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That ear-to-ear grin on the face of Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau president Rick Davis is understandable.

With scores of conventions booked into the newly remodeled and expanded Salt Palace Convention Center in the next few years, Davis has reason to be smiling. And smiling along with him are people in the hospitality business such as hotels, restaurants, tour buses and souvenir shops.Davis told bureau members Wednesday during the first meeting in the new Salt Palace and who ate the first meal served in the new facility it is a good time to be in the hospitality business. "We have a lot to look forward to between now and the year 2002 when the Winter Olympics will be held," he said.

He said 93 conventions and meetings already have been booked for the next seven years. They will bring 642,200 people to the Salt Lake area who will spend an estimated $550.3 million. Others could be booked in the future.

Before the Salt Palace was expanded and remodeled, Davis said, nearby hotels booked an average of 175,000 room-nights annually. They already have booked 386,000 room-nights for 1996, which is about 90 percent occupancy, the highest occupancy rate in the United States.

Davis said the conventions have been booked based on completion of the Salt Palace only, but once other conventions planners visit the building the chances are good that other meetings will be scheduled.

Now that Little America has announced it wants to build a major hotel complex on the block east of its present property, Davis said, the additional rooms will make it possible for Salt Lake City to host conventions larger than those being booked now.

To put it simply, Davis said, the economic growth and Salt Lake City's reputation as a host city will continue.

On the negative side, Davis said, low unemployment is causing problems for the hospitality industry because hotels, motels and restaurants are having trouble finding workers.

He said the new convention center is off to a good start with the hosting of the American Bowling Congress tournament and convention that runs between now and June and will attract about 48,000 people who will spend an estimated $41 million. Hal Kaminski, showed bureau members how the bowling lanes are constructed and took them on a tour of the tournament site.