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Surprise Convention Hot Spot on the Prairie


Earlier this month, the stockholders of the big IBM Corporation -- a prestigious group, for sure -- held their annual meeting in a hot convention city with fine hotels, great restaurants, and lavish new tourist attractions like a huge casino, a stunning aquarium, and a science museum. No wonder this place can't book conventions, trade shows, and corporate meetings fast enough -- and ranks second in the nation with a 246 percent increase in inquiries from the people who plan the nation's big meetings.

We're talking New York City, right? Glitzy Las Vegas, Nevada, maybe; or Orlando, Florida, near the giant Disney World resort.

Nope. The surprising talk of the convention trade is Tulsa, Oklahoma -- population just 400,000. In fact, small cities like Tulsa; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Allentown, Pennsylvania, are stealing lots of convention business from the big boys.

Why would anyone meet in Tulsa, an old oil wildcatters' town on the Midwest prairie?

Well, it's smack in the middle of the country and easy and fairly cheap to get to, thanks to new low-fare airline service. Hotel rooms, meeting spaces, and dinners out cost a fraction of what they would in Vegas or New York. And you can get anywhere in town in 20 minutes.

Besides the aquarium and so forth, there are countless cowboy, oilfield, and Native American historical sites to explore.

Even more appealing are intangibles like the "howdy" greeting you get all over town. Every visitor's a big shot. To prove it, check out the banners, everywhere you go, welcoming the podiatrists or accountants to town. In short, Tulsa, Oklahoma, is big enough to have everything visitors need, and cozy enough to make them feel at home.

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