Wilmington Convention Center GM Fredia Brady’s mission to draw more large conferences
Just six months into her job as general manager of the Wilmington Convention Center, FREDIA BRADY is getting a grasp of the market mix that differentiates Wilmington from her home and previous jobs in Savannah.
Wilmington, she says, has many events that are social – food and drink based. Savannah, which advertises 12,000 first-class hotel rooms, hosts a number of large multi-day conference and convention events.
The big difference is obviously the availability of hotel rooms, something that is changing for Wilmington with the recent opening of a Hampton Inn downtown and the anticipated opening of an Embassy Suites next door to the convention center in November.
She’s heard others are in the pipeline, and they’re all vital to efforts to lure larger events to the Port City.
The first challenge Brady faced after taking on the job in February was “understanding the business mix here and how to move forward to change that as the market changes. More hotels will make Wilmington attractive to multi-day conferences and conventions,” she says.
She and her staff are reviewing booking policies and the booking windows that are attractive to certain types of groups to work effectively with the hotels and the Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau.
To accomplish their goals of driving business to the city, “we have to make sure the desirable dates are available and we are prepared to handle the larger conventions that we’re not used to seeing,” Brady says.
For example, next year the city is hosting the U.S. Sweet Potato Council and the North Carolina Bar Association for their annual meetings, she says.
“These wouldn’t have been interested without the hotels,” Brady points out.
The proximity of the hotel rooms and parking to the convention center is very important, she says.
“It’s convenience; park the car and walk. That’s where they’re going to experience Wilmington,” she says.
Brady notes that a free trolley that picks up people in the downtown area and drops them at the convention center is a big plus. It is part of the mix that the CVB uses to sell Wilmington as a destination.
The biggest portion of the convention center’s budget is operational; it relies on the CVB to market Wilmington.
To meet that goal, Brady and her three sales executives work closely with the CVB staff.
“Our sales team is in contact, on a daily basis, working on lead development and site tours of buildings as they bring customers to Wilmington,” she says. “We do travel to industry-related events, and we collaborate on events with the CVB.”
They are also working closely with SMG, the convention center’s management company, on travel events and industry-related deals. Brady’s experience with SMG is part of what brought her to Wilmington.
The company managed the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center until about three years ago. Brady’s career with the company, previously as a regional senior director, placed her on their radar when the Wilmington position came open. At that time, she had worked her way up to senior director of sales and marketing at the Savannah facility.
A self-professed “military brat” who grew up in Germany but graduated from high school in her parents’ hometown of Savannah, Brady received an associate degree in travel and hospitality management before attending Brewton-Parker College where she earned a degree in business administration.
Her first industry job was as a desk clerk at a Holiday Inn in Savannah. She worked briefly at the convention and visitors bureau in the city before being recruited by Hilton, then Hyatt. As sales manager, she helped open the 350,000-square-foot Savannah convention center. That experience helped to prepare her for Wilmington, she says.
Because the center was built, new hotels moved to the city and a new customer base was available, Brady says. She worked closely with the convention and visitors bureau there as well.
The Wilmington Convention Center is 70-80 percent booked now, which Brady says isn’t bad, but she’s anxious to improve those numbers.
Working with a one-year revenue forecast and a five-year capital plan, she’s booking events four and five years out. And, she’s still learning the market. With more hotel rooms and more market experience, she just may be closer to her goal of booking more multi-day events that fill hotel rooms.
“Call me back in a year,” Brady adds.
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