The latest figures are in: Tourism in Tulsa continues to be big business.
The Tulsa Convention and Visitors Bureau received statistics this month from Global Insight and D.K. Shifflet, a economic and financial analysis firm headquartered in Boston, Mass., indicating that spending by travelers during 2006 totaled nearly $1.3 billion. One-person, one-time visits to Tulsa totaled 9.55 million during 2007, up from 8.59 million visits in 2006.
Thank goodness for Tulsa’s world-class collection of tourist destinations. The following places and events bring the most travel and tourism dollars to the Tulsa area. Combined, these destinations continue to bring millions of dollars and visitors to the area.
Cherokee Casino Resort
777 W. Cherokee St., Catoosa
Number of Attendees in 2006: 3.65-4.4 million (or 10-12,000 per day)
Number of Attendees in 2007: 4.4-5.5 million (or 12-15,000 per day)
Percent Change: Up 21-25 percent
Cherokee Casino Resort in Catoosa offers not thousands, but millions of tourists each year ways to live like they mean it, 24/7.
Cherokee Casino Resort is a sprawling 95,000-SF complex that features 80,000 SF of gaming, a 150-room hotel, several eateries and nearly 1,500 electronic games.
“Cherokee Casino Resort is a determining factor in bringing tourism to the Tulsa area,” said David Stewart, CEO of Cherokee Nation Enterprises. “The Tulsa Metro Chamber did an economic impact study of Cherokee Casino Resort and found that we generate around $89 million a year in direct economic output for the area.” ?
4145 E. 21st St.
Number of Attendees in 2006: 1.69 million
Number of Attendees in 2007: 1.76 million
Change: Up 4 percent
Projected No. of Attendees in 2008: 1.8 million
2006 Gross Revenue: $12.1 million
2007 Gross Revenue: $13.5 million
Change: Up 12 percent
Projected 2008 Gross Revenue: $14 million
Expo Square is Tulsa’s go-to place for the area’s largest festivals, expos and entertainment events.
The top events for revenue at Expo Square include the Chili Bowl at nearly $220,000 for 2007, the Reichert Celebration at $187,000 and the Tulsa Boat Show at nearly $135,000.
Expo Square is also home to Big Splash Water Park, Tulsa Drillers baseball and at Fair Meadows.?
Tulsa State Fair
4145 E. 21st St., Expo Square
Number of Attendees in 2006: 1,055,948
Number of Attendees in 2007: 987,057
Percent Change: Down 6 percent
Projected No. of Attendees in 2008: 1,000,000
2006 Gross Revenue: $7 million
2007 Gross Revenue: $7.1 million
Percent Change: Up 1 percent
2008 Projected Gross Revenue: $7.2 million
The 2008 fair, Tulsa’s 105th, will be open to locals and out-of-towners alike Sept. 25 to Oct. 5. The 105th Tulsa State Fair will lure a projected 1 million visitors and $7.2 million to Tulsa with new facilities, a new midway and an entertainment and events schedule that is different every day.
Each year, more than 800 exhibitors are hosted in the newly re-named QuikTrip Center, Central Park Hall, Ford Truck Exhibit Hall, Exchange Center, Exhibitor Tent and Midway. ?
Tulsa Zoo and Living Museum
5701 E. 36th St. North
Number of Attendees in Fiscal Year 2005/2006: 507,821
Number of Attendees in Fiscal Year 2006/2007: 505,350
Change: Down 4.9 percent
Projected No. of Attendees in Fiscal Year 2007/2008: 533,998
Average Yearly Admission Sales: $1 million
The Tulsa Zoo and Living Museum, voted America’s favorite zoo by Microsoft Game Studios in 2005, lures thousands of visitors and 35,000 school children annually.
The Tulsa Zoo, owned by the City of Tulsa and a division of the Tulsa Parks Department, sprawls across 78 acres within Mohawk Park, the third-largest municipal park in the U.S. Nearly 1,500 animals, or 436 species, are on exhibit, and many of them are rare and endangered. Some of the most popular exhibits include the Elephant Encounter, the Helmerich Discovery Center, the Tropical American Rainforest and the Penguin Habitat.
