West Texas Meetings 2003

July 8, 2011 by Paris and John  
Filed under Sample Articles


by Paris Permenter & John Bigley

Offering Texas’s only mountain range, the country’s second largest canyon, and views that span uninterrupted to the horizon, West Texas is a favorite with groups looking for a getaway that combines convenience and a unique setting. This expansive region–including the cities of El Paso, Odessa, Midland, Abilene, Amarillo, Lubbock, and Wichita Falls as well as the region of Big Bend–is home to numerous ecotourism activities and outdoor venues.

Many of those venues take advantage of the traditional symbols of Texas, features that groups may have difficulty locating in the state’s larger communities. Groups can enjoy a chuckwagon breakfast, tour a museum dedicated to the petroleum industry, or watch the story of Texas unfold in an outdoor amphitheater whose walls were formed by nature. The venues have been a proven hit with groups. “Many people like to go back in time and experience the Wild West atmosphere or the Oil Boom days, ” says SuJo McKee, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Midland Convention and Visitors Bureau. “With our cultural and historic ties, we can create socials or receptions or even educational activities that focus on a certain time period or culture.”


The largest city in West Texas is El Paso, located in the far western tip of Texas. The El Paso-Juárez, Mexico metropolis holds the title as the world’s largest border area. Business as well as cultural ties bind the two cities tightly together and many groups, whether their event takes them into Mexico for a portion of their meeting or not, opt to spend an evening in Juárez.

Juárez is a quick trolley ride from the El Paso Convention and Performing Arts Center, which underwent a $23 million renovation last year and serves as the meeting site for all sizes of groups. The facility now offers over 200,000 square feet of function space including 80,000 square feet of column-free meeting space and a 2,500-seat theater.

Surrounding the city are the Franklin Mountains, the southernmost tip of the Rocky Mountains. This region is part of the Chihuhuan Desert; with altitudes that vary from 3,762 feet in El Paso to 7,200 feet in the mountains, climates around the city can vary.

The mountains and adjoining desert make the city a perfect home base for groups with an interest in outdoor venues. The city itself boasts Franklin Mountains State Park, the largest urban wilderness park in the country. With nearly 24,000 acres of Chihuahuan Desert, the park is perfect for delegates looking for hiking and wildlife viewing. Along with desert plants such as sotol and ocotillo, the park is home to mule deer, numerous birds and an occasional mountain lion.

Scenic views of the Franklin Mountains can be enjoyed from Bowen Ranch, 20 minutes from downtown; the 88,000-acre cattle and buffalo ranch offers meal and entertainment packages. Rio Grande Valley Ranch, also 20 minutes from the city, is located along the Rio Grande and offers trail rides, rodeos, and a pavilion for outdoor functions.

One of the most unique outdoor venues is McKelligon Canyon, host of Shakespeare On-the-Rocks as well as Viva! El Paso, one of the country’s most popular outdoor dramas; along with the outdoor performances, dinner packages are available for groups.

The rough-and-tumble history that is recounted at the outdoor drama can be experienced firsthand at a recreation of an historic army post at Ft. Misery, located at Indian Cliffs Ranch. Up to 150 attendees can take part in an evening cookout reached by haywagon. Groups of up to 5,000 participants can enjoy an evening at Indian Cliffs Ranch and Cattleman’s Steakhouse, located just over half an hour from the city. The ranch includes movie sets, a maze, and a lake.

And for groups who want to try their hand at bullfighting, in a bloodless way, the private home of a former matador is available for group use. Solar de la Paloma, located outside the tourist area of Juárez, offers a large party room and private building with Mexican entertainment.


To many attendees, West Texas is synonymous with the oil industry and, in Odessa, that partnership is a reality. Odessa, along with nearby Midland, is best known for petroleum production but groups will find that the city also offers many other group options as well.

“We have been so fortunate. I’ve been here 15 1/2 years, and we have seen conventions reach a level and stay there,” notes Molly Thorn, convention sales specialist, Odessa Convention and Visitors Bureau. “After 9/11, I know many cities were hurt but we didn’t see a slow down. We aren’t tourism driven which has helped us.”

