When Sandy Price took a job at the information desk of the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau in 1991, she never could have imagined the changes she would see in her city — and her life.
Now the CVB’s vice president of tourism, Price went to college for physical education and biology. She worked in schools for a short time but decided it wasn’t a good fit.
“I taught and coached for one year,” she said. “I was in a small town and didn’t like the politics. But I loved the interaction with people, and I wanted to be involved with what was going on in a city. So the info desk at the CVB seemed like a place to be in the inside of things that were happening.”
Price enjoyed the job and was quickly promoted to a tourism sales position. In the decades since, she has witnessed the revitalization of her city firsthand.
“When I started, we had the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and we sold a lot of horse farm tours,” she said. “Then, in the early ’90s, we had some great leadership. They decided that if Oklahoma City didn’t do something else for themselves, nobody else was going to fix the problem.”
The leaders’ solution was an innovative idea called Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS). Community leaders worked with residents to identify seven major projects to improve the city, then proposed a one-cent sales tax to fund them. The city’s residents approved the tax in a referendum, and building commenced.
That was in 1993. Since then, the city has renewed the MAPS project three times, and the funds have helped spur the development of a river sports district, canals, a professional sports arena and many other public works. That, in turn, attracted private development, including several notable museums that will be opening this year and next.
“I went from selling the Cowboy Hall of Fame to selling a whole new city,” Price said.
Today, Price travels extensively to spread the word about the new Oklahoma City, including all the major domestic tourism trade shows, as well as an increasing number of international events.
“We do sales projects in English-speaking European countries,” she said. “People from the U.K. and Ireland have been to both coasts, they’ve been to Las Vegas, they’ve been to the Grand Canyon. They’re frequent travelers. So after they’ve been here four or five times, they start moving to the interior and looking for something different. We fit that really well because we’re authentic and easy to travel in.”
When she’s not on the road promoting Oklahoma City, Price spends her free time enjoying the destination she sells. You might find her attending a Thunder basketball game, exploring new breweries or introducing her two grandchildren to the local zoo or science museum.
Today, she’s living a life she couldn’t have imagined when she started working at the information desk.
“Never for one minute did this small-town Oklahoma girl think she would travel the world doing this,” she said. “And I also grew up very shy, so nobody in my hometown could fathom that I’m doing this. But I absolutely love it.”
“I learn so much from what people ask me for. When people ask for things, that tells us what their interests and the new trends are. And we have the opportunity to create a product there might be a demand for.”