“Tulsa Zoo is ‘America’s Favorite Zoo’ because it serves the entire region. We consider ourselves a resource for education, conservation and recreation for any family wishing to learn more about their natural world, whether they’re from midtown Tulsa, western Arkansas, southern Kansas and beyond,” said Keegan Young, executive director at Tulsa Zoo Friends.
The Tulsa Zoo averages $1 million through its admission gates annually, 80 percent of which is returned to the general fund at the City of Tulsa. Zoo improvements command 20 percent of admission monies, which offsets the $4 million Tulsa taxpayers provide annually for zoo staff, animal care and maintenance. The Zoo is accredited by the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the American Association of Museums. ?
4300 S. Aquarium Drive
2006 Attendance: 352,000 (estimated)
2007 Paid Attendance: 400,000 (estimated)
Percent change: up 14 percent
2008 Projected Attendance: 441,548
2007 Sales Volume: $6 million (estimated)
2008 Projected Sales Volume: $6.72 million (estimated)
Percent change: up 12 percent
The Oklahoma Aquarium, opened in May 2003, is the only of its kind in the four-state region, giving visitors the opportunity to see and learn about ocean life in a way they might never experience in a land-locked state, said Teri Bowers, Aquarium COO and executive director.
“It has a wide diversity of species and interactive exhibits,” she said. “We actually have more animals than some aquariums in coastal areas and have an envious shark collection, including the largest set of the largest bull sharks in captivity.”
Attendance at the aquarium grows because exhibits continue to expand. In March the aquarium opens the Hayes Family Ozark Stream, featuring the Oklahoma Aquariums’ first mammals, river otters, raccoons and beavers.
The Oklahoma Aquarium has been the catalyst for development along both the Jenks and Tulsa sides of the Arkansas River, including the future River District in Jenks, Bowers said.
All development along the river will “expand the opportunities for tourism spending on entertainment, lodging, restaurants and shopping,” she said.
Studies have shown visitors to the aquarium will spend at least an extra half-day in the Tulsa area, with an overall impact of $18 to $20 million annually, Bowers said. ?
Tulsa International Mayfest
Main Street between Third and Sixth Streets, the Green at Third Street between Main Street and Boston Avenue, and Fourth Street between Main Street and Boston Avenue.
Number of Attendees in 2006: 380,000
Number of Attendees in 2007: 375,000
Change: Down 1 percent
Projected No. of Attendees in 2008: 350,000 (depending on weather)
Independent art, live music and food that will make your arteries scream, all within a few city blocks: that’s the Tulsa International Mayfest.
Mayfest, northeastern Oklahoma’s premier arts festival, produced since 1974 by Downtown Tulsa Unlimited and the Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa, will come to downtown May 15-18.
Showcases of national and local artists are the cornerstone of Mayfest. The Visual Artists section on Main Street features more than 100 fine artists annually, and the Mayfest Market section hosts 20 crafters each year. All artists are subject to a strict, blind jurying application process before they are permitted to set up shop at the festival.
The Invitational Gallery, reserved exclusively for Tulsa-area artists, hosts 100 artists each year, and the indoor Youth Art Gallery, which displays art by Tulsa County school children, features more than 500 artists.
Mayfest is also about music. Local dance groups, bands and national-caliber entertainment comprise the 80 performances that rock the festival each year. And, who could forget the Mayfest cheese-on-a-stick, which is available at more than one of the 25-30 food vendors.
“Tulsa International Mayfest is a great destination for a wonderful weekend excursion to see Tulsa at its best,” said Mary Jo Sartain, 2008 Mayfest festival chair. “It offers something for everyone.” ?
Address: 6221 S. 107th East Ave.
