Convention cutbacks


Yesterday's Whirled reported that the annual conference of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives is underway in Tulsa, with a 1,000 people expected to attend. The story notes that attendance isn't going to be as impressive as originally hoped.

The anticipated attendance is about half the size that originally was hoped for, Sgt. Wayne Allen said. When it was announced in August 2000 that Tulsa had won the bid for the NOBLE conference, attendance was estimated at 2,000. Since then, law enforcement agencies have had to make cutbacks because of strapped financial times. Travel has been one of the first things government agencies had to cut back on.

“The situation with the economy has been a setback. There is not money for people to go to conferences. It has impacted all cities throughout the country,” Nelson said.

Anyone in industry knows that the same thing is true in the private sector. Travel -- especially convention-related travel -- is a very visible expense and is easy to cut. Companies may cut out conferences entirely, or if it is essential that someone attend, they may send someone for a single day -- perhaps arriving in the morning and leaving that evening, to avoid a hotel and car rental bill. They may only allow travel within driving distance to avoid air fares.

A few weeks ago, two colleagues and I went to a computer tradeshow in Plano, Texas. We left the plant at 5:45 am, drove to Plano, arrived at the convention center at 9:45, in time for the first seminars, hit the seminars and made our way around the exhibit hall. At 3 the conference ended, by 3:15 the exhibits were packed away, at 3:30 we were back in the car. We stopped at a new Quik Trip in Plano for gas and 49 cent quart fountain drinks, hit the road and were back in Tulsa by 8.

I estimate that our total economic impact on Plano was $20 for three people (gas, sodas, a Slim Jim, and sunflower seeds). We ate the catered lunch at the conference (paid for by the exhibitors) so if you count that we hit $50 total for the three of us. There were less than 300 attendees, most of them from the DFW metroplex, so I imagine they had a similar impact. Most of the exhibitors were locally-based field reps for their companies, so they weren't paying for hotels or expensive meals either.

Less than $20 spending per person per day is a lot lower than the usual spending figures the convention promoters quote, but I suspect this manner of convention attendance is becoming more common, which brings into question the value of investing more money in taxpayer-funded convention facilities.

Now to be fair, this NOBLE conference is a national meeting, and I imagine most of the attendees will be here for most of the week, will stay in downtown hotels, and will spend their government per diems in local restaurants. But Tulsa's federal "meals and incidental expenses" rate is only $30 per day, so they won't be spending much. I doubt their sending agencies will authorize them to spend the $250 or more per day per person assumed by the $1.5 million economic impact estimate.

Another interesting note: Tulsa won this convention over Cincinnati and Los Angeles, despite our "outdated convention facilities". What drew this group of Black law enforcement execs?

Tulsa’s history, including the Greenwood district’s being home to the first “Black Wall Street,” aided in the decision to bring the meeting to Tulsa, a NOBLE official said in 2000. The Tulsa Convention and Visitors Bureau reported then that affordability, accessibility and strong support from city leaders were the primary reasons behind Tulsa’s successful bid.

As I said in 1997 and 2000, and I'll say it again today, recognizing, preserving, and promoting Tulsa's unique heritage will do more to attract tourists and conventions than brick and mortar ever can.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 13, 2003 1:34 AM.

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