Although the city offers exposition facilities, the majority of the meeting space is found at local hotels. “We go after mostly state associations from 100-1000 people; that’s our niche,” says Thorn. “We compete with Midland and associations come out here every few years– sometimes in Midland and sometimes in Odessa.”

The most unique location in this plains city is the Odessa meteor crater. Formed over 20,000 years ago, this crater (the nation’s second largest) can be viewed by groups visiting the Odessa Meteor Crater Museum. Located west of town, the visitors center and museum tells a fascinating story of the crater’s origin. The center is available for group functions.

Another unique museum is The Presidential Museum and Leadership Library, the country’s only museum dedicated solely to the office of the US President. Group functions for up to 150 attendees can be arranged using the museum’s multifunction room, rotunda, and exhibit space.

On the campus of Odessa College, groups find an unusual venue in The Globe of the Great Southwest, a replica of England’s Globe Theatre. The theater recently underwent an extensive renovation and hosts both Shakespearean dramas and musical revues. On the grounds stands a replica of the renovated Anne Hathaway Cottage; both facilities are available for group use.


Near Odessa stands the city of Midland, a favorite with meeting planners for its easy access via Midland International Airport and Interstate 20 and for “the friendly, personal attention from our staff which makes their job as meeting planners a lot simpler,” says SuJo McKee, Director of Sales & Marketing for the Midland Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Being a smaller market with a limited number of facility accommodations, we bend over backwards to make sure that the meeting planner’s event runs smoothly and efficiently and tend to think creatively in meeting their requests.”

McKee notes that the city aims to attract primarily association and SMERF markets. “We look for groups who range from 50 to 800 in attendance. We can accommodate 500 very easily. We look for regional meetings and annual conferences to host, and we always enjoy hosting board and district meetings as well.”

Groups attending meetings in Midland “want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the larger cities, and Midland is the perfect choice. We offer all the amenities of larger cities just without the traffic, congestion or higher prices. With our ability to create hospitality packages that differ from the norm based on our region and available recreation venues, we can offer unique experiences that a group may not get to experience in a large city. We create our services based on what the groups’ interests are.”

With its well-known reputation as a capital of the Texas oil industry, Midland is home to the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum; next year the facility is opening a new transportation wing featuring race cars. “The Petroleum Museum is a great place for receptions or after-hour socials,” says McKee.

The city has also launched a new Bush Driving Tour, a 15-mile tour of the city to former homes of the Bush family. “Being the Hometown of Presidents, we look forward to the opening of the George W. Bush Childhood Home and Visitor Center, scheduled for completion in late 2004,” says McKee. “The district will feature George W.’s childhood home restored to its original condition from 1952 to 1955, an interactive museum, a visitor center, gift shop and an educational learning center.”


Another capital in the Texas oil industry is the city of Abilene, located along the eastern edge of West Texas. A favorite for oil meetings as well as for small- and medium-sized groups of all kinds, the city offers two group facilities. The Abilene Civic Center offers a 2200-seat auditorium along with a 20,000-square-foot exhibit hall and a conference center that can be used for a 1,000-seat banquet or divided into four meeting rooms. The Taylor County Exposition Center is an equestrian facility with a 5,000 fixed seat coliseum and a multi-purpose pavilion.

Like many West Texas communities, the Abilene CVB continues to court regional associations although “we are also marketing more heavily toward sports and cultural heritage tourism,” says Nanci Liles, executive director of the Abilene CVB.

The history of the region will be the focus of a new attraction opening in Spring 2004. Frontier Texas “is an entertaining and educational interactive museum depicting life from 1780 to 1880,” says Liles. The expansive facility will include space for group functions and high-tech interactive theaters will allow visitors to experience “life on the range” including hailstorms and tornadoes.

Abilene is home to several ecotourism attractions available for group use. Cedar Gap Farm, located nine miles south of the city, offers a climate-controlled viewing house for watching hummingbirds, songbirds, and white tailed deer. Groups can reserve the house for meetings and meals; up to 35 people can be accommodated at a seated meal or 50 theater style.

