WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — The 56th National Sweet Potato Convention kicked off in the Port City Sunday. It is the first big event at the Wilmington Convention Center since a hotel opened next door.
“It’s a great location as far as walking to restaurants and different attractions,” attended convention, Bethany Barnes said.
It is the first time Wilmington has hosted the National Sweet Potato Convention.
“North Carolina is the largest state producer of sweet potatoes, so it’s very important for North Carolina’s economy and the growers here as well,” Barnes said.
The New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority President Kim Hufham said the event is bringing in an estimated $1.6 million to the area.
With more than 600 people attending the event, it is the largest Sweet Potato Convention to date.
“Well number one it tells you what a great destination we are, and that’s something that we’ve seen a pattern for,” Hufham said. “A lot of conventions that when they have them here for the first time that their numbers are larger than they’ve had in the past. So we’re very proud of that.”
The convention is the first event to use the new hotel, Embassy Suites.
“Well it’s a great kickoff because as you said Embassy Suites opened just a few weeks ago and it’s our newest meeting hotel so we’re really proud of it,” Hufham said. “And also the product that it brings to our downtown convention district. Of course people are staying there, they’re staying at the Hilton and they’re also not only utilizing the convention center which is great they’re also using the meeting space in both of the hotels as well.”
It is an addition organizers were surprised and happy about.
“It helped because having the hotel right here connected to the convention center and the Hilton, and you have so many other great hotels in town as well,” NC Sweet Potato Commission Director, Kelly Mciver said. “But it’s something that eliminates a lot of stress in trying to move people back and forth, so it’s just been, it’s just been great.”
As for the money the convention generates, it will be spread across the area.
“You know, of course a portion of it would be the room occupancy tax it helps fund tourism, it helps fund beach renourishment, it helps fund the convention center. But also you’re looking at the money going into our restaurants, into our hotels, into shopping, into our gas stations, and all the other many areas that when a tourist or a convention attendee is in town that they use here locally,” Hufham said.
The National Sweet Potato Convention ends Tuesday.
Mciver said with all the positive reviews they have received so far, they plan to put Wilmington on the list of places to host the convention in the future.