Back in 1984 when the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau was changed from a Salt Lake County agency into a private, non-profit organization with a board of trustees, some skeptics thought the move was a mistake.

But, if 1988 is any indication, the skeptics were proved wrong, and if 1989 goals set by bureau officials become reality, the skeptics can go away for good.In reviewing bureau activities for 1988 and looking ahead to 1989, president Richard E. Davis said the bureau has had great success in booking room nights, the measuring stick for success in the convention and tourism business.

Last year, bureau employees booked 155,956 room nights for conventions through 1996. Davis said a room night is worth $193 for the cost of the lodging, food, entertainment and transportation, so the 1988 effort was worth more than $31 million.

The bureau's room-night booking goal for 1989 is 207,000, Davis said.

This year, there will be 109 conventions and major meetings, Davis said, with 22 of these using the Salt Palace as headquarters and 87 using hotels as headquarters.

Some of the larger ones will be the National Association of Conservation Districts, National University Continuing Education Association, Novell Inc., International Council of Youth in Alcoholics Anonymous, Coast to Coast Stores, Health Occupations Students/America, Amateur Athletic Union, American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics and the Western States Republican Conference.

The rosy 1988 convention and visitor picture is tempered, somewhat, by the news that two conventions canceled because they had outgrown the space Salt Lake City could provide.

Davis said the Water Pollution Control Federation canceled a 1993 meeting because the organization's need for exhibit space has grown considerably since the convention was booked. That would have brought 8,000 people using 17,000 room nights to the area.

The second cancellation was the American Chemical Society, scheduled to meet in 1996. Davis said the organization needs 70 meeting rooms to be used simultaneously, but the closing of the Hotel Utah removed 22 meeting rooms. The bureau was given one year to come up with replacement rooms, but since no new hotels have been built for several years the rooms couldn't be replaced and the convention will go elsewhere.

That would have meant 10,000 visitors with 20,000 room nights.

"These cancellations illustrate the need to complete the study on the Salt Palace expansion," Davis said, "because as time goes on it will be more difficult to compete with other cities for the larger conventions because facilities in those cities are being expanded."

Davis said hotel and motel transient room taxes in 1988 were up 22 percent over 1987, reflecting increases in occupancy and rates. He said 65 percent occupancy is the break-even point, and the 11,000 rooms in Salt Lake County had a 68 percent occupancy rate last year.

The larger hotels are running 75-80 percent occupancy, which benefits the smaller hotels because they get the overflow when the large hotels run out of rooms.

For 1989, the bureau's three priorities are attracting more group tours, cultivating more extensively the ski industry (the good snow this year has helped) and providing new twists at the visitor centers at the Great Salt Lake, the Salt Lake International Airport and the downtown office.

One of the highlights of 1989 will be the National Tour Association's annual convention in Salt Lake City in late October. Late last year, the bureau, the Utah Division of Travel Development, the travel regions and private companies made a big presentation in Kansas City, Mo., during the NTA convention to lure the convention to Salt Lake City.

Davis expects more than 3,000 people. The economic impact on the area is estimated at $3.5 million.

The bureau's total budget for 1989 will be $3,035,055, most of which will come from the transient room tax.