Another popular outdoor option is Stasney’s Cook Ranch, located in nearby Albany. The 25,000-acre working cattle ranch offers mountain biking, bird watching, trail rides, wildlife tours, and more as well as meals and lodging. Finally, Abilene State Park is a popular getaway for groups looking for free time fun. The historic site, once used as a campsite by the Comanche, today has staff interpretive programs and delegates can view the park’s Texas Longhorn and buffalo herd. Two recreation halls are available as well as a game area.


Well known as the home of musician Buddy Holly and the heart of the growing Texas wine industry, Lubbock is located in the Texas Panhandle. Surrounded by miles of plains, the location was a natural setting for one of the most unusual museum venues in the region: the American Wind Power Center and Windmill Museum. Located in Mackenzie Park, the 28-acre museum showcases rare windmills, with information on the importance of harnessing this natural source of power. The museum can be rented for group functions; the commons area can host 300 comfortably while the indoor facility can accommodate up to 200 delegates.

Windmills were a dependable source of energy for the area’s ranches for many years; groups can learn more about the ranching history of this region at the National Ranching Heritage Center. This museum featuring historic ranch homes and outbuildings that have been moved to this site to depict the history of ranching and its importance on the Panhandle plains.

The museum is located on the grounds of Texas Tech University, home to several group venues including the Moody Planetarium and the Omnimax Theater and Science Spectrum Museum, available for groups of up to 180 persons. Meeting planners also find that the city is home to the 300,000-square-foot Lubbock Memorial Civic Center.


North of Lubbock, the city of Amarillo hosts West Texas’s most newly expanded meeting facility. Following an $11.4 million expansion, the Amarillo Civic Center opened April 22, highlighted by the addition of 70,000 square feet of meeting, exhibit, and banquet space. Now with nearly 340,000 square feet for group use, the center is able to accommodate larger meetings.

“Although we strive for business in all market segments, the expansion of the Civic Center has us focusing our efforts on associations and religious conferences,” notes Darlene Kee, Director of Convention Sales for the Amarillo Convention and Visitors Council. “The expansion of the civic center to 340,000 square feet has opened doors for hosting associations and organizations with larger attendance, tradeshows and numerous breakout sessions. The Retired Teachers Association of Texas and Texas D.E.C.A. signed contracts with Amarillo due to the expansion. Our expansion will be the highlight of many site tours this year to familiarize meeting planners with our outstanding facilities.”

The increased demand for Amarillo meeting space stems partly from its central location. “Located in the center of the United States, planners find Amarillo very accessible,” says Kee. “Amarillo is within 500 miles of the state capitals of Kansas, Oklahoma , Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming , making Amarillo a great regional conference destination.”

Kee also points to price as a factor for the city’s popularity. “Amarillo is still one of the best values in the state of Texas and the US,” notes Kee. “Currently hotel group rates are under $100 per night and catering and area restaurants are affordable. Catering is at the planner’s discretion as the Civic Center is not under contract with one company. This keeps costs flexible.”

Although it offers state of the art meeting facilities, the city is also home also to plenty of free time options. “Amarillo’s rich Western Heritage is surpassed by none, thus the slogan ‘step into the real Texas.’ Real working cowboys can be seen at the Working Ranch Cowboy’s Rodeo in November, the Cowboy Round-up and Coor’s Ranch Rodeo and Chuck Wagon Cook-off in June, and numerous other events and attractions such as Cowboy Morning, Quarter Horse Museum and Heritage Center, Panhandle Plains Historical Museum, and of course the outdoor drama Texas Legacies, premiering in June.” Texas Legacies replaces the long-running drama TEXAS! at Palo Duro Canyon.


Just a few miles from the Oklahoma border stands the city of Wichita Falls, located on the Wichita River. This community recently underwent an expansion of its MPEC or Multi-Purpose Events Center, adding a 10,500-seat coliseum. The facility also includes expansive exhibit areas, 12 meeting rooms, and a lecture hall as well as the J.S. Bridwell Agricultural Center, used for rodeos and special events.

