familiarization tours for people representing 17 major corporations and 12 national associations. Of the 27 contacts, three are definitely coming to Salt Lake City, one is tentative and the remaining 23 are good prospects, Gilliland said.

He said the 27 major corporations and national associations have the potential to book 78,473 room-nights and bring 50,000 people to the area. If each of those people spent $477, the economic impact could be $23.8 million.

Last week's familiarization tour consisted of corporate meeting planners from such companies as U.S. Sprint, PIP, AMP Products, Public Broadcasting Systems, North American Phillips Lighting and Pace Applied Technology. Little America Hotel was the host and provided the lodging.

Gilliland said trying to attract major companies to hold their meetings in Utah is relatively new for the bureau, and already several meetings have been booked for several years in the future. Chris Gromak has been assigned to attract corporation meetings to the area.

From Dec. 7-10, a second group representing major national and international associations from Atlanta; Washington, D.C.; Boston; Denver; New Jersey; Dayton, Ohio; Los Angeles; Little Rock, Ark.; and Richmond, Va., will be in Salt Lake City. The Red Lion Hotel will provide accommodations.

"We haven't hosted a tour yet that hasn't produced definite business for Salt Lake City. That business means millions of dollars for the city as tourism has become one of the area's largest revenue builders," Gilliland said.

The bureau sponsors more than 50 familiarization tours annually, which include conventioneers, travel writers, corporate sales meeting planners and tour operators from all parts of the world.

He said these tours wouldn't be possible without the donation of resources and time from several organizations and businesses.

For example, Delta Airlines donates air fare for familiarization tour participants. The Salt Lake Marriott Hotel, Little America, the Red Lion Hotel, the Doubletree Hotel, University Park Hotel, Snowbird and Salt Lake Hilton Hotel sponsor various functions and rotate providing rooms.

Western Leisure, Sample Salt Lake, Le Bus and Lewis Brothers Stages provide transportation, Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort provides a selection of ski, shopping and winter activities and the Sportstalker will outfit the people for skiing.

Gilliland said another major contributor is Gastronomy Inc., which provides food at Cafe Pierpont, Market Street Grill and the New Yorker.

While in Salt Lake City, the visitors will see the Family History Library and Salt Palace Convention Center, listen to a Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearsal and visit several places to sample the city's night life.

Some of the groups sending representatives are American Hospital Association; American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons; Biological Photographic Association; Data General; Electrochemical Society; Electronics Data Systems; Federation of American Health Systems; International Racquet Sports Association; Magnetic Resonance Society of America; National Association of Electrical Distributors; National Child Support Enforcement Association; and National Rural Water Association.