Friendly people. Good convention facilities. Clean city. Reasonable prices.
These are the positive aspects of Salt Lake City as seen through the eyes of several convention and meeting planners who were "wined and dined" during familiarization tours sponsored by the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau in the hope they will book some meetings for the area.For those meeting planners who already have booked a meeting for Salt Lake City, it was a chance to further the arrangements. For those "just shopping around," it was a chance to become acquainted with what the city has to offer.
With several local hotels, restaurants and businesses helping with the "wining and dining," the 28 meeting planners and their 22 spouses and guests toured the hotels, the Salt Palace Convention Center and also took a turn on the ski slopes.
Those interviewed had praise for the city.
Arnold Farber, vice president of planning for the National Association of Electrical Distributors, a national trade association headquartered in Norwalk, Conn., said he is bringing 4,000 people to Salt Lake City for the group's annual meeting in 1990.
He is impressed by the enthusiasm of the native Utahns and also the newcomers, the genuine affection the people have for outsiders and the convention facilities "that are as good if not better than those in larger cities."
Farber, who was in the city a year ago on business, said Salt Lake City is more open than people believe. "I think our members are going to be pleasantly surprised when they get here," he said.
Ed Weimer, vice president of conventions and meetings for the American Hospital Association, Chicago, said his organization's major convention is too large for the existing Salt Palace facilities, but because the group holds 300 other meetings and trade shows annually there is a possibility that some could be scheduled in the city.
"Salt Lake City is the best kept secret in the United States," Weimer said, "and I was particularly impressed with the reasonable rates and good transportation." Contrary to the perception about liquor in Utah, Weimer said it is available to those who want it.
He said there is a relaxed feeling in the city and people aren't trying to sell something all the time. Weimer said several aspects of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints such as the Tabernacle Choir rehearsals (which the group attended) and Temple Square are drawing cards for convention goers.
John R. Walker, director of administration for the Federation of American Health Systems, Little Rock, Ark., doesn't need much of an introduction to the city because he and his wife, Jenney, are Utah natives. He left Utah 10 years ago after he was chief executive officer of the Utah Hospital Association and returned to see what has changed.
Walker said he always thought Salt Lake City was a clean place, the people are energetic, prices are reasonable, air transportation is good with the Delta Airline hub and liquor laws aren't a major factor in selecting the city as a site for a meeting.
He was surprised by the number of new hotels, the Salt Palace expansion, the new Symphony Hall and the changes made at the Capitol Theatre.
Walker said his organization has many meetings annually ranging in size from a few hundred people to several thousand. He said the Salt Palace exhibit space and nearby hotels can handle most of his group's meetings.
Robert C. Turner, La Jolla, Calif., director of conferences for the Biological Photographic Association, had never been in Utah before the familiarization tour. He was born in the East and has lived in California for 14 years.
His perception of Salt Lake City had been that of a desert at 2,000 feet, a huge salt lake (he thought the lake would be closer to the city), austere, strict, restrictive liquor laws and not very sophisticated people. He changed his mind.
"I have enjoyed it thoroughly. The people are warm, open and receptive and only Toronto is as clean. I like the wide roads (his wife Betsy also commented on the wide streets), the reasonable prices for hotels and food and the hard work ethic," he said.
The only negative Turner could find was the "For Sale" and "For Lease" signs in several building windows on Main Street. "I assume you are in an economic lull," he said, commenting on construction projects seen in other cities.
Turner said his 1,500 member international organization recently completed its annual meeting and he is looking for a site for 1991. Next year they will be in St. Louis, Mo., and in 1990 go to Phoenix, Ariz.