6413 S. Mingo Road
815 S. Cincinnati Ave.
Expo Square Pavilion
4145 E. 21st St.
University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane
600 S. College Ave.
Oral Roberts University
Golden Eagles Sports
7777 S. Lewis Ave.
Combined Professional Sports & College impact on Tulsa tourism:
2006 Attendance: 300,000 (estimated)
2007 Paid Attendance: 330,000 (estimated)
Change: Up 10 percent
2008 Projected Attendance: 330,000 – 350,000
Tulsans get hooked on professional sports teams like the Talons, Oilers and 66ers because of the non-stop entertainment, family friendly environment and the affordability of their events.
Tulsa’s professional sports teams regularly compete in the playoffs. The Talons were the 2007 Arena Cup Champions. It was their second championship in four years. The Drillers qualified for the post-season last year, and the Oilers always battle for a spot in hockey post season.
The University of Tulsa’s Golden Hurricanes have won six national championships (three NCAA), while the Golden Eagles at Oral Roberts University is a member of The Summit League. ?
4802 E. 15th St.
Drillers Stadium is a part of Expo Square and the Tulsa County Fairgrounds.
2006 Attendance: 333,763
2007 Paid Attendance: 296,017
Change: down 11 percent
2008 Projected Attendance: 330,000-350,000
Tulsa Drillers games, held at Drillers Stadium at 4802 E. 15th St. on the Tulsa Fairgrounds, are well attended because of the service the club provides it customers, said Jason George, general manager.
“We distinguish ourselves as an affordable, family entertainment option,” he said.
The Drillers, Tulsa’s own minor league baseball team, make each game a memorable event for fans while also keeping prices affordable so they keep coming back, he said.
The organization tries to improve each season, too.
“We evaluate all aspects of our business each year and make every effort to implement ideas,” he said.
Avid baseball fans travel across the country to see as many ballparks or minor league games as possible during the summer months, George said, and Tulsa gets to get in on the game each year.
Tulsa Drillers games are not only local destinations, but they also draw visitors from across the region.
“We attract visitors within 100 mile radius, and most often these people are coming to Tulsa specifically for a Drillers game,” he said.
“Fortunately, we have relationships with many companies and families throughout northeastern Oklahoma, and they keep coming back year after year.” ?
Tulsa Performing Arts Center
110 E. Second St.
Number of Attendees in FY 2005-2006: 343,687 (reflects attendance at The Lion King show)
Number of Attendees in FY 2006-2007: 231,788
Yearly Sales Volume: $5 million in tickets; doesn’t include tickets to events held at the PAC sold by local arts groups
The Tulsa Performing Arts Center, which hosts an average of 550 events annually, draws up to 325,000 event-goers and performing arts lovers each year.
“The PAC is underappreciated in terms of the amount of tourism that it generates,” said John Scott, PAC director.
The Tulsa Opera, the Tulsa Ballet, the Tulsa Symphony and celebrity attractions “can attract people from out of town. Of course, they’re going to stay in hotels and eat at restaurants and buy souvenirs,” he said.
Arts patrons are attracted to Tulsa’s PAC each year to attend local art groups’ performances, to sample national and international talent, to stage or attend social functions or Art Gallery exhibits and to view the PAC’s permanent collection of more than 70 pieces of art.
The Tulsa PAC anticipates a summer 2008 return of The Phantom of the Opera, which has been on a 12-year hiatus, as well as local opera and ballet company productions like the Tulsa Ballet’s yearly rendition of The Nutcracker. The Broadway series for the 2008-2009 season will feature The Color Purple, produced under Oprah Winfrey’s name, and Wicked, which the PAC staff has been waiting to come to Tulsa for several years, Scott said.
The Tulsa PAC, owned and operated by the City of Tulsa, does not present events, but rents its space to organizations, shows and to the public. ?
2727 S. Rockford Road
Number of Attendees in 2007: 102,247
Projected No. of Attendees in 2008: 110,250
2007 Revenue: $8 million
Projected 2008 Revenue: $8.5 million
Rare is the Tulsan who hasn’t had a portrait taken on the post-card quality grounds at the Philbrook Museum of Art.
