KANSAS CITY, Mo -- Cranes are decorating the cityscape as they build new hotels downtown and bookings at Bartle Hall are on the rise. They're all indicators that convention business in Kansas City is making a comeback.
Although Kansas City has lost several big convention opportunities in the last few years, the folks at Visit KC are working hard to get the word out about the great things Kansas City has to offer. They say a lot of people are listening.
"I call it a 'who knew' moment,” Visit KC President and CEO Jason Fulvi said.
More "who knew” moments mean more people coming to Kansas City and finding out it 's more than a cow town. Not a fly over state, but a destination.
Fulvi has been heading up that effort for five months. He's from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and has spent his career in the hotel and tourism business.
"Going through the collapse of the steel industry and the revitalization, I have lived through all of that,” Fulvi said. “I know what that looks like, and I saw Kansas City through that lens and thought, 'Wow, this is really on the cusp of taking off and I want to be a part of that.'"
Kansas City hotel bookings are at a 15-year high, with 445,000 room nights sold. It's a 17 percent increase over last year. That means $330 million in direct impact to the community.
"We love the people walking around even though it's cold outside and getting out and about and stopping into the businesses," said Jo Marie Scaglia, creator and owner of The Mixx and Caffetteria restaurants.
She's one of the beneficiaries of the buzz swirling around Kansas City. She and others are also part of the reason why.
"When you walk into any of my businesses, you are like walking into my home," Scaglia said. "So being of Italian background, I am the mom that welcomes everyone and says, 'Come.'"
Fulvi believes that is a testament to the buzz that's starting to generate in the city, and the fact that the city has so many unique attractions and assets is a draw.
Restaurants, the Sprint Center, Bartle Hall renovation, new hotels and the single terminal airport plan are all attractive to meeting planners.
"We certainly don't have an asset problem. What we have is a perceptual problem," Fulvi said.
It's Fulvi's job to promote Kansas City outside of the city, but he said one of his big hurdles is getting people in Kansas City to think of tourism as an economic development driver.
"We have been very blessed with Cerner. Cerner has done that year after year with an annual convention,” Fulvi said. “H&R Block is now looking at us to bring in an annual convention, so we need more of the corporations to look at that and help us with that success."
There's also a halo effect that creates excitement about Kansas City and starts touching other businesses.
For instance, Fulvi believes that if you create a destination where people like to visit and they get excited about it, they may decide to send their children to college there because they think it's a safe, clean environment.
Others might want to open a business in Kansas City and the surrounding area -- and it can all start with a visit.