Houston makes pricey pitch to host global energy event

Houston is making a final push to host one of the world’s premiere energy conferences in 2017, presenting itself as a walkable city with the federal support to bring global oil industry leaders to the world’s energy capital.

Houston has finalized its formal bid to host the next World Petroleum Congress, which would bring in about 10,000 ministers, oil executives and other global industry leaders to Houston in 2017 for a five-day conference in the George R. Brown Convention Center.

City representatives will present the bid to delegates from 70 member countries at an Oct. 23 meeting in Calgary, Alberta, where they will vote on the winning city. Houston is up against three other finalists: Istanbul, Turkey; Copenhagen, Denmark; and Astana, Kazakhstan.

“What we are proposing is a very different Congress from what most people are accustomed to in the oil and gas sector,” said Jorge Franz, vice president of tourism and international group sales for the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It is going to be a very downtown focused meeting — we are trying to make it a walkable Congress.”

The Congress is held every three years and is organized by the London-based World Petroleum Council, which represents 65 member countries. It will be held in Moscow next summer.

Beefing up Houston’s bid

Contenders will be evaluated on the size of the conference and hotel facilities, the size of its country’s energy sector, ease of travel to the city, and whether the city rates as a fun place, Franz said.

Houston’s bid package includes testimonials from Forbes and New York Times, who have identified Houston as a destination city this year. The bid package itself cost nearly $500,000 and nine months to put together, with 15 energy companies sponsoring it, including Shell, Chevron and Schlumberger.

Organizers also are emphasizing the State Department’s support, which will help ensure the needed visas will be ready in a timely manner for participating dignitaries.

Federal cooperation is an essential element that may have been missing from Houston’s bid for the 2014 Congress, which it narrowly lost to Moscow. At the time, many delegates expressed concerns about the difficulty foreigners often have entering the country, even for high level meetings, Franz said.

“The main thing we learned is that we needed to have the support of the federal government,” Franz said. “We have done a lot more to attain it this time.”

Jorge Franz, vice president of tourism and international group sales for the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, displays an iPad that will be used to present Houston's formal pitch to delegates of the World Petroleum Council this month.  (Emily Pickrell/Houston Chronicle)

Jorge Franz, vice president of tourism and international group sales for the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, displays an iPad that will be used to present Houston’s formal pitch to delegates of the World Petroleum Council this month. (Emily Pickrell/Houston Chronicle)

Sizing up the competition

Competitors are putting forward their own aggressive bids: Kazakh officials have offered to build a convention center and supporting infrastructure to make the Congress a hit.

“Houston has competed against that before, but that is a big promise — it makes the delegates and organizers feel very special,” Franz said.

Houston bid organizers hope that its creative presentation to the Council delegates this month — a paperless pitch delivered on mini iPads — will make the case that a Houston-based conference would be forward-thinking.

They have proposed field excursions to the Eagle Ford shale, to give visitors around the world a chance to look at the unconventional operations and technology that has revolutionized oil and natural gas production in the United States.

“Part of what we are playing up is that the oil and gas industry worldwide has significantly changed over the last 10 years or so, and a large part of that has been driven by the shale plays,” said Don Hrap, the chair of Houston’s bid committee and president of the Lower 48 and Latin America regions for ConocoPhillips. “We have a chance to bring people here and share things they wouldn’t necessarily see in other conferences.”

Crown jewel

Committee members and Houston city officials also are calling delegates personally, hoping that the personal touch will further encourage them to vote for the Bayou City.

Houston is becoming increasingly attractive for conventions, with several new hotel openings planned in the next three years, including a new Marriott Marquis hotel north of the convention center.

But while the World Petroleum Congress is considered a crown jewel of conferences, the Houston Convention Bureau also is preparing bids for other international gatherings: the World Federation of Acupuncture and Moxibustion Society and the Human Genome Meeting.

The World Petroleum Congress would bring in more than $50 million of economic benefits to the city, but the real opportunity will be Houston’s chance to show itself off as the energy capital of the world, with all the accompanying bells and whistles, Hrap said.

“The biggest benefit is showcasing all the things that are going on within the industry in Houston,” Hrap said. “The companies, the technology, the work that is going on, the capacity, the universities – it is all of those kinds of things that provide the opportunity for us to get together with people around the world in a single event.”


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