The Philbrook’s collections are housed in an Italianate villa built on 23 acres in 1927 by oilman Waite Phillips. The Philbrook has evolved from a grand family estate to a Tulsa art center and Oklahoma’s largest general fine art museum. The facility also features formal gardens that underwent a 22-month long renovation in 2004.
Randall Suffolk, executive director at Philbrook, heralds the museum as a center for cultural tourism.
“One study recently found that cultural tourists on average generate $4 for every $1 they spend in the local economy. These individuals represent another segment of a potential audience, one we need to reach and serve. Ultimately, that’s why we exist and that’s where our primary emphasis resides,” Suffolk said.
The Philbrook is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays.
Adult admission is $7.50, $5.50 for seniors and students with I.D., and free for patrons aged 18 and under. Admission to the Philbrook is free on the second Saturday of each month, thanks to a grant from the Oklahoma Arts Council. Admission is free to members, with memberships starting at $50.
La Villa Restaurant, located within the Philbrook, serves lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and a dessert and specialty drink menu from 2-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, and Sunday Brunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. ?
1400 N. Gilcrease Museum Road
Number of Attendees in 2007: 75,000 to 100,000
2007 Revenue: $4-$4.5 million
Gilcrease Museum, located just a few miles northwest of downtown, attracts an average of 100,000 visitors to Tulsa annually with the largest, most comprehensive collection of American Western Art in the world.
Museum management projects attendance records to surge in 2008 due to upcoming exhibitions and events, including Ansel Adams, Willard Stone, American Art in Miniature, Rendezvous 2008 and a yet-to-be-announced special exhibition. The partnership between Gilcrease and the University of Tulsa is predicted to increase revenue and funding for the year.
“Gilcrease Museum is an extremely important destination in Tulsa because it houses one of the finest collections of American Art and History in the United States,” said Gary Moore, interim director at Gilcrease. “The museum is a great showcase for this area because its exhibitions depict the history of the Americas and Native Americans through its holdings in art, archival documents, and artifacts.”
Gilcrease Museum is the result of the lifetime collection of oilman Thomas Gilcrease, who deeded his collection to the City of Tulsa in 1955. The museum hosts a collection of art and archaeological collections, including more than 10,000 paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures, and features 23 acres of themed gardens.
Event facilities are also available at Gilcrease. ?
22nd Dodge Chili
Bowl Midget Nationals
4145 E. 21st Street
2006 Attendance: 50,000 (estimate)
2007 Paid Attendance: 55,518 (estimate)
Change: Up 11 percent
2008 Projected Attendance: 65,316 (estimate)
2007 Sales volume: $219,489
The Dodge Chili Bowl Nationals looks like a big social gathering during the day. But, when the sun goes down, more than 15,000 people get to watch a great race, said organizer Emmett Hahn.
Hahn and Lanny Edwards, who have supervised the four-night race meet since its 1987 inception, said success did not happen overnight.
Now, some of the top racing stars in the world come to Tulsa for the Chili Bowl, Hahn said.
“It is the only place in the world that you can race against the best in every division out there — NASCAR, midgets, late models — there is not another race in the country that does it,” Hahn said.
This year the 22nd Dodge Chili Bowl Nationals featured 277 entries from 27 different states, as well as from Canada and Australia.
The 2008 event, held at Expo Square and the QuikTrip Center, concluded with a 50-lap Chili Bowl championship event won by Damion Gardner of Pittsboro, Ind. A standing-room-only crowd of 16,329 and a cable pay-per-view audience watched Gardner win over a 24-car field that included NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne.
The event draws large crowds to a sold-out venue and national coverage on-line and on pay-per-view, Hahn said.
The economic impact on Tulsa has been estimated at more than $10 million with potential to draw up to $15 million, he added. ?
Blue Dome District, between First and Second Streets on Elgin Ave.
