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Convention Center survey tracks use, opinions of facility
new deh lodging survey part 2 pic
The city-owned Great Bend Convention Center was the subject of a recent Great Bend Convention and Visitors Bureau survey which gave an idea of how outside groups view and use the facility. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

History of Convention Center Usage
21 Events (only partial year information available)
21- Community Based
0 - Conventions
Total Days Used: 28
28 – Community Based
Conference Room Usage: 21 days
Convention Center Usage: 12 days
118 Events
114 – Community Based
14 – Conventions
Total Days Used: 149
120 – Community Based
 29 - Conventions
Conference Room Usage: 115 days
Convention Center Usage: 60 days
115 Events
99 – Community Based
16 – Conventions
Total Days Used: 139
99 – Community Based
40 – Conventions
Conference Room Usage: 122 days
Convention Center Usage: 86 days
88 Events
74 – Community Based
14 – Conventions
Total Days Used: 131
100 – Community Based
31 - Conventions
Conference Room Usage: 80 days
Convention Center Usage: 61 days
Information not available
Note: The CVB was allowed access to the actual banquet books maintained by the Highland Hotel. The information listed above reflects ONLY events that used any portion of the convention center. The CVB compiled this information in November of 2012 and provided the complete breakdown to the city administration. The bureau has also maintained a complete record of this information.

Editor’s note: The Great Bend Convention and Visitors Bureau conducted surveys to gauge opinions of lodging in the community. In the second of two parts, the Great Bend Tribune will examine the Great Bend Convention Center.

Using information gleaned from the Highland Hotel’s massive banquet books and comments collected from hours of telephone conversations with numerous associations across Kansas, the Great Bend Convention and Visitors Bureau hoped to paint an accurate picture of the embattled Convention Center.
“We did this because there has been a lot of discussion,” said CVB Executive Director Cris Collier.  “There is a difference of opinion on what kind of business it attracts.”
In August 2011, Ambika Enterprises bought the hotel portion. Then, the City Council approved using $500,000 donated by an anonymous group of local residents to purchase the convention center. 
 Since then, the City of Great Bend has embarked on an effort to make improvements to the facility which dates back to the 1980s, but has not seen much renovation in the intervening years. The center has been the subject of several council meetings and one community-wide meeting.
 So, in November of last year, the CVB was allowed access to the actual banquet books maintained by the Highland Hotel listing events that used any portion of the convention center.
In addition, a survey was sent to all Kansas associations via email on three different occasions in the spring and early summer of this year. They followed up with phone calls and conventional mailings.
The survey was sent to 260 Kansas associations. Eventually, the CVB received responses from 164 organizations.
This amounts to 63 percent. “We have a comfortable feel for what is out there,” Collier said.

Lessons learned
What they learned came as no real surprise, especially to those who have tracked convention trends in recent years.
 “The convention business isn’t what it used to be,” Collier said. Many groups are opting for Internet meetings, reducing travel expenses or down-sizing their gatherings.
Also working against Great Bend is its location. Although centrally located in Kansas, Collier said it is not at the center of the more heavily populated eastern third of the state.
Wichita, Topeka and the Kansas City area are the convention hot spots.
What does this mean for Great Bend? Collier said it means a shift in the use of any convention space away from big events to smaller, community-based events such as weddings and reunions.
CVB Board President Loren Unruh agreed. “The market is going to be for more local stuff. The number of big deals is down.”
In this regard, he said the work done on the center has made people more comfortable using it. “I think the city has done very well. They’ve dressed it up.”
“We did this because of all the attention being given to the Convention Center,” Collier said of the study. They wanted to set aside rumors and speculation and gather accurate data to quantify the facility’s use.

Comments made
Besides the questionnaire, the associations were given the chance to make comments about the center. The remarks ranged from issues with the motel’s condition to the center’s size to a question of geography.
Here are some of the comments and the groups that made them:
• “Most of our attendees live east of Salina with the majority in the Topeka to Kansas areas so Great Bend is further west than most want to travel.” – Kansas District of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod
• “The current facilities do not meet the standards our members expect us to provide in a meeting facility.” – Kansas Hospital Association
• “There is not a facility big enough for our Convention or Fall Eyecare Conference. We actually to have one of our Presidential Zone meetings in Great Bend.” – Kansas Optometric Association
• “Nothing wrong with Great Bend- it just isn’t located in an area that we would meet. The Rendezvous History Seminars are always held in Larned because the host organization is located there and events are held at those locations. The symposiums are held at various locations along the Santa Fe Trails depending on which SFTA chapter is serving as coordinator. There is no Chapter in this area planning to host symposium for the foreseeable future.” – Santa Fe Trail Association
• “Our organization usually does the leg-work on deciding where to go based on membership as it has changed more towards eastern part of KS due to budget cuts.” – Kansas Environmental Health Association
• “Hotel would need improve hotel. Booked for Junction City 6-8 June 2014 would be next.” – Eagles
Collier said most of those with complaints about the condition were not referring to the center, but their experience with the motel tainted their overall impression. Sadly, many of these opinions were formed when the motel and center were under the same ownership.
The attached Highland Hotel has 174 rooms and was started in 1962.
Collier said the survey results were presented to the CVB Board Aug. 9, the Great Bend City Council Aug. 19 and the chamber Wednesday. “It took a while to get the information compiled.”

For the complete survey results see