The center, as well as meeting space in area hotels, are in demand for all types of industry meetings. Wichita Falls is home to over 200 manufacturing firms, many which service the area’s oil industry.

Although the modern oil industry of West Texas is a far cry from its Spindletop boomtown days, reminders of early petroleum business are found throughout the city. Abandoned steel oil derricks remain at Lake Arrowhead State Park as a reminder of those boomtown days. Today the park is a favorite with ecotourists as well; groups can utilize new hiking and equestrian trail.




*Construction is underway on a 116-room Hampton Inn & Suites (806.372.1425, www.hamptoninn.com); the project is scheduled for completion in early June.

*Ashmore Inn & Suites (800.692.1338) is under construction and scheduled for completion by June. The 128-room hotel will include meeting space for 200 people as well as an indoor pool and Jacuzzi, and complimentary breakfast and hospitality hour.

*A Courtyard By Marriott (800.321.2211, www.courtyard.com) is under construction with completion scheduled for later this summer; the facility will offer 90 guest rooms.

Big Bend

*At Lajitas Resort (877.424.3525, www.lajitas.com), renovations have been completed on 50 of the 72 guest rooms; the remainder will be completed in July. This summer, the resort will also add tennis courts. The resort includes 6500 square feet of meeting space, an 18 hole PGA championship golf course, spa, private airport with jet capability, equestrian center, and hunting lodge that accommodates up to 40 attendees banquet style.

El Paso

*The 96-room Residence Inn by Marriott (701.235.1060) is under construction and is scheduled for completion in late October.


*The MCM Elegante (866.368.5885, www.mcmelegante.com) underwent a renovation and reopened on September 1. Formerly a Radisson, the full-service property has added a spa and renovated 8,000 square feet of meeting space.



Number of Hotels: 31
Hotel Rooms: 2,448
Average Room Rate: $47.56
Taxes: Room tax: 7%
Sales tax: 8.25%
Maximum Group Size: 5,000
Value season: winter
Getting There: Abilene Regional Airport is served by American Eagle. Abilene is located on I-20, US 277, and US 83.


Number of Hotels: 44
Hotel Rooms: 4293
Average Room Rate: $53.72
Taxes: Room tax: 6.75%
Sales tax: 8.25%
Maximum Group Size: 7,000
Value Season: spring, fall
Getting There: The Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport is served by American Eagle, Continental Express, Delta Connection, Southwest Airlines, and Great Lakes Aviation (code share with United and Frontier Airlines). Amarillo is located on I-40, I-27, and US 87.

El Paso
Number of Hotels: 80
Hotel Rooms: 7600
Average Room Rate: $57
Taxes: Room tax: 15.5%
Sales tax: 8.25%
Maximum Group Size: 10,000
Value Season: winter
Getting There: El Paso International Airport is served by American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Continental Airlines, and America West Airlines. El Paso is located on I-10.


Number of Hotels: 40
Hotel Rooms: 3380
Average Room Rate: $60
Taxes: Room tax: 5%
Sales tax: 8%
Maximum Group Size: 3,000
Value season: winter
Getting There: Lubbock International Airport is served by American Eagle, Delta Connection, Continental, and Southwest Airlines. Lubbock is located on I-27, US 87, and US 84.


Number of Hotels: 20
Number of Hotel Rooms: 2000
Average Room Rate: $60
Taxes: Room tax: 7%
Sales tax: 6%
Maximum Group Size: 1,000
Value Season: January, February
Getting There: Midland International Airport is served by American, Southwest Airlines, and Continental. Midland is located on I-20.

Wichita Falls

Number of Hotels: 28
Number of Hotel Rooms: 2,200
Average Room Rate: $51
Taxes: Room tax: 13%
Sales tax: 8.25%
Maximum Group Size: 6,500
Value Season: December, January, February
Getting There: Wichita Falls is served by American Eagle. The city is accessible by highways 281, I-44 and 287.