Number of Attendees in 2006: 15,000
Number of Attendees in 2007: 40,000
Change: Up 167 percent
Projected No. of Attendees in 2008: 80,000
Held in Tulsa’s Blue Dome District, Diversafest, or DFest, is the most comprehensive music conference and festival in the Midwest. The two-day event gives members of the young, creative class one more reason to come to Tulsa.
Dozens of bands are showcased at DFest, while music conference panels educate working musicians via clinics, workshops and one-on-one mentoring. Since its inception in 2002 when DFest featured 12 bands, the event has grown to feature more than 100.
DFest will host more than 150 bands this year from July 25-26, though the exact number of acts has not been settled.
DFest aims for 50 percent of the bands at the event to be from Oklahoma and to feature “all different genres,” said DFest CEO Tom Green.
“What makes this a unique event is we also add in regional, national and major recording-label bands of different styles and genres,” Green said. “Most big festivals are based on one particular genre and focus on major artists; we combine the best of what we call everything.”
This year will dictate how the festival will continue to grow, Green said.
“We want to make sure our event is here for years to come. We compliment the other historic events like Mayfest, Oktoberfest and JazzFest – we want to become another staple in Tulsa.”
DFest has drawn music lovers to Tulsa from 23 U.S. states and seven countries. ?
ABA BMX Grand Nationals
4145 E. 21st St. at Expo Square
2006 Attendance: 3,475
2007 Paid Attendance: 3,600
Change: Up 4 percent
2008 Projected Attendance: 4,140
The ABA BMX series determines the No. 1 amateur and professional in bicycle motocross each year.
“The American Bicycle Association’s annual bicycle motocross Grand Nationals held in Tulsa (last November) was the culmination of the 27 events nationwide,” said Brad Fanshaw, president of bonspeedMedia. The California-based company oversees the series events.
Tulsa was able to play host to the nationals because of its geographically central location, he said.
The Tulsa Sports Commission estimated the annual event brings about $8 million to the Tulsa economy, Fanshaw said. Participants from around the world travel to Tulsa for the ABA Grand Nationals of BMX, he said.
This year, the Olympics will include BMX for the first time as a competitive sport, Fanshaw said. The U.S. Olympic committee expects that the Olympics will boost participation 40 percent nationwide.
“The ABA feels that this could translate to a 10 percent to 15 percent increase at the Grand Nationals,” he said.
The ABA BMX Grand Nationals has pedaled into Tulsa for nearly a decade and there are plans to continue their tenure through the 2014 season, according to the Tulsa Sports Commission.
During the Thanksgiving holiday, the “Grands,” as they have become known, brought an estimated $7.2 million in economic impact to the city, according to the Tulsa Metro Chamber. ?
presented by John Q. Hammons
7170 S. Braden Ave., Suite 195
Projected No. of Attendees in 2008: Printing 60,000 tickets
The SemGroup Championship presented by John Q. Hammons has been an annual professional female golf tournament in Tulsa since 2001.
It is part of the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour and was originally the Williams Championship. John Q. Hammons Hotels & Resorts was the title sponsor from 2003 to 2006. In 2007, SemGroup, a Tulsa-based energy company, became title sponsor.
The tournament is played at Cedar Ridge Country Club near 101st Street and Garnett Road in Broken Arrow. Cedar Ridge was commissioned by a group of Tulsa businessesmen headed by J.A. Buddy LaFortune 41 years ago.
The SemGroup Championship format for the April 28 – May 4 event at Cedar Ridge Country Club will be moving from a three-day, 54-hole event to the more traditional four-day, 72-hole format. The purse will increase to $1.8 million.
The SemGroup Championship provides Tulsans the opportunity to attend a top-tier sporting event, said Tournament Director Doug Eibling.
Thousands of people from out of town come to “see Tulsa and spend money in Tulsa,” he said.
“We had a call from a gentleman in Kansas City who wanted ticket and hotel information as he planned to to come and stay most of the week,” he said. “The tournament fills hotels up, brings a lot of folks here to see the tournament and spend their money in restaurants and hotels.” ?