James Canfield sells Palm Springs: He’s the executive director of both the 261,000-square-foot Palm Springs Convention Center and the Bureau of Tourism (through the venue management firm SMG). Essentially, it’s his job to keep the center booked and the town busy. From the Palm Springs International Film Festival’s gala for 2,500 to trade association shows (the National WaterPark Association) to the annual White Party dance fête for 6,000 (booked through 2020) to Palm Springs High School’s graduation, the center attracts 120 events annually.
In the last five years, the city’s transit occupancy tax revenue has zoomed from $10 million to $25 million. Canfield says the investment of more than $200 million in new and upgraded hotels over the last several years and the growth of events like the Coachella Arts & Music Festival and the 11-day Modernism Week has contributed to this increase.
Back in 1987, Canfield helped open the Palm Springs Convention Center. Next, he worked his way up the operations side at SMG, moving from the convention facilities in Long Beach to the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale and then the Pasadena Convention Center. In 2010, Canfield returned to Palm Springs.
CAM+E: How did you get into the business of convention center management?
JC: I started in hospitality after college and lived on Catalina Island, working for Island Resorts. It was the ideal training ground for hospitality: I did everything. And because I come from an operations background, if I’m needed, I’ll still do things like run a forklift or break down a bar.
CAM+E: What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
JC: I’m responsible for the overall operation of both the convention center and tourism bureau. I manage a staff of 52 and a $6 million annual budget. I’m in as many as 10 meetings a week, with everyone from the members of the chamber of commerce (I’m the president) to a weekly hospitality breakfast with general managers from all the hotels, restaurateurs, the city manager and the fire chief.
CAM+E: With some events booked through 2020, how does Palm Springs service these conventions?
JC: People find a home here. We’re very creative in putting deals together for groups to combat challenges such as the number of attached hotel rooms. We take the position that we are all under one roof—one that has a clear blue sky and stars at night. One of the things we do is offer a citywide hotel contract, which is used by multiple hotels, so meeting planners are not faced with 19 contract formats. And we take an entrepreneurial look at what we can do as a destination, whether it’s midweek deals or the dramatically expanded restaurant week, which is now Valley wide.