April 2003
Special Focus

OTC 2003 Preview: This year brings numerous improvements, new features

As discussed by OTC officials Mark Rubin and Charlie Richards
Vol. 224 No. 4

OTC 2003

OTC 2003 incorporates numerous improvements, new features

OTC organizers have worked hard to make OTC more user-friendly than ever

Fig 3

 As one of the world’s premier events catering to the global upstream industry, the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in Houston has always gotten high marks from attendees for value, efficiency and quality attendance. Nevertheless, OTC organizers have not been content to rest on their laurels. Instead, officials have made a concerted effort to diagnose problems and devise solutions, as well as develop new features that enhance the OTC experience. Since the end of last year’s event, they have sought to take OTC 2003 to an even higher level of operation and achievement.

 Much of the credit for the tone, direction and energy of this effort can be attributed to OTC Chairman Charlie Richards and OTC Executive Manager Mark Rubin, who led a critique of last year’s inaugural show in the new Reliant Center. Yet, both have been quick to point out that many of the improvements and new features evolving from that critique are the work of scores of OTC board members and other industry volunteers.

Fig 1 Fig 2

Charlie Richards, OTC 2003 Chairman

Mark Rubin, OTC Executive Manager

 “We have gotten incredible feedback and great suggestions from so many folks,” said Richards. “Moving into the new facility, itself, was a major problem last year, but I think we have adjusted to it well.” Rubin agrees with that summation. “We learned a lot of things last year, when Reliant Center was brand new. Let’s face it – you’re always going to have a few bugs in a new venue. Hopefully, we’ve learned enough from last year to solve all the major problems.”


 For the 35th consecutive year, OTC will be held in Houston, May 5 – 8, in the Reliant Park complex. Attendance is expected to reach at least 45,000 (last year’s total was 49,620), and attendees (including exhibit personnel) will represent 110 countries.

 Including outdoor stands, exhibit space is projected to be 398,000 sq ft. More than 1,700 companies are slated to occupy that space, representing 26 countries. The technical program is healthier than ever, with growth expected to push the number of presentations to beyond 315 over four days.

 This year’s theme is “Envision. Enable. Enact.” There will be four topical luncheons on Monday, May 5, including “Energy Politics – Its Application in Today’s Offshore Oil and Gas Industry,” “Deepwater – The Best Laid Plan,” “Independent’s Perspective of Worldwide Deepwater Developments,” and “Developments and Changes in the Gulf of Mexico Oil and Gas.”

 There will be four additional luncheons on Wednesday, May 7, including “Reflections on Ten Years of Upstream Asset Development Benchmarking,” “The Quest for Sustainable Development,” “The Impact of Oil & Gas Consolidation,” and “Subsea Systems – What’s on the Horizon for New and Frontier Challenges.”

 TotalFinaElf’s landmark deepwater development offshore Angola – Girassol – and noted geologist Albert W. Bally have been selected to receive Distinguished Achievement Awards at this year’s OTC. In addition, Walter van de Vijver, Group Manager and Director of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies and CEO of Shell Exploration and Production, will deliver the Keynote Address at the Awards Luncheon on Tuesday, May 6.

Fig 4

TotalFinaElf’s Girassol field development will receive a Distinguished Achievement Award at this year's OTC.


 As alluded to earlier, an impressive list of improvements and new features has been assembled by OTC board members and many other volunteers. Among the improvements are exhibitor-related measures, better parking management, improved cellular phone access and upgraded food service. New features include extended hours on the show’s first night, a shift of hospitality suites to the new Reliant Stadium, a new technology forum for 2004 and a special relationship with the Houston Astros baseball team.

 Exhibitor assistance. The lifeblood of OTC is its exhibitors, and board members are striving to assist them in all ways possible, including cost controls. “When times are tough, we definitely look for ways to help out our exhibitors,” noted Rubin. “One of the most effective ways that we can do this is to recognize that we are in a down or flat market and not raise (exhibition space) prices. Keep in mind that prices for OTC are set 112 years ahead. So, when we met this past December, we looked at what prices should be for 2004. Given market conditions, we decided to keep prices flat from 2003 to 2004.”

 Another helpful measure is to not penalize an exhibitor for skipping a year at OTC by downgrading that firm’s priority number. There will be no penalty for a company just skipping one year because finances temporarily dictate such action. “As regards exhibitors’ rankings for booth spaces, the priority system has worked very well,” said Richards. “A few years ago, I chaired a group that examined the system. At that time, I suggested adopting something similar to a frequent flyer award program, whereby exhibitors are given points for years of attendance and size of space used. We use this system of priority numbers to upgrade our long-time exhibitors to better and/or larger spaces. By the same token, we understand that times can be tough. So, we don’t penalize an exhibitor’s priority number if the firm wants to lay out a year.”

