When the National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) had a pre-con at the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center (SITCC), which was hosting its 2010 Annual Convention, its program chair mused aloud about “how to get more of their program” — meaning aircraft — into the exhibit hall, said Robert Coffey, SITCC’s longtime general manager. “We said, ‘Well, we could blow an airplane-sized hole in the back of the wall,’” Coffey said. “Everybody laughed, and then we all looked at each other, like, Hey, wait a minute….”
After that successful convention, NAAA Executive Director Andrew Moore sent a letter to Visit Savannah President Joe Marinelli, “requesting the installation of doors large enough to fit aircraft into the hall, which would allow us to exhibit aircraft on the NAAA trade-show floor,” according to Lindsay Barber, NAAA’s manager of meetings, marketing, and special projects. NAAA reasoned that the new door not only would benefit NAAA, which promised to commit to future conventions in Savannah, it also would enable SITCC to host other groups that exhibit aircraft as part of their trade shows.
The destination agreed, and SITCC installed a 30-foot-high, 45-foot-wide hangar door, which took about six weeks, according to Coffey, who retired from the center at the end of last year and continues on as a consultant. Once the door was in, NAAA committed to holding its 2012 and 2015 conventions in Savannah, and has since signed contracts for its 2017 and 2020 shows.
Considering that NAAA’s two follow-on bookings each had an economic impact of $1.8 million — and SITCC has since secured other aircraft conventions — Coffey said that the door’s $200,000 price tag was money well spent. And he learned an important lesson in the bargain: “When your client starts thinking out loud,” he said, “listen carefully.”