I am often surprised by what people do not know. I spoke to a class of some 40 hospitality students last week on the topic of tourism as an economic development tool. Many had questions, but the one several wanted to know was, “What is under construction near the hospital?”

I wonder if others are wondering the same thing. You know how sometimes you are so deep into a project that you feel like everyone else surely knows about it? That giant building going up just north of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in the Rayzor Ranch development is like that for all of us at the Denton Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB).

The 11-story tower is a 318-room Embassy Suites Hotel, and the expansive one-level building connected to it is the Denton Convention Center. Opening this fall, the project is a private development by the O’Reilly Hospitality Group, a division of the same family behind the O’Reilly Auto Parts conglomerate. It is a game-changer for Denton tourism. New visitors and convention delegates will discover our city by the thousands.

Since before the first shovel of dirt was turned at the site, the CVB and O’Reilly teams have been working in tandem to tell the meetings and traveling world what is on Denton’s horizon. Meeting planners have been a particularly important market for us to reach, because they plan their events years in advance.

Dana Lodge is the CVB’s director of sales. “I’ve recently participated in three meeting planner forums that have generated more than 25 viable leads that I am working now, not just with O’Reilly, but also our other hotels,” she said. Since the convention center will accommodate large groups, she explained, the business she pursues requires multiple overflow hotels.

Dana said more than $1 million in convention business is already solidly booked in Denton, some in 2018 while others are as far into the future as 2024. Amazing, right? I was not exaggerating about how far ahead these convention-planning pros are working.

Handling the demand for Denton proposals that the convention center has spurred is no longer a one-person job as it has been for all of Dana’s 12-year tenure at the CVB. So we have grown.

Erin Wilson is a young, well-seasoned professional with a background in both destination and hotel sales and marketing. She grew up in Duncanville and Midlothian before heading off to Texas State University to earn her degree in Mass Communications and Journalism, specializing in public relations. During her college career, she interned with Texas Monthly and an Austin-based public relations firm.

After a two-year stint as Sales and Servicing Coordinator for the Garland CVB, adventure lured Erin to Philadelphia where she delved into the other side of hospitality sales recruiting group business for several Starwood Hotels properties.

After Philly, Erin returned to Texas as sales manager for a Marriott group in The Colony. That’s where we found her, and she is now on the CVB team as the Meeting Sales Manager.

“I love to travel. When I visit a place, I like experiencing it like a local,” Erin said. “Being part of the CVB team gives me the opportunity to bring people here and share Denton like that.”

Heather Morgan came to us from Pennsylvania, too, but more directly since she’s a native of New Oxford, PA. Early experience in the restaurant industry led her to a B.S. degree in Hospitality Management from York College. Upon graduation, she joined the York County CVB staff as the marketing assistant, where her focus included wrangling the complicated customer management system Simpleview, database giant of the destination marketing universe.

The Denton CVB utilizes Simpleview, too, though we believe a name like Difficultview would be more apropos. Heather mastered the monster back in York County and brings that vital missing skill set to our team as our Sales and Marketing Coordinator.

Coincidentally, adventure took Erin to Pennsylvania, and it brought Heather to Texas. “I love how friendly everyone is here,” Heather said. “And I don’t miss the cold and snow.”

There’s a lot on our CVB plate as our visitor industry continues to boom. With the addition of these two ladies, our staff is equipped to keep Denton moving forward while remaining committed to keeping our original, independent identity intact.

“CVBs are valuable, because we’re the ones who go out and sell this place we love,” Heather said. “It’s why I chose this career. And hospitality is something that will never go away.”

Perfectly stated. We have chosen well. Erin and Heather share the passion evident in the rest of our CVB team, a powerful passion that inspires others to come see for themselves what makes our city special.

Look out world! Here comes Denton!