Conventions, meetings and sports events contributed at least $47 million to the Wichita economy in 2017, according to Visit Wichita. Officials with the city’s convention and visitors bureau expect a similar year in 2018 with an assist from an anticipated $10 million impact during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship first and second round games.
Moji Rosson, vice president of sales for Visit Wichita, said the organization assisted with 530 events in 2017 and while the city has a lot going for it, competition for meetings is tough. Wichita most often competes within the region with Des Moines, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Overland Park and Tulsa. All of these cities have recently renovated or decided to build new convention centers, Rosson said.
“The two main things anyone hosting an event looks for are facilities and hotel options,” Rosson said.
Across the city, there are 8,000 hotel rooms, including 245 added in 2017. Visit Wichita said there are 416 rooms projected to be added this year and another 376 in 2019. Right now, more than 1,300 rooms are in the downtown area near Century II Convention and Performing Arts Center. While Wichita regularly meets meeting planners’ needs for hotels, the same is not true of convention center facilities.
Some event planners use only the meeting space provided by hotels, some look for off-site meeting space such as traditional event venues or space inside attractions, like the elephant pavilion at Sedgwick County Zoo or the great hall inside Mark Arts. Larger events, though, need convention center space and in some cases Wichita cannot meet an event’s requirements so the city can’t bid on or win an event.
“Wichita has spent several years researching the issue and right now we have data-driven conclusions that show our current facilities don’t meet basic industry standards,” Rosson said.
Examples of those basics include several hundred thousand feet of contiguous space, column-free space, smaller rooms for breakout sessions and acoustics that allow simultaneous speakers throughout the facility.
Rosson said Visit Wichita is eager to see the community come together to develop a solution. Recently Mayor Jeff Longwell announced the formation of a Century II committee that will be responsible for making a recommendation to the Wichita City Council on what to do with the facility. The committee will base its recommendation on input from the community, and Rosson said Visit Wichita will represent the voice of the visitor, including meeting planners and attendees.
While convention center amenities are lacking, meeting planners are sold on the city’s modern airport terminal, short commute times, authentic experiences and welcoming vibe, Rosson said. And, in some cases, Wichita has facilities that other Midwest cities can’t offer. Having three sheets of ice within eight blocks attracted the 2018 Midwestern and Pacific Coast Synchronized Skating Sectional Championships in January. That event brought more than 2,500 athletes, coaches and their families and created an estimated $3.4 million economic impact.
“Residents of Wichita take for granted how attractive our city is to visitors,” Rosson said. “People like Wichita. They are surprised at the number of restaurants, bars and attractions. Whether they are staying east, west or downtown, they can usually get anywhere in the city in 15 to 20 minutes.”
Visit Wichita has a sales and service team that includes four sales managers whose primary duties are to find, qualify and bid on events. Last year, the team attended 21 tradeshows, hosted 26 site visits in Wichita and made eight sales missions, which are short trips to a targeted location to meet with as many planners as possible.
Some of the larger events booked during 2017 that will occur in upcoming years include the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship (2021), GTO Association of America Annual International Show and Meet (2020), International Conference of Police Chaplains (2019), Oldsmobile Club of America Nationals (2019), International Sports Heritage Association Annual Conference (2019) and Mennonite Health Services Alliance Health Assembly (2019).
Among 2018’s major meetings and events are the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards Regional Summit (March), Falcon Club of America National Car Show (July), American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (July), USA Waterski National Championships (August), National Fireworks Association Annual Meeting and Tradeshow (September) and the Professional Fraternity Association Annual Convention (September) and United States Bowling Congress’ 2018 U.S. Open (October).
“As far as size, the Professional Fraternity Association isn’t one of the largest we’ll host but it’s an association made up of meeting planners in the Greek and fraternal market,” Rosson said. “Bringing them to Wichita really opens up the door for us to sell the city to every single attendee of that conference.”
Have an idea for a convention, meeting or sports event?
Visit Wichita is asking residents to think about events they travel to and consider whether they could be hosted in Wichita.
For example, local tips led to the city hosting the YMCA National Gymnastics Championships in 2015 and will bring the Midwest Regional Convention and Competition of Sweet Adelines International to Wichita from 2020-2022.
Residents can call 316-265-2800 with the name of the event and Visit Wichita will handle the rest.