Cities use slogans, songs, and shows to win convention business

''Peaches, pineapple, oranges, grapefruit are great, but there's nothing like the Big Apple.''

So goes the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau's new slogan aimed at drumming up more conventions and tourists.

In slogan, song, show, and ''showcase'' - construction of new convention facilities or sprucing up of old centers - cities across the country are competing for convention business with a new sense of urgency.

The reason is simple: Nationwide, the convention business this year is expected to reap nearly $15 billion. With many cities experiencing fiscal shortfalls and cutbacks from Washington, luring convention and tourist business makes good sense.

This year, according to the International Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus (IACVB), 43,274,000 delegates will attend 62,850 conventions across the country and spend $14.6 billion. Despite the recession, this is up from last year when 43,263,000 conventioneers went to 57,700 conventions and spent $13.3 billion.

This business is increasing ''because there are more cities that recognize the value of convention and tourist business as never before,'' says Charles Gillette, president of the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau Inc.

Similiarly, David Heinl, president-elect of the IACVB, says many cities are beginning to look at the tourist industry as a great source of untapped revenue. And last year, he notes with considerable pride, was the first year (according to IACVB calculations) that more foreign tourists came to the US than Americans traveled abroad. But the increasing strength of the US dollar on international markets has contributed to a slight slump in tourism for some US cities.

New York City officials have awakened to the value of convention and tourist trade. Facing continuing fiscal restraints, city officials had cut the Convention and Visitors Bureau budget in half last year. This year, however, it has been restored to about $1 million and Mr. Gillette is optimistic that even more will be forthcoming soon.

New York would like to overtake Chicago and be No. 1 in the convention business by 1986, two years after its mammoth $375 million-plus convention and exhibition center will be completed. It will have 750,000 square feet of exhibition space.

Los Angeles has some 445,000 square-feet of exhibition space at its convention center. Plans are being considered to double the existing permanent exhibition space in future, according to city convention official Joseph Phillips.

Over the past several years, ''upstarts'' in the business, such as Houston and Dallas in Texas and Portland, Ore., have made inroads into business that traditionally came to Los Angeles or New York. The key is not only the lure of big new exhibition centers, but aggressive salesmanship.

Not to be outdone, ''old-timers'' such as New York and Philadelphia have launched their own sales blitzes. Last week, for example, a group of Radio City Rockettes traveled to the Washington, D.C., to entertain the convention coordinators of the trade associations based there. And the Rockettes won't just stop in Washington. They will kick their way across the nation this year - only ''the tip of the iceberg'' of the city's new promotion efforts, Mr. Gillette says.

Dallas has dispatched its Cheerleaders on similar city promotion tours; Las Vegas boosters include a comedy team. On the other hand, Philadelphia, at least for the present, is counting on increasing its share of the US convention dollar , by mostly staying put.

Last year, the City of Brotherly Love hosted the international travel industry's biggest annual convention. It wasn't inexpensive. It took ''$270,000 and over two years to do it,'' notes Philly convention spokesman Sam Rogers. Travel executives were treated to a week long of ''PhiladelphiaStyle,'' which is the city's new slogan for what's best about it, including its gourmet restaurants, serendipitous shops, and historic landmarks like the Liberty Bell. Mr. Rogers says the city believes that meeting planners and travel industry executives only really get to know the city by being there.

Meanwhile, Philly convention officials are worried about the new convention center in New York.

''We think New York's new center is going to make it much more competitive for us,'' Rogers says. Moreover, he admits that while promotion efforts in recent years have helped the city shed some of its negative ''W.C. Fields-type jokes image,'' much remains to be done to convince conventions and tourists that they ought to consider Philadelphia as opposed to New York or Washington.

Philadelphia is not alone in its concern about New York's surpremacy. Chicago convention officials toured the construction site here this week. ''We've got them running scared,'' said a New York Convention Center spokesman.

But Chicago officials still claim, as their ads say, that Chicago will be ''My Kind of Town'' for conventions for a long time to come.

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