The South-Central states are beefing up their infrastructure and courting meeting business.
By Bob Andelman
There may be a housing crisis nationwide, but the meetings business is still being courted with downright ferocity in the South-Central states, where billions of dollars are being spent on new hotels, venues, convention centers, and mass transit in hopes of luring more business travelers.
And it’s not just cities like St. Louis; Kansas City, Mo.; and Little Rock, Ark., that are leading the parade. Traditional secondary cities such as Wichita, Kan.; Hot Springs, Ark.; and Branson, Mo., are all ramping up their hospitality projects in search of more meetings.
In Oklahoma, for example, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau are conducting a broad-reaching study to address the future needs of the meetings market, including convention space. The past 18 months have seen the downtown capacity of hotel rooms more than double, to about 2,000 total rooms. During the next 12 months, the entire city’s hotel inventory is expected to grow from 14,000 to more than 17,000.
In Branson, the convention center that opened last year has prompted nearby venues to create more space for meetings, a shift from the area’s previous leisure-travel focus.
And in Arkansas, the Hot Springs Convention Center in January was spruced up with new carpeting throughout the 360,000-square-foot facility and new furniture in the public areas. In Fort Smith, a new 12,000-square-foot Downtown Events Center opened on April 1 with an AV system, a full kitchen, and Internet/computer connections.