Convention center crew shoots the messenger, targets SMERFs


G. W. Schulz has penned another excellent news feature story in the latest Urban Tulsa, this one about the Brookings Institute study about the doubtful economic benefits of publicly-owned convention centers. Schulz talks to the study's author, Heywood Sanders, and to Suzann Stewart of the Tulsa Convention and Visitors' Bureau, and John Scott, manager of the Tulsa Convention Center. Schulz creates a debate between the nation's leading expert on convention center economics and the local defenders of the convention industry.

Stewart insists Sanders doesn’t recognize Tulsa’s uniqueness and indeed the uniqueness of all cities in the convention market that can specifically identify what they have to offer and tailor their marketing accordingly.

“I think the thing that’s interesting about our industry that (Sanders) doesn’t really pick up on or has chosen not to is it really is different city to city,” Stewart said. “The profile of the business that each city gets is different, and the needs of each city are different.”

What Tulsa has heard repeatedly, and what Stewart gladly reiterated, was that Tulsa had geographic specificity. In other words, Tulsa is at the center of the nation making it convenient for everyone to come here.

But therein lays another of Sanders’ complaints.

“Everyone will say the same thing,” he said. “Everybody says they’ve got this unique thing.”

Tulsa is indeed at the center of the United States. But so are Fort Worth, Dallas, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, and to a degree, St. Louis. And how about Wichita?

We learn that Tulsa's efforts at recruiting conventions are focusing on SMERF groups -- social, military, educational, religious, and fraternal -- groups that generate the least amount of spending per person, because conventioneers are traveling at their own expense. The feasibility study done for Vision 2025 said that SMERFs were the only groups that gave a plurality positive response to using an expanded, updated Tulsa Convention Center. Sanders says that this strategy puts us in competition with larger cities and larger facilities:

But Sanders said he was recently in St. Louis discussing with that city their pursuit of SMERFs. Sanders stated in his report that cities large and small have become so desperate for business that they’ve all begun targeting SMERFs. An overall decline in the conventions market has led everyone toward these smaller events.

“While small centers get bigger in order to accommodate bigger events, bigger centers are getting bigger in order to accommodate small and medium-sized events simultaneously,” the report states.

Another well-researched, well-written, and interesting article -- be sure to read the whole thing.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 5, 2005 10:06 PM.

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