Business Q & A

5 questions with Jack DeBoer

Jack DeBoer knows a thing or two about the tourism industry.

"It's been pretty good to me over the years," observed the 80-year-old Wichita entrepreneur, whose professional life has been built around hotel concepts chasing the tourism and business traveler dollar.

"It supports a lot of my lifestyle."

The reality is that tourism has taken a beating in the recession, DeBoer said.

But that hasn't stopped him from jumping back into the Wichita tourism market with his Hotel at WaterWalk, the rebranded first Residence Inn that his company will unveil today at Main and Kellogg. It joins DeBoer's Hotel at Old Town downtown.

Assess the state of the tourism market, locally and nationally.

"It hasn't recovered to 2007 levels. It's still struggling and gas prices are hammering the forecast for summer.

"I think business travel has come back stronger for tourism, driven by the fact hotels near and around airports are doing much better.

"The tourism thing, their dollars are going somewhere else and it's very tough. There's huge discounting going on all across the industry, as you see by the television ads — we'll pay your air fare; you get four nights instead of three; kids eat free — things you haven't seen forever."

What's your reaction to the downtown revitalization program? Will it help build tourism downtown?

"I like all the effort that is being put behind downtown, by both the private organizations, the city and county. I think it will make a difference.

"I hope they keep it simple. Don't put a lot of roadblocks in the way for developers. We're an unusual breed, and you need to not do anything stupid, but put your arm around these guys. Nothing gets done unless developers are willing to risk their time and money."

Are you optimistic about business opportunities downtown?

"A lot of things have happened. People are moving downtown, and that's extremely important.

"There's a lot of entertainment going on. Old Town helps the hotel, and the arena's been great. The progress downtown has been excellent."

What's your view on public-private development partnerships.

"Now, it's up to private developers. Be cautious about how much city and county money is involved. Just don't build barricades. Help these guys in reasonable ways, but don't let them rob the piggy bank."

How do your downtown hotel properties fit into the revitalization plans?

"Number one, the Hotel at Old Town, 50 percent of our business is repeat. We have a really good base. We live off the business travelers during the week and the local events during the weekend.

"Business went down a little bit during the recession, but not much.

"The other hotel, we're kind of pairing the two of them up. They're both boutique. We're going to promote them together.

"The Hotel at WaterWalk, starting with the ribbon cutting ... we're going after the weekend and extended stay customer."

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