For years the Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses has held a regional convention in the Tri-Cities, attracting about 16,000 of the faithful who spend an estimated $8.6 million while in town.
But they won't be coming in 2014.
"What they told me is the decision has been made nationally to downsize the number of conventions from 400 to 100. They're simply consolidating," said Kris Watkins, president and CEO of the Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau in Kennewick.
But it's business as usual this year. Almost 5,500 Jehovah's Witnesses begin the first of their three conventions today at the Toyota Center in Kennewick. Another 11,000 are expected to attend the Aug. 9-11 and 16-18 three-day conventions.
Watkins was told by her contacts within the Jehovah's Witnesses organization that they have no complaints with the local accommodations, she said.
"They're pleased with Tri-City area hotels and restaurants and the venue," she said.
Multiple calls Thursday to the Jehovah's Witnesses were not returned.
Watkins expects the district convention to return to the Tri-Cities in 2015.
"We were surprised, but not shocked," she said. "They've done this in the past. It's one of the larger groups to come to the Tri-Cities and really does affect many levels of our economy -- retail shopping, hotels, dining, sightseeing. All those activities have a major impact."
The Visitor & Convention Bureau is actively seeking alternative conventions and sporting events to fill Tri-City hotels and restaurants in 2014, Watkins said. They've enticed the 2014 Amateur Softball Girls National Championship organizers to hold their event here, bringing 80 teams and their families to town.
"That's a new piece of business for us," Watkins said.
They also are working with wineries and golf courses to plan special campaigns of weekend getaways, tying them into other events happening in the region and advertising them on the West side, mainly in the Puget Sound area. "We have our game plan in place and are making great strides in bringing in new business," Watkins said.
-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; firstname.lastname@example.org