For the first time, the Select Traveler Conference will work together with the Going On Faith Conference for a combined event to be staged in beautiful Wichita, the largest city in Kansas. The conference will take place August 19-21 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
The two conferences were merged because of the cancellation of the Select Traveler Conference, which was to have taken place March 22-24 in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The meeting was called off for health and safety reasons due to the covid-19 pandemic. Cheyenne has been promised it will host a future Select Traveler Conference when a date becomes available.
Select Traveler brings together group travel planners that represent banks, chambers of commerce and college travel programs. Going On Faith draws faith-based group travel planners that also are seeking new and interesting places to take their people. Both meet with destination providers from all over the nation and a few foreign countries as well.
“Wichita, which is located in the heart of our country, is excited to be selected as the host city for the 2020 Select Traveler/Going On Faith Conference,” said Moji Rosson, vice president at Visit Wichita, the city’s convention and visitors bureau. “We are looking forward to the opportunity to showcase our city as a must-visit Midwest destination. From our undiscovered food scene to the pride that is impossible to miss, there’s so much to do and so much to love here in Wichita.”
Making It Work
Conference organizers at The Group Travel Family expect an interesting blend of delegates for the gathering. The two travel planner groups will be taking part in a series of six-minute meetings with destination providers in hopes of arranging travel deals for their groups.
“Right now, we think there will be one large marketplace space located in a hotel ballroom, and it will be divided with Select Traveler appointments being held on one side and Going On Faith meetings on the other,” said Joe Cappuzzello, CEO of The Group Travel Family.
It might be July before final details of the gathering are finalized, Cappuzzello said, but he thinks meal functions — such as the opening night’s dinner and entertainment, as well as breakfasts and lunches for the two groups — will be shared. The keynote speaker and any other educational speakers that are scheduled will also likely be shared by the two delegate groups.
Above all else, safety will be the conference’s guiding principle.
“We will take all of the steps necessary to make sure everyone is safe and healthy while at the conference,” said Cappuzzello. “That includes the proper social distancing and sanitation. That will be paramount. We will work with the staff at Visit Wichita, the Hyatt Regency and the Century II Performing Arts and Convention Center to go over the proper protocols and safety standards. It is a fluid situation.” And while there may still appear to be many organizational details left to decide, “we are going to work through them,” Cappuzzello said.
Wichita is happy to host even more conference delegates than it was originally expecting this summer. The staff at Visit Wichita believe the city is perfect for Going On Faith travel planners.
“Wichita is primed to host these kinds of groups simply because of the culture we have in the city,” said Rosson. “We have many different faiths represented here, and we are part of the Bible belt.”
Convention sales manager Lindsay Gulley agrees.
“We have over 600 churches, and we are very welcoming,” she said. “The things the church groups I work with like best are the size of the city and what it has to offer. It’s easy to get to and navigate in, and we have plenty for them to do.”
Gulley thinks a Select Traveler planner would be surprised to learn that Wichita is a pretty lively Midwestern city with a lot of local pride.
Wichita has more than 8,100 hotel rooms with prices that range from economy to luxury. The only AAA 4-Diamond hotel in the state of Kansas is Wichita’s Ambassador Hotel Autograph Collection. The city’s main meeting space is the Century II Performing Arts and Convention Center, with nearly 200,000 square feet of space. The center also has 20 meeting rooms, a concert hall, a theater and other amenities. The center’s headquarters hotel is the the Hyatt Regency Wichita.
Wichita is pleased to show off its rising downtown area. “Over the past 15 years, downtown Wichita has been evolving into a vibrant area,” said Gulley. “There has been a lot of revitalization, with restaurants, boutique shopping, breweries, art galleries and neat outdoor spaces. It’s really fun to walk downtown and see all of those things.”
Conference organizers are still working with Visit Wichita to finalize details for any delegate sightseeing tours that may be offered. Whatever is arranged, the CVB likes to take its visitors to a number of popular attractions in the area. One such trip is to see the B-29 Doc Hanger and Education Center. Doc is the nickname for the World War II-era B-29 Superfortress aircraft. About 1,600 of these planes were manufactured in Wichita and one of them has been restored and still flies. It functions as a flying museum and a glimpse into Wichita’s important role in aviation and wartime history.
Another popular excursion is to Tanganyika Wildlife Park, where visitors get close to many rare and endangered animals. The park is a steward of these unusual creatures and shares their mystery and beauty with the public.
Other stops around town include history. A must-see destination is the awe-inspiring Keeper of the Plains sculpture and plaza. This is a 44-foot-tall steel sculpture of a Native American and stands at the spot where the Big Arkansas and the Little Arkansas rivers join in downtown Wichita. It is the work of Kiowa-Comanche artist Blackbear Bosin. Also part of this history tour is the Mid-America All-Indian Center, whose goal is to educate the public and preserve American Indian art and culture.
Often included on this history jaunt is a stop at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum, housed in the city’s original city hall, built in 1890. The museum exhibits artifacts that go back centuries to the Wichita tribe, from which the city took its name. There’s also a lot to see about the cowboys who drove cattle into town and the rise of Wichita as the Air Capital of the World. The Old Cowtown Museum also satisfies history lovers’ curiosity. It is an open-air museum spread on 23 acres near the famed Chisholm Trail. There are more than 50 outbuildings, including a period farm.
The CVB also guides tourists to a popular “sweet spot” — a place they may be grateful they visited. Stops include Cocoa Solce Chocolates; Peace, Love and Pie; Nifty Nut House; and the Spice Merchant.
One group of planners that will attend the conference has been offered an interesting familiarization tour through the heart of Oklahoma. US Tours has created this FAM tour for Select Traveler planners. They will spend four days visiting Tulsa, Bartlesville, Pawhuska, Claremore and Ponca City. These small towns are a key part of Oklahoma’s fascinating history and offer planners unique opportunities to entertain and educate their groups.
Day 1 of the tour begins in Wichita on Sunday, August 16, and will include Pawhuska for the Osage Cultural Center, the Pioneer Woman Mercantile, and the Woolaroc Museum and Wildlife Preserve. Next up is Bartlesville and the Price Tower and the Philips Museum. Then it will be the Coleman Theater for dinner, with an overnight stay in Miami, Oklahoma.
Day 2 of the tour includes a visit to the Cherokee Experience with lunch afterward. The group then travels to the Claremore Dog Iron Ranch, where they will enjoy dinner. The overnight stay will be in Claremore. Day 3 will be busy with stops at the Will Rogers Memorial and the famous Blue Whale in Catoosa. In Tulsa, the group will stop at the Buck Atoms Church Studio, the Mother Road Market, the Greenwood Cultural Center and the Woody Guthrie Center. Then it’s on to Marland Mansion in Ponca City, with an overnight stay there.
The last day of the FAM starts with a stop at Standing Bear Park and Museum before the return trip up to Wichita and the Select Traveler/Going On Faith Conference, which kicks off that afternoon.
The Group Travel Family’s Cappuzzello hopes a significant number of Select Traveler delegates will attend the combined conference with Going On Faith.
“Select Traveler is our oldest and biggest conference,” he said, “and we hope the delegates who missed out on Cheyenne in March because of the cancellation or because the dates conflicted with their schedule will join us in Wichita.”