The itinerary called for visitors to have breakfast at the Marriott Waterside. For some, the vision of such an appointment would range from a continental serving of bagels and coffee to a fluffy western omelet.
But set before Tangie Newborn and Kim Thompson on Thursday morning were some of the finest offerings the hotel could whip up: two types of quiche, chicken apple sausage, maple pepper bacon, french toast with apples and fresh fruit berry martinis. And it was all personally prepared by the hotel's executive chef.
Clearly, these weren't your ordinary guests. But it's not every visitor who determines whether Tampa will play host to a multimillion-dollar convention.
Newborn, executive director of the National Association of Black Journalists, and Thompson, president of the TraMar convention management company, came to town to see if Tampa has what it takes to accommodate an NABJ convention in 2009 or 2010.
The Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau headed up a well-coordinated effort with the convention center and downtown hotels to sustain the city's hopes. Charlotte, Chicago, Miami, New Orleans, New York, St. Louis, San Antonio and San Diego are all vying to host one of the two conventions.
And why not? The convention is in August, a month when hotels struggle to find visitors. The five-day event promises strong food and beverage sales and the opportunity to send more than 2,500 journalists back home singing the praises of Tampa Bay.
So how does the bureau go about selling Tampa with so much at stake? Carefully.
AFTER BREAKFAST, Newborn and Thompson toured the Marriott and Wyndham Harbour Island before going on to the convention center. At each hotel, the pair inspected meeting space, rooms and restaurants. At the Marriott, they even went into the "back house" to review kitchen and banquet operations.
Michele Chester Pruitt, the bureau's national sales manager, led the visit along with the vice president of sales, Norwood Smith. With other groups, the trip might also have involved a detailed driving tour and visits to Busch Gardens or Lowry Park.
Newborn and Thompson, however, were focused on making sure the facilities could meet the needs of the convention, which is generally more professional than family-oriented.
Internet availability and other technological options are more critical than the maple pepper bacon. Assuring that members can file stories while attending the convention is a must. Both Newborn and Thompson were impressed that the convention center served as media headquarters for the 1991 and 2001 Super Bowls.
That's a claim neither Charlotte, San Antonio, Chicago or New York can make.
The emphasis on high-tech services and meeting space didn't surprise Pruitt, who met with Thompson in Washington prior to the site visit.
"A lot of what we do has to do with listening," Pruitt said. "Absorbing information and then putting it to practical use."
So, Pruitt knows not to go overboard. Participants and greeters wore specially prepared NABJ media badges throughout the day, and each was given details about the NABJ. But she did not have Busch Gardens' Mystic Sheiks greet the group as they entered the convention center, and confetti didn't rain from the rafters.
Still, there were little touches. The message board at the Marriott welcomed the NABJ. The Wyndham offered gifts. Pruitt knows Newborn loves chocolate-covered strawberries, so, lo-and-behold, they were waiting for her in a meeting room.
Upon arriving at the Radisson Riverwalk for lunch, Newborn and Thompson found an NABJ display in the lobby replete with pencils and note pads.
"I understand and respect what that requires," Thompson said of the touches.
Newborn had her own surprise. She left the menu and ordered a ham-and-cheese sandwich. In part, she made the decision because this was the third day of a four-day, four-city tour and she wanted something simple after eating all manner of fancy entrees. But she also wanted to see if the chef could handle a special order.
He didn't disappoint.
IT ALSO HELPED that the day was sun-splashed and the skies picture perfect. I asked Pruitt if she prays for good weather the night before site visits.
"I pray about everything the night before a visit," Pruitt quipped.
In large part, Newborn and Thompson were impressed. Thompson characterized the visit as "high-level salesmanship." Newborn marveled at all the scenic water vistas. She was convinced that NABJ members would be treated well in Tampa.
"I'm surprised," Newborn said. "I've been to this area several times but never to the downtown district. For me, it's a secret. I didn't know the hotels were in such close proximity to the convention center and there were so many ways to get around."
The decision didn't become any easier for the NABJ. Newborn said she hopes to narrow the list of nine cities to three later this year and then complete the selections in 2005.