- Associated Press - Sunday, January 3, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The next few years should prove lively in Oklahoma City, with visits expected by the National Chimney Sweep Guild, American Kodaly Educators, Cowboy Fast Draw Association and the Elephant Managers Association, to name just a few groups.

The last of those is a firm commitment for about 125 elephant supporters to spend 360 room nights in city hotels in October 2016, but it’s still listed as a sales lead by Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau staff. The deal is never done until the rooms are sold, said Dennis Johnston, OCCVB vice president of sales.

That’s true of hundreds of other conventions, meetings, expos and reunions, he said. But the next year is looking good, and Johnston expects many of those groups to return in 2017 and years to come.

“We know the elephant managers group will actually happen,” he said. “We have such a strong presence in the world of zoo animals, so we’re a natural fit for the annual conference.”

“I’m not sure I would call a lot of these events quirky, but they’re not the mainstream organization events you would normally think about,” Johnston said. “There is an organization for everything. And thank goodness, otherwise there would be a bunch of us unemployed.”

According to the OCCVB’s latest figures, 2015 will likely end on a high note. In November last year, the sales staff helped finalize 41,700 room bookings; by comparison, this November’s tally was 53,034 rooms. For the first five months of fiscal year 2014-2015, the staff reported 117,700 room bookings; this year, that total is 133,400.

They aren’t all huge events at the marquee end of the scale; those are the responsibility of OCCVB President Mike Carrier. For every U.S. Team Roping Championship with 15,500 projected attendees in October, there are dozens of contacts made with groups representing events the size of the Cowboy Fast Draw Association at 150 people in May 2016, the American Folklore Society at 500 people in October 2018 and the Council of Georgist Organizations at 80 people in June 2018.

Georgists study the economic analysis and social philosophy advanced by the North American economist Henry George. Kodaly educators are interested in the vision of musician Zoltán Kodály to support music education. Johnston said the OCCVB staff performs a lot of research before making sales contacts so they can figure out what each group needs and expects.

Elephant managers, for example, like to troop to cities where there are elephant facilities to visit and other reputable managers to meet. That’s why the OCCVB coordinated its communications with Nick Newby, the Oklahoma City Zoo’s pachyderm specialist. Newby said he’s pleased his professional association chose the city for its next visit.

During EMA attendees’ visit, they’ll hang out at the Oklahoma City Zoo with Newby, check on the progress of Achara - the zoo’s second elephant birth, who just had her first birthday - enjoy other tourism sites such as Bricktown, and finish with a road trip to the zoo in Wichita, Kansas.

When EMA President Jessica Scallan confirmed the conference destination a few weeks ago, she said host facilities typically are chosen for their conservation and research efforts, skills and experience, hospitality and willingness to foster growth and development in other elephant programs. Oklahoma City was an obvious choice, she said.

Johnston said most event organizers are highly interested in local sites, although hotel prices and the availability of blocks of rooms might be mentioned first. If a representative bothers to visit Oklahoma City on a scouting expedition, odds are good that the group will commit, he said. That’s true of any organization size or field of interest, although Johnston said the staff remains cautious.

“For all the variety you’ll notice, there is still a finite universe of associations to fill hotels and convention centers,” he said. “There are hundreds and thousands of such groups, but we typically know their history and what they’re interested in.”

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Information from: The Journal Record, https://www.journalrecord.com

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