Brett Blume

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – St. Louis tourism officials have received a pretty big gift in their stocking this holiday season in the form of 15,000 members of the Urbana 12 InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

That group’s holding their triennial student mission conference now through Monday.

John Bettag, vice president of sales for the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, says this comes at a time that’s traditionally been very slow for downtown hotels and restaurants.

“They’ll use just about all of the hotels in the downtown area, some just on the outskirts,” Bettag tells KMOX News. “So it creates compression for the entire region. Upwards of about twenty-thousand total room nights will be used during the period of time that they’re here.”

It’s a welcome boost because Bettag admits that the loss of Blues hockey to the ongoing NHL lockout is hurting downtown tourism.

41 home dates could be lost if the entire season is wiped out by the standoff between hockey’s management and labor, meaning those out-of-town teams and their fans will not be occupying hotels rooms, eating at local restaurants or shopping at area stores.

There’s also some concern about the looming fiscal cliff because it could lead to cancellation of a very lucrative government convention here in town next summer.

St. Louis already experienced something like that this past August when the U.S. General Services Administration abruptly cancelled its GovEnergy conference over concerns raised about extravagant government spending.

“That could have been a better situation,” Bettag points out. “It was a pretty significant hit to the city that came about 45 days out.”

It’s estimated that the region lost a potential $6 million in spending when the GovEnergy conference fell through with practically no time to find something else to fill that space.

But the summer also saw a major highlight for downtown tourism when St. Louis played host to more than 2,000 members of Meeting Professionals International, the people who organize conventions for their own hometowns.

Bettag says that could create an exponential benefit for St. Louis going forward as conventioneers with good memories of their stay here keep the city in mind for future gatherings.

2013 is shaping up to be a good year as well, Bettag says, with a major highlight being the FIRST Robotics Championship next April.

More than 20 area hotels provided rooms for competing high school teams during each of the first two years that St. Louis hosted the event.


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