And the Expo!
From the city of stars comes one of Claremore’s very own shining stars, Tanya Andrews. Tanya was born in Los Angeles, but she’s definitely a true Claremore girl these days.
Tanya is the executive director of the Claremore Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), and later also took the leadership position at the Expo, the space formerly occupied by County Commissioner Ron Burrows. I’ve known Tanya for about 10 years through the Optimist Club, since just before she took the job at the CVB. However, it turns out there’s a lot I didn’t know about her (like the fun fact that she’s from LA!) until we sat down to talk about, well, Tanya.
At the age of four, Tanya and her family headed north to Washington, where they lived until she was 11, when they moved to Claremore. Both of Tanya’s parents were originally from this area, so they decided to get back to their roots. Tanya graduated as a Zebra in the class of 1984, and then started school at Rogers State University. She got married and had a daughter, Kris. She landed a job at what was then Claremore Regional Hospital, where she spent several years. Tanya worked in the business office, dealt with collections and government billing, then moved to Human Resources, where she handled new hires, benefits and more.
She was approached by a company called Cornerstone Healthcare Group, who was opening a geropsych facility in Neodesha, Kansas. Tanya took the position with Cornerstone and helped them open the facility over the next couple of years.
Next on tap for Tanya was a job with Tahlequah City Hospital. At first, she was commuting daily from Claremore, and ended up moving to Tahlequah later. She decided it was a good time to finish her bachelor’s degree, so she enrolled at Northeastern State in Tahlequah. In the meantime, she moved back to Claremore and took a job at Eggbert’s (back when it was located on Will Rogers) and commuted to Tahlequah. (I get the sense that Tanya really likes driving.)
As she was finishing her bachelor’s (which she did in 2000 with a degree in Management/Human Resources), she continued working at Eggbert’s in a management position, which included a one-year stint in the Bixby location. (Huh. More driving.) She got married to her husband, Steve Andrews, and they started a trucking company together, which they still operate today. A new Microtel was being built in town, and Tanya was hired to be the general manager and get the hotel open, which she did. She then returned to Eggbert’s.
While working for Eggbert’s, Tanya served on the board of directors for both the Chamber of Commerce and the CVB as a restaurant representative. In 2001, the non-profit CVB was born as the result of a hardworking group of city leaders interested in tourism. The first lodging tax was passed then, with the mission to use the funds to promote and sell Claremore as a tourist destination. The lodging tax was originally 4%, but was raised to 5% in 2011, which makes Claremore comparable with the surrounding communities.
Now, let me explain this, because I didn’t really know: When you rent a hotel room, you pay the price of the room, plus “taxes and fees.” I’m sure you’ve noticed. There’s sales tax, but also a lodging tax. The lodging tax funnels right back to the CVB, and all of the funds are used to operate the organization. Most cities have a CVB, and this is the standard practice. That’s how the CVB is a non-profit. It’s funded by tourists.
Anyway, the CVB was formed in 2001. A part-time executive director was hired in 2002. After three directors, it was obvious that the need for a full-time position was there. Tanya didn’t feel that her 24-hour hospitality job was fair to her family, so she applied for the job. Tanya was hired in early 2005, with a new office at the Chamber of Commerce.
You’ve probably noticed that a huge Expo center was built in town in 2000. The Expo has a goal of building Claremore as a destination. Sound familiar? The Expo staff is responsible for bringing events to town, thus bringing people to town to spend all of their money in Claremore. The CVB was a direct result of the Expo, being that the missions are similar.
Tanya ran the show solo for several years, but with the lodging tax increase in 2011, she was able to hire Lisa Rogers as marketing coordinator. With that, they no longer had room at the Chamber, so they moved to the Expo. (Again, see how this all fits together so well?) Since then, Allison Burkhead has been hired as Sales & Event Specialist. They have several more people who round out the amazing Expo crew, too!
Visit Claremore’s focus is to get folks to come visit, shop and eat in Claremore. They work with tour operators to bring in busloads of people from all over. Another popular attraction for the tour people is “Hub & Spoke,” when visitors have a home base in Claremore, then take day trips to neighboring cities.
Another major portion of the job is working as meeting planners. When a group wants to come to town, the team works hard to cover hotel, caterers, conference rooms, and whatever else the group needs. Right now, in early 2018, they are working on events all the way to 2020.
In the shuffle of personnel at the Expo, Tanya was offered an expansion on her position, to take over the reins at the Expo in addition to her duties at the CVB. This not only means that Tanya and her team will become city employees, but that the budget is expanded, which will only help both entities.
Now let me touch on something else. You’ve probably noticed that there are three newer hotels in town. And I know you’ve all heard someone say, “Why are they building hotels? We don’t need hotels! We need an Olive Garden!” But we do need hotels.
Before the new hotels arrived, Claremore had a total of 220 within the city limits. Of those, only 97 were interior corridor rooms. Women traveling solo are often not fans of motels, with doors exiting to the parking lot. It’s a safety thing, y’all.
We have a lot of industry in Claremore, between Baker-Hughes, Pelco, AXH and all the other companies in the industrial park. They bring employees to Claremore for training, especially Baker-Hughes. Their hotel rooms are booked by the corporate honchos, and guess what? They only stay in certain chain hotels, none of which were in Claremore. That means they have to stay in Catoosa or Owasso. (Not anymore; we have a Hampton now!) We were unable to provide for our own corporate partners. You might be surprised to learn that our hotels are often full. I heard a story recently about a woman traveling through the area, and in a desperate attempt to find a room, finally went to the police station for help. A kind officer tried to track down a room, and everything was booked. Claremore, Catoosa, Pryor. Sold out.
There are a lot of specialty events that happen at the Expo, and if you aren’t affected by it, then you likely won’t know it’s happening. But those people come and fill up our hotels. Those who don’t get rooms have to travel to other cities, thus spending their money elsewhere. We want to keep our money in Claremore! With the completion of the three new hotels, Claremore now has 451 rooms in town.
With the hotel expansion comes retailers and restaurants. New lodging options give our city leaders more opportunity to recruit businesses to come to town. It’s a cycle.
As a resident of Claremore, rather than a visitor, you may not be familiar with the CVB and what they do. I can tell you that it’s important, because the CVB brings tourists, tourists bring money, and money brings improvements to town, whether it’s a Holiday Inn or an IHOP.
Tanya said, “We are very fortunate to have a city council, city manager and business leaders who are so supportive and see the value in what we do. We are doing our best to bring a positive economic impact and increase the quality of life for our residents.”
Next time you wonder why we’re getting so many new hotels, be grateful, because you never know what’s coming next.