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Race Is on to Book Hotel Rooms, Reception Venues for BIO ’08 Events

One of the most popular topics among San Diego life science executives attending this year’s annual Biotechnology Industry Organization Conference in Boston was next year’s event.

San Diego will host the world’s largest annual gathering of life science companies June 17-20, 2008. More than 24,000 industry attendees are expected to spend $37.6 million, said Steve Johnson, vice president of public affairs for the San Diego Convention Center.

It has been just a few weeks since BIO 2007 ended in Boston, but the race is on among law firms, trade groups and large pharmaceutical companies to book the best venues for receptions and related events.

The goal is to throw the most alluring events with the hope of generating the most business.

According to the buzz in Boston, the USS Midway, a decommissioned aircraft carrier docked along the North Harbor that can host events for up to 4,000 people, is going to be a highly sought-after venue.

A marketing assistant at the Midway, Katrina Radojevic, said at least two groups related to the conference have tentatively booked space already, though she would not disclose names.

Other sites expected to generate bidding wars include Petco Park, the Hotel del Coronado and the US Grant Hotel.

“BIO is so huge, and there’s so much going on,” said Rajka Hayden, regional marketing manager at Morrison & Foerster’s San Diego office. “It’s so challenging because it has gotten so big. How do you differentiate yourself in the throws of all that?”

BIO is the largest convention San Diego will host in terms of the number of hotel room nights booked, Johnson said. He said nearly 37,000 hotel room nights will be sold, and 9,000 of those are already booked.

Sunil Sharma, the Canadian consul in San Diego, said his office will help welcome a 1,200-plus gathering from north of the border.

His office, which focuses on fostering trade and investment with Canada, will coordinate meetings around next year’s BIO involving venture capitalists and companies from Canada and Southern California. He said he has recommended the Hotel del Coronado for one large Canadian firm’s gathering.

“That’s a big undertaking for us, and we’ll be doing that for the next several months,” Sharma said.

Sharma said he’s not sure how much money Canada will spend on the conference, but the country had one of the largest showings on the trade floor of BIO in Boston. Booth spaces start in the thousands of dollars.

Many considerations go into planning an event, Morrison & Foerster’s Hayden said.

“Do we throw one big bash or a bunch of smaller, exclusive dinners to wine and dine key people?” she said. “Do you keep it close to the convention center so people can walk or take them out on a cruise where they are a captive audience?”

Hayden said when BIO was last held in San Diego in 2001, the international law firm served as a sponsor for a reception hosted by Biocom, the regional life sciences trade group.

Chief Executive Officer Joe Panetta said before the Boston convention that his team would be taking notes on how to improve the conference.

Duane Roth, CEO of Connect, which fosters startups, said his organization will likely join Biocom in some sort of joint reception in 2008.

“It’s going to test our ability to put on a meeting of this size,” Roth said.

Biogen-Idec, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, might publish a Web site to serve as a tour guide for BIO attendees. The firm created a similar site, www.discovermyBoston.com, for this year’s convention.

Biogen-Idec hosted a reception for the first time this year, though spokesman Jose Juves said it’s too early to tell if the company will hold one here.

But some say groups who want an appealing space had better hurry. Other companies , and countries , are rushing in.

“The race is on to secure the most suitable venues,” said Sharma, who feels pressure to top this year’s soir & #233;e held in Boston’s Wang Theatre with its marble staircases and columns, painted ceilings and gold-plated statues. “Already the (Canadians’) planning has kicked in, and the majority will be done by us.”


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