The Kalispell Convention and Visitor Bureau has helped book more than 3,000 hotel rooms over the next two years as the city tries to make itself a destination for conventions and conferences.
Dawn Jackson, group sales manager for the convention bureau, said places that are close to national parks are becoming popular with convention planners.
“A lot of these groups are not just looking at cities now; they want to go to national parks and places that offer some tranquility,” Jackson said.
Hosting conferences can also have a significant economic impact on a community, Jackson said. In June 2016, Kalispell hosted the Professional Outdoor Media Association conference that brought 200 people from 35 different states. That conference brought more than $110,000 into the community in just three days.
Other notable conferences that have come to Kalispell in recent years include the Montana Governor’s Conference on Tourism and Business Development in April 2016. That event attracted more than 500 people. Two years later, in April 2018, the convention and visitor bureau hosted 40 international travel buyers. That event gave the convention bureau a chance to show off the Flathead Valley.
The convention bureau has also helped groups who are organizing sporting events. In June 2018, the convention bureau helped the Flathead Soccer Club secure 1,000 hotel rooms for the 2018 Montana State Cup Tournament.
Jackson said when a group reaches out to the convention bureau about setting up an event — be it an outdoor writing conference or a soccer tournament — she works with area hotels to see what space they can offer to the event’s organizers. In addition to hotel rooms, of which Kalispell has about 1,800 total, conventions require meeting spaces. Jackson said at least three hotels in Kalispell have space for upwards of 600 people to meet. Even larger events can be hosted at the Flathead County Fairgrounds. (In 2012, the fairgrounds hosted more than 2,000 people to listen to NFL quarterback Tim Tebow).
While the convention bureau’s big focus is logistics, it also helps come up with activities for convention attendees.
“(These convention planners) really want the local and insider information that we can offer,” Jackson said.
Already, Kalispell is gearing up for at least two major conventions in the next two years. In June, the Montana Young Professionals will host a conference that they hope attracts hundreds of people from around the state. And in September 2020, the International Bear Association will host its conference in Kalispell for the first time since 1977. The event has been held across North America and the world and is expected to attract up to 400 people.
Lori Roberts, a research assistant for Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, said the convention bureau has been instrumental in helping find a space to handle such a large crowd and coordinate the creation of convention packets.
“It’s just been a great experience,” Roberts said.