Topeka to host national travel planners conference

Topeka’s iconic African American heritage sites were the deciding factor in the African American Travel Conference’s decision to hold its national conference here next year, that organization’s president and CEO said Friday.

The conference — expected to draw 250 travel planners from across the nation — will take place from April 14-16 at the Capitol Plaza Hotel, 1717 S.W. Topeka Blvd., Visit Topeka Inc. announced in a news release Friday.

“The entire African American Travel Conference family and our members are looking forward to experiencing Topeka firsthand,” said AATC President and CEO Joe Cappuzzello in the release.

Cappuzzello said the deciding factor in the AATC’s decision to come to Topeka was the presence of Monroe School, 1515 S.E. Monroe, which was the centerpiece of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that ended school segregation, and the Ritchie House at 1116 S.E. Madison, which was part of the Underground Railroad.

Ritchie House

“Topeka’s heritage tourism is as rich as any other city when it comes to the significant impact it has had on the world,” said Brett Oetting, president of Visit Topeka. “As we continue to put focus on our heritage tourism attractions and programs, this conference will be a catalyst to drive travel to our community.”

The AATC is an association of 2,500 travel planners serving the African American community, according to its website.

“Travel Industry of America reports that the African American community travels twice as often on a group package tour as the population as a whole, and we at AATC act as the source between these travel planners and the travel industry,” that site said.

Visit Topeka, which promotes Topeka as a tourism destination, announced in Friday’s release that it had signed the contract arranging for the AATC to hold next year’s conference in Topeka.

Cappuzello said, “The Visit Topeka sales team and the Capitol Plaza Hotel impressed us during the site visit, along with their Midwest hospitality, convincing us that Topeka will step up to this opportunity to showcase all that it has to offer our members.”

Topekans should be proud of Friday’s announcement, which is “another indicator that our community is on the right path,” said Mike Bell, vice president of Visit Topeka, who worked with Cappuzzello on the bid.

“People from around the country are taking notice in what we have to offer here,” he said.