The semiannual show for retailers of outdoor-related equipment and services continues to grow by leaps and bounds and, in fact, has already outgrown the expansion of the Salt Palace Convention Center that was completed in 2006—an expansion primarily to accommodate Outdoor Retailer. The Summer Market took up more than 450,000 square feet of exhibit space last year and attracted 27,000 attendees. The Winter Market, only slightly smaller, took up 400,000 net square feet and attracted 21,000 participants.
The Salt Palace has about 515,000 total square feet of exhibit space available. Although sufficient exhibit space is an issue for the fast-growing show, more important is the lack of hotel rooms in downtown Salt Lake City. “Right now there are people staying as much as 40 minutes away,” says Outdoor Retailer Show Director and Nielsen Outdoor Group Vice President Kenji Haroutunian.
Culturally, Haroutunian points out, Salt Lake City and Utah are perfect fits for Outdoor Retailer. “The proximity of snow and rock and rivers and mountains is valuable, and nowhere else comes close,” he says, “but if there aren’t enough rooms, there aren’t enough rooms.”
Right now, Salt Lake City has about 17,000 hotel rooms available, about 800 rooms less than is needed for the show. “We clearly realize that if something dynamic doesn’t change, they have to find a size-10 shoe to fit their size-10 foot in,” says Visit Salt Lake President and CEO Scott Beck.
Nielsen is also considering Denver and Las Vegas as locations for the show after its commitment with Salt Lake City ends in 2014. However, neither has the close proximity to the outdoor areas that Salt Lake does.
While Denver has enough hotel rooms and the kind of outdoor areas nearby that OR participants want, that outdoor space is a bit farther out of town than is the case in Salt Lake. Nor does the Colorado Convention Center have as much exhibit space as the show needs. Las Vegas has plenty of both, but it would represent what Haroutunian describes as a “cultural compromise” that would be difficult for at least some attendees to accept.
Outdoor Retailer conducted a survey in which 43 percent of out-of-state retailers said they wanted the show to stay where it was and 40 percent said they wouldn’t object to a move.
Visit Denver Director of Communications Richard Grant says the CVB will likely commission a study to see if there is a way to accommodate the show and make a bid for it. “You can’t build an expansion for one show,” he adds. Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority officials declined to comment pending a decision by Nielsen.
Haroutunian says Nielsen plans to make a decision by late January, “We may not have a 20-year master plan by then, but we’ll at least have a short-term decision.”