If we fix up our convention center, they still won't come


You will recall that the City hired Conventions, Sports, and Leisure to examine the feasibility of a remodeled convention center and a new downtown sports arena. Although we may qualify for a few more events if we build a ballroom and add a few meeting rooms, we still won't attract the big money events.

CSL surveyed convention planners for different types of conventions. 67.0% of national association convention planners surveyed said they would not be likely to use an expanded and renovated downtown Tulsa Convention Center. 85.3% of corporate convention and tradeshow planners surveyed said they would not be likely to use the expanded facility. Corporate shows and tradeshows are the really lucrative events, where attendees are traveling on expense accounts. Even 55% of Oklahoma groups said they would not be likely to use an expanded convention center.

The only category that gave us a majority positive response was the SMERFs -- social, military, educational, religious, and fraternal groups. 47.4% said they would possibly use the expanded convention center; 31.6% said not likely. These are events like reunions, hobby group meetings. SMERF attendees are spending their own money -- they drive rather than fly, stay at budget accommodations and share rooms, stay for shorter periods (weekend events, rather than full weeks), and eat at less expensive restaurants. They also tend to be smaller groups, and by pursuing them, the convention center is competing directly with privately-owned hotel convention facilities like the Sheraton, Marriott, Doubletree and Renaissance.

Here's why conventions don't want to come to Tulsa, from the CSL National/Regional Rotating Event Survey, 2002, with the percentage of respondents with an interest in Tulsa who mentioned the reason, followed by a comment.

"Air access to Tulsa is quite limited, inconvenient and expensive." [9%]

Great Plains Airlines hasn't been able to fix this problem yet, despite all the tax money they've received.

"We prefer the use of hotel event space for our functions. It works well having meals, meetings and hotel rooms all under one roof." [12%]

We still might get these groups to Tulsa, but just not to the downtown convention center.

"Our association only rotates to Tier-I cities." [16%]

Can't do anything about that. OKC won't get these conventions either.

"Our association prefers beach resort destinations for our annual event." [6%]

Again, not much a landlocked city can do.

"Tulsa does not offer sufficient visitor amenities and entertainment options to attract attendees to our event." [20%]

All the yeasayers say, "Aha! But if we build an arena we will have all the visitor amenities and entertainment options we need!" Eight concerts a year (maybe) and minor league hockey will not satisfy that demand. These people are looking for major tourist attractions, exciting urban districts with restaurants and clubs, and probably a certain amount of sleaze of the sort more readily found in Las Vegas, New York, and New Orleans. We have a couple of world class museums and a great zoo, but they're closed nearly every night. We have the start of a couple of good urban districts. I don't think most Tulsans want the sleaze, even if it does attract tourists.

"We do not have enough delegates in the area for Tulsa to be considered as a potential destination." [24%]

This is at the heart of what convention planners want -- people who will pay money to come to their convention. It doesn't matter to the planner whether the attendees come from near or far, as long as they pay their registration fees and walk through the exhibit hall. A city with a large core group of potential delegates gives a planner a headstart in meeting the target -- particularly for a business convention, because businesses won't mind sending their people to a conference if they don't have to pay for travel, lodging, and meals. Of course, the very thing that makes the planners happy makes the host city sad. Local delegates don't bring new money into the economy. The only convention segment where we have a large group of potential attendees -- Charismatic conventions.

And the CSL study projects that the convention center, renovated and expanded, will still lose $2 million per year, money that comes out of the City of Tulsa's general fund.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 10, 2003 2:43 AM.

No exciting concerts and no big conventions in OKC was the previous entry in this blog.

North Carolina built it -- and no one came is the next entry in this blog.

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