By CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — It takes two southeast Iowa communities to yank the opportunity to host the Iowa Tourism Conference from Des Moines.
Ottumwa Area Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Mark Eckman was stunned by how quickly the Iowa Tourism Office came to the decision that Ottumwa should host the 2015 Iowa Tourism Conference, after a team of officials visited town only a week ago.
"They liked our enthusiasm, first and foremost, and they liked our interest level, as well as the creativity that we brought to our particular bid," Eckman said.
Conference attendees won't only experience Ottumwa; Fairfield has also been incorporated into the mix. While attendees will stay overnight in Ottumwa, and the conference will take place at Bridge View Center, they'll be able to venture to Fairfield restaurants for the "dine-around" function and entertainment afterward at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center.
"It seemed to be a great fit to partner with Ottumwa and really give both communities an opportunity to shine and welcome such a large conference," said Rustin Lippincott, executive director of the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center. "Fairfield would never be able to host the tourism conference based solely on the fact that we don't have enough hotel rooms and meeting and conference space. But we have that eclectic dining scene, and we know how to do the entertainment part."
Ottumwa and Fairfield were up against the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines for this opportunity and used the combination of different amenities in both communities to make their bid "look decidedly different from the Des Moines bid," Eckman said.
"The Iowa Events Center is not something you want to draw as a competitor," he said. "It's new, shiny and very appealing, but then we have some great things we can counter with."
Three Ottumwa hotels agreed to provide 160 block rooms for the three-day conference: Hampton Inn, Quality Inn and AmericInn. A projected 300 people are expected to attend the conference, including convention and visitors bureau officials, tourism groups, historical societies, county conservation boards, hoteliers and more.
The conference will provide professional and volunteer development as well as continuing education.
It will also benefit the city of Ottumwa and its residents, Eckman said.
"We've got hotel/motel revenue for the properties themselves, as well as the hotel/motel tax collected by the city," he said. "There's additional spending visitors leave behind in the community for the businesses and Local Option Sales Tax, and there's also revenue collected by Bridge View Center, Inc."
The most important benefit to southeast Iowa, though, is how attendees will be able to market the region to the traveling public once they leave.
"It's very hard to calculate but it's very, very valuable," he said. "First hand experience at destinations is critical, especially if you're really trying to promote a positive image of a community."
Lippincott said the conference will give attendees an experience they've never had before, as they bounce between Ottumwa and Fairfield to showcase "what it means to live in southern and southeast Iowa."
To follow reporter Chelsea Davis on Twitter, head to @ChelseaLeeDavis.