Texas Baptists from all over the state spent almost three days in Waco conducting business and spending money during an annual meeting a tourism official said generates more hotel stays than any other convention at city of Waco facilities.
A total of 1,785 people attended the event that ended Tuesday, including 1,183 messengers selected by their congregations to serve as a voice during formal meetings, Texas Baptists spokesperson Joshua Minatrea said. Texas Baptists was formerly known as the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Minatrea said he has no exact figure for the lodging demands of the convention since most attendees make their own reservations.
The convergence of Baptists in Waco creates more demand for rooms than any other convention the city hosts with the assistance of the convention center staff and city facilities, said Carla Pendergraft, marketing director for the Waco Convention Center.
“We blocked 3,160 hotel rooms for the Baptists, and we believe they were all used, if not more,” Pendergraft said. “It is only a two-and-a-half-day convention, but vendors come in early and need accommodations. A 3,000-room-night convention is very substantial, and I think it easily represents our largest in terms of hotel occupancy. That would be absolutely correct.”
Increased room occupancy translates into revenue for local hotels and hotel-motel occupancy tax for the city.
Minatrea said Texas Baptists are in the midst of a four-year contract with the city to use the Waco Convention Center.
Some conventions attract more attendees but they typically include participants who can drive to events daily, Pendergraft said.
“I can say that we feel Waco is a great location for our Texas Baptists family,” Minatrea said via email. “It is centrally located, the size of the Convention Center suits us well, and we appreciate the welcome we receive each time we visit the community. We’re glad to be returning to Waco in 2019.”
Texas Baptists paid the city $34,528 for rental of the Convention Center Sunday through noon Tuesday, food and beverage service and staff time to set up tables and chairs, Pendergraft said.
“That number seems to go up every year as our food gets better,” she said. “Last year, they spent about $25,000.”
In addition to meals at the Convention Center, Texas Baptists also have a handful of other meal and reception functions and offer participants a local restaurant guide, Minatrea said.
Darlene Johnson, who manages the Ninfa’s Mexican restaurant just a block or so from the Waco Convention Center, said she looks forward to the arrival of Texas Baptist at least once a year.
“We expect to be busy, and we were,” Johnson said. “They are sweet people, good tippers, and my staff was very pleased.”
She can typically spot convention participants by the badges they wear, she said.
Most lodging establishments near downtown enjoyed an increase in occupancy rates due to the gathering of Baptists, said Shanice McLennan, a front-desk agent at the Courtyard by Marriott across Washington Avenue from the convention center.
“We easily had 100 people, many of them pastors and most booking multiple nights,” said Josh Gauthier, a front-desk agent at the Waco Hilton next to the convention center.