The Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau has set some lofty goals for 2009, and one involves impressing an influential crowd coming to town next summer.

About 4,000 people will visit July 11-14 for the Meeting Professionals International 2009 World Education Congress, a gathering of people responsible for booking more than $14 billion in annual meetings.

"The way we're describing this is that what the MPI World Education Congress is going to do to the meeting and convention industry in Utah is very similar to what hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics did to our winter tourism product," said Scott Beck, the convention bureau's president and chief executive officer.

The event "couldn't be at a more important time for us," Beck said, as the city now has an expanded Salt Palace and a maturing destination, thanks in part to the Grand America.

"We're going to be exposing people to a destination that frankly a lot of these people have never seen. It's an opportunity to put our city and our meeting and convention industry out there for some of the most influential people in our business. If you look at the scope and scale and dollar amounts that these folks control on an annual basis, it's staggering."

The bureau's 2009 work plan and operating budgets — sent to Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon for consideration and recommendation to the Salt Lake County Council — also feature recognizing the organization's 25th anniversary and booking more room nights in the county.

The goal of 480,000 total room nights by visitors is a figure 12 percent above the 2007 total and 26 percent over 2006. "It's a very aggressive goal," Beck conceded.

Meanwhile, the bureau will do fewer convention industry trade shows — 13, or three fewer than this year and 10 fewer than 2007 — while boosting site inspections 8 percent to 130 and "outside" sales calls 36 percent.

"What we find in our business is that in times when the economy turns down, it's harder for people to come to see us," Beck said. "Those budgets get tighter. We've made priority changes. Because people can't come to see us as often, we'll see them more often...It's a really positive way to make an impact and sort of steal market share from people who don't do it."

E-mail: [email protected]