With Friday’s grand opening of the new Hilton Garden Inn & Convention Center, Hays Convention & Visitors Bureau staff expect to ramp up their efforts to welcome visitors.


Melissa Dixon, director of the CVB, said Hilton’s opening provides a much-needed space for out-of-town groups to convene.


"When we lost the (Hays Ambassador Hotel and Convention Center in 2016) — that was our only convention space," Dixon said. "We have some groups who have been asking, ‘When is this place going to open?’ "


Those groups won’t have to wait any longer. The hotel and convention center — just behind Walmart, at 221 W. 43rd St. — announced its opening this past Friday. The hotel features 100 guest rooms and 7,800 square feet of meeting space that can accommodate 400 to 500 people, depending on the event.


Dixon said CVB staff have been taking calls for months from interested parties looking to visit Hays. She envisions the new hotel and convention center hosting such events as state Kiwanis club meetings or statewide Rotary meetings — "groups like that, that have that once-a-year big meeting where they need space and they want it to be easy," she said.


Dixon said she expects the hotel and convention center’s opening to affect her job and those of CVB staff, as they prepare for a greater number of groups to grace the area.


"We usually provide about 8,000 welcome packets, on average, per year to visiting groups," Dixon said. "We’re getting ready to ramp that up, just to be ready for these groups that are coming."


She said in the past the CVB has used designated vehicles to transport visiting groups around town, and with the opening of the new facility, they are considering reintroducing those.


"Maybe that’s something new we can offer in the future if we get enough need for it," Dixon said.


Elinda Mages, the hotel and convention center’s general manager, said the facility’s meeting space, its full-service restaurant and bar, and its room service set the Hilton apart from other hotels in the area. And she is excited for customers to see those amenities in person.


Still, Mages said, the opening hasn’t been free of challenges, as the coronavirus pandemic resulted in some supply chain issues.


"We did have some challenges with getting some of the items that we needed," Mages said. "Some of our kitchen equipment was a little bit difficult to get. Some of our lobby furniture ... took longer than we anticipated."


But with those items secured, the hotel’s team of 30 employees are ready to hit the ground running.


"We’re excited to be open," she said. "We’re excited to be in Hays, and we hope that everyone will come out and take a look."