Despite visitors few and far between in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hays Convention & Visitors Bureau has kept busy.
Director Melissa Dixon and her staff have worked on projects they normally have not had time to attend to at the Welcome Center at 2700 Vine.
"It was very different for a few weeks because we’re so focused on events and supporting events, then all of a sudden those events disappeared," Dixon said. "We focused on Welcome Center projects and our hays.com website. All the things that get pushed to the bottom of the list because we’re so busy, we got to take care of those."
CVB staff worked on a map for the city and county, updated brochures and organized them. Also in the works is refinishing existing historical markers. New marketing photos and videos are part of the planned projects, too.
Dixon also is looking forward to a new addition to the city – the Hilton Garden Inn and Convention Center, 221 W. 43rd St., just west of Walmart. Hays has been without a large hotel meeting space since the Hays Ambassador Hotel and Convention Center closed in 2015. Construction on the new convention center is expected to be completed in August. It will feature 100 guest rooms, a restaurant and full-service bar as well as meeting space that can accommodate 400 people for events such as a wedding and even more attendees for conventions.
"That facility will change our job a lot," Dixon said. "Since the Ambassador came down we’ve had large groups that want to come to Hays but don’t have a place to meet – and they’re ready to come back."
Elinda Mages, general manager for the Hilton property in Hays, said the hotel fills a need.
"There is not (another) hotel in Hays that will have a convention center, a restaurant, a bar, a hotel attached," she said.
Mages said the hotel is expected to hire at least 30 to 50 employees next month through the indeed.com jobs website. Mages added the Hilton hotel chain has enacted strict cleaning protocols in the wake of the coronavirus, which the Hays hotel will follow.
Dixon said CVB has received numerous inquiries about the convention center and she has passed that information on to Mages, who said she has already booked conventions two years out.
"We’re optimistic we won’t have any problem filling our rooms and filling our convention center," Mages said.
Since the new hotel is located north of the Vine Street roundabout construction, Mages does not think it will be affected. Dixon does not believe tourism will be adversely impacted by the construction on Vine, either.
"I think any city has construction as it grows," Dixon said. "I don’t think it’s going to hurt tourism, especially when the city has taken extra effort to put additional signage up for those frontage roads to make sure people can see how to access them."
Dixon said CVB will take a cautious approach going forward with events as she monitors how county and state officials deal with the coronavirus. Dixon said Hays –– as are other CVBs across the state –– will emphasize outdoor activities, which limit the spread of the virus.
"We want to show (visitors) that if these events go forward we’ll take measures to make sure they’re done safely," Dixon said.