Abilene CVB

Amarillo Convention and Visitor Council

El Paso CVB

Lubbock CVB

Midland Convention and Visitors Bureau

Odessa Convention & Visitors Bureau

Wichita Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau

The Wild, Wild West

Although many ecotourism venues are located directly around the cities of West Texas, groups that venture deeper into West Texas find a rugged region that offers a variety of experiences ranging from rafting to star gazing to mountain climbing.

Just over the New Mexico border, groups find several nearby ecotourism attractions. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, 140 miles east of El Paso, offers traditional guided tours as well as rugged adventure tours through the New Cave. Summer visitors can experience a bat flight as thousands of bats depart the caverns at sunset until mid-October. And 80 miles northeast of El Paso, White Sands National Monument invites groups to hike among miles of white gypsum sand dunes, a favorite excursion for softball players and sand surfers.

Within the Lone Star state, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is home to the only true mountains in Texas. Rising to a height of 8,749 feet, the park’s highest point is Guadalupe Peak. Over 80 miles of trails wind along these slopes; one of the most popular hikes is to El Capitan limestone formation and McKittrick Canyon, known for its fall color.

Hiking shares the spotlight with rafting in Big Bend, a canyon-filled remote area in the Chisos Mountains and the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert. Groups can book rafting trips down the waters of the Rio Grande, hike the national park itself, or visit some of the regional attractions. Several outfitters located just outside the park offer Rio Grande float trips through the rugged canyons. Guided nature walks led by naturalists are offered year around (several per day in the peak months from November through April).

The gateway to Big Bend is the community of Fort Davis, located in the Davis Mountains. Built as a US military post in the mid-19th century, today Fort Davis National Historic Site is considered one of the Southwest’s best examples of a frontier military post. Groups can tour renovated buildings and ruins; costumed docent tours can be arranged.

Sixteen miles northwest of Fort Davis, the University of Texas McDonald Observatory is a favorite with starry-eyed groups. Considered one of the world’s best astronomy research facilities, the observatory is located far from city lights, enhancing its viewing abilities. Groups can obtain a guided tour of the 107-inch Harlan J. Smith Telescope, used by NASA, and the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET), the third largest telescope in the world. Star parties and public viewings are scheduled throughout the year.


Dr. Kate Asbill, an independent meeting planner specializing in educational meetings, helped plan a reunion in Odessa in September 2002. Dr. Asbill, based in Carlsbad, New Mexico, is the author of a guide for planning special gatherings titled A Rainbow of Ideas for Conference Planning With a Plus.

*Briefly describe your event/meeting, number of attendees, its purpose and where it was held in Odessa.

I am the self-appointed reunion planner for the Jal High School Class of 1965. In 2000 we had a large reunion in our home town of Jal, New Mexico. Everyone who had ever attended school in Jal was welcome. Over 1500 exes and others were fed at the large catered barbeque that weekend. Two dances, a golf tournament, and other activities were planned. Many people met and made plans for several years in order to arrange that successful event. Another big bash is scheduled in 2005, but because some of wanted to see our friends again before five years passed, we decided to have a mini-reunion. It was decided by the reunion lovers that this one would be a simplified production – purely for the purpose of visitation and keeping in touch.

*Why did you decide to host the event/meeting in Odessa?

Odessa is a West Texas town about 80 miles from our hometown. It is located nearer the airport, has more motels, restaurants and golf courses. Our choice for this particular reunion was based on simplicity.

*What did your attendees seem to enjoy the most about the event and/or the city?

Our group wanted a party where we could just show up, eat, drink, reminesce and relax. That is how the Odessa, Texas Holiday Inn Convention was chosen. They had a good restaurant with reasonable prices, clean, affordable accomodations, and a large meeting room where we could gather for fun and fellowship. The location was easily accessible and centrally located for many who would be attending. There were golf courses close by for those who wanted to visit on the greens.

*Would you return?

Yes, We are already talking about plans for the 2005 party, but we will miss the simple arrangements of the 2002 mini-reunion. Approximately 100 Jal Gals and Guys gathered in Odessa in 2002 and we had a wonderful time. The simplicity of the event is what we party planners loved about the Odessa venue.

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