In a market besieged by cut-throat room rates, declining occupancy
levels and the threat of an increased room tax, what's u ppermost in
the minds of most Oklahoma City hoteliers is not "When will the
market turn around?" but "Can we survive?"
Norton Locke, general manager of Oklahoma City's posh Skirvin
Plaza Hotel, probably speaks for the majority when he calls the
market situation here a "disaster."
"The number of hotels that are doing any significant business you
can count on one hand," Locke said. "Everybody is seeing a softening
in the market."
And while many hotels across the nation are preparing for the
onslaught of travelers that summer vacation brings, Oklahoma City
hotel owners are, for the most part, biding their time, Locke said.
"Since Oklahoma City is not a destination city, we won't enjoy a
lot of that normal summer vacation business that a city like Dallas
or St. Louis will," Locke said.
And even the question "When will the market turn around?" is not
something that Locke sees as pertinent to Oklahoma City - at least
not right now.
"I don't feel that we have even bottomed out," he said. "I think
that we won't see a clear picture until we start analyzing the fall
business which at this point is showing a softening."
Jim Tusing, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Hotel otel
Association, disagreed with Locke and said he feels the Oklahoma City
market has bottomed out, but he added that "it will be a long time
Oklahoma City's lack of destination status also bothers Tusing,
who said "we need four or five things" in place such as the proposed
$75 million Remington Park race track before Oklahoma City
hotelowners and managers will see any noticeable shift in the market.
"We've been hit by three things," Tusing said. "The whole state
has been hit with the (failure) of the agriculture business, the drop
in oil (prices), and we're also suffering from a larger inventory of
rooms with lesser business."
That excess inventory is present because a number of projects were
begun in the midst of the oil boom during the early 1980s and just
now have "come on-line," Tusing said.
"It's encouraging that they're predicting lower gas prices this
summer, which should stimulate domestic travel," Tusing said,
although Oklahoma City will be hard pressed to grab any of that
"We're not a destination state," he noted. "We have that
drive-through traffic from East to West and North to South and that's
about the extent of our tourism."
Part of the blame lies with the efforts, or lack of efforts, on
behalf of city and state officials to promote tourism here, Tusing
"We have not done the job we all knew needed to be done," he said,
adding that it's just now that officials are beginning to realize the
need for increased spending on promotional campaigns to attract
For the market to make any headway against the incoming tide of
depressed business, Tusing said "it will take a whole new thinking by
the people in Oklahoma, especially when it comes to state government
and city government.
"It must be a concentrated effort," he stated, and not the
fragmented attempts of times past with cities and towns "promoting
"We have never had a real concentrated effort and until we do it's
going to be tough to mount a major tourism effort," he said.
Tusing's view of the lack of a concentrated effort was hotly
disputed by Kathleen Marks, executive director of the Oklahoma City
Convention and Tourism Bureau.
Marks said her office works with a number of state agencies, as
well as Tulsa promoters, in a concerted effort to promote the state
as well as the individual cities. But she didn't say Tusing was
"The state and city do work together in promoting tourism," Marks
said. "They do place an emphasis on the (state) parks and I wish they
would put more emphasis on Oklahoma City and Tulsa. …