There is nothing like understanding the destination from a local’s perspective. For meeting planners, the destination expert at the CVB can play a fully supportive role in unlocking all the destination has to offer. That is why we were so excited to have a chance to talk up close and personal with Dennis Johnston, Vice President of Sales and Service for Visit Oklahoma City.
What makes Oklahoma City a great meeting destination?
Dennis: There is so much more for attendees to do than just meet. We have entertainment, dining, craft beer, museums and other attractions and best of all, they are just a few blocks from our downtown convention center. Oh, and don’t forget the Thunder!
What is the one thing planners are always surprised to learn about the Oklahoma City area?
Dennis: How tightly contained everything is downtown. No more than a few blocks in any direction will take you to everything attendees are looking for in a meeting experience.
What might we find you enjoying in the destination on your day off?
Dennis: One place you can find me is the American Banjo Museum Hall of Fame. In fact, recently we enjoyed the Museum induction ceremony. John McEuen (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) and Roy Clark were inducted. This museum is just one of those delightful surprises you’ll find in “Bricktown”.
What advice would you give to a planner who hasn’t worked with a CVB before?
- We only want your event to be the best
- We know things no one else knows
- We can make everything so much easier, faster and simpler
What do you see trending in the meeting’s market? How is your CVB proactively addressing this trend or staying current?
Dennis: Planners are looking for new destinations where attendees can get a fresh perspective and try new things. Not just ‘the same old thing’. The Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau works hard to provide groups with experiences they may not get anywhere else, further exceeding their expectations and giving planners a fresh perspective on destinations that aren’t oversaturated with meetings.
How does a planner benefit from consulting with you prior to sending out their RFP?
Dennis: We can usually pare down the number of properties receiving the RFP to only those who make the most sense. Again, we just want your event to be the best. We are not bound to any loyalties with certain properties.
What’s the latest news, developments, or events in your destination you’d like to share with planners?
Dennis: It’s hardly exaggerating to say Oklahoma City will soon be a brand new city from a meetings perspective. Construction will begin next spring on a completely new convention center, set to open in 2020. The center will have 200,000-square-feet of exhibit space, a 35,000-square-foot ballroom and 50,000-square-feet of additional space. Directly adjacent to the new convention center will be a new 600-room Convention Center headquarter hotel from Omni Hotels & Resorts.
Directly west of the Convention Center will be a 70-acre, fully programmed park that will connect downtown OKC to the shores of the Oklahoma River. Construction began last month on a 40-acre section across from the new Convention Center and will be completed in 2019, with the lower 30-acre portion set to open in 2021. The park will provide visitors with a variety of recreation activities, including concerts, walking/biking/running trails, picnic sites, youth sports fields, play areas, interactive water features and outdoor education opportunities.
The park, Convention Center and Convention Center headquarter hotel will all be linked to attractions, dining and nightlife in districts around downtown by a new streetcar system. The tracks are being installed now, and the whole six-mile system should be operational by November 2018.
Additionally, one recently completed project is Oklahoma City’s Boathouse District, home to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training site for Canoe/Kayak, and its $45.2 million whitewater rafting and kayaking center, which opened in May 2016. It’s the only urban rafting and kayaking course in the world and is walking distance from downtown hotels, OKC’s Bricktown Entertainment District and the Cox Convention Center. Attendees can spend the day on the Oklahoma River enjoying a day filled with team building activities; including canoeing, kayaking, ropes courses, zip lining and whitewater rafting.
With so many developments recently completed or opening soon, you can see why answers to the question of “what’s new in Oklahoma City?” become a little long-winded. Oklahoma City has earned a bit of a reputation for these kinds of projects, with more than $5 billion of public and private investment in quality-of-life projects and improvements happening over the past two decades. “New” is what we do around here, and the best is yet to come.
What differentiates your destination from your competitive set?
Dennis: We think everything mentioned above sets us apart and we can’t wait to show you!