 Then there is the matter of exhibitor visibility, which is always a rather subjective situation, concedes Richards. “Some of our exhibitors feel that if they’re on the sides/ends of the building, that they don’t get as much traffic, but I don’t believe that’s true. My experience last year was that there was no really bad spot in the entire venue – traffic flow is much better. That having been said, we will certainly listen to any concerns that exhibitors have about the layout of the show floor.”

 Yet another measure undertaken to help exhibitors is better delineation and protection of a special parking area just for these firms’ personnel (also see parking discussion below). As Richards noted, security people supervising the parking lots developed a unique brand of color blindness. “We found way too many non-exhibitors parking in this special area last year, despite our best intentions. We had set aside the area just west of Reliant Center for exhibitors, but the security people didn’t notice the difference in parking pass colors. So, some exhibitors were not able to park in their designated area. This year, the security people in the parking lots are well-trained and alerted to this matter, and we do not expect a repeat performance.”

 Extended hours. A completely new feature this year is an extension of show hours on one of the four days, to allow attendees greater flexibility, particularly those people on one-day passes. “One of the things that we’re trying this year is to extend the show hours to 7 p.m. on Monday, May 5,” said Rubin. “This will hopefully enable some folks to go attend the presentations that they want to see and still be able to go visit all the exhibits in one day.”

 Parking/traffic. One perpetual concern to attendees throughout OTC’s history has been parking availability and traffic flow in the area of Reliant Park. Given a few teething problems experienced during last year’s show, OTC board members made improved parking arrangements a top priority.

 “Parking – that, I can tell you, has been improved right off the bat, by virtue of the demolition of the old Astrohall,” said Richards. “In addition, we listened to various concerns that people expressed and have taken appropriate steps to streamline and simplify parking.” As Rubin noted, another part of last year’s problem was solved by completion of construction on Reliant Stadium. “Consequently, we will have more than 14,000 parking spots on the center’s site itself, and another 8,000 across Kirby Drive. Another concern was that exhibitors wanted a close-in parking lot for themselves. So, this year, we will have a 3,500-vehicle lot for them.”

 Compared to the last several years, OTC officials are more concerned about traffic outside Reliant Park than within the complex. This is due to plans being implemented by the city government of Houston. “In an unfortunate case of timing, the City of Houston began revamping Kirby Drive immediately after the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo ended its run within Reliant Park,” said Richards. “This project will run from Interstate Highway 610 to Brays Bayou. We will have advisories and signage up to alert our visitors, especially our international attendees and exhibitors.”

 Related to parking and traffic are concerns about security. According to Richards, there will be no change in security practices from 2002 standards. “We had an entirely different attitude toward security last year (after 9/11), and that will continue this year. For instance, most attendees are probably unaware that we had spotters on top of the building last year, and we will do that again this year. In addition, if an attack is launched against Iraq with all the attendant terrorism implications, we already have what I call ‘Plans B and C’ ready to implement for further security measures. Obviously, we cannot elaborate on what form those measures would take.”

 Cellular phone usage. An unanticipated problem last year was the difficulty attendees had in making cellular phone calls from some locations within Reliant Center. So, officials have taken an unusual step to address the situation. “Either permanent or portable, we will have cellular towers set up this year at Reliant Center, so that people will be able to make cell calls easier,” said Rubin. This he noted, is a step up in service that very few conferences and shows in any industry have been prepared to offer. “This will definitely improve reception within the building and increase the volume of calls that can be handled,” added Richards. “So, no one should have any blank or dead spots inside the center.”

Fig 5

OTC board members have frozen exhibition rates in Reliant Center for the 2004 event at 2003’s rates. They have also taken steps to improve cellular phone reception and call volume within the venue.

 Hospitality suites/food service. Enhanced levels of quality are in store this year for exhibitors’ hospitality suites, as well as food service in all OTC venues. This year, hospitality suites will shift from the venerable Reliant Astrodome to the new Reliant Stadium. Richards believes that suite hosts will be very pleased with their new surroundings. “The new suites in Reliant Stadium are just astonishing – beautiful and state-of-the-art. Exhibitors can even pop in VHS tapes and/or DVDs into TVs in the suite boxes to show to customers. We’ll also have complimentary shuttle buses running between the center and the stadium.”

 As regards food service, some attendees would maintain that quality levels last year in the new center were already a step up from levels in the now-demolished Astrohall. However, officials felt that there was still room for additional improvement, and there was no reason to not strive for a higher goal. “We have a good relationship with the food contractor, and we have worked with those folks on several sets of menus. We think that the menus are now greatly improved over last year, both on the show floor and in the suites.”

 Website. Last year, a new website, www.I-OTC.org, was inaugurated, to serve as a 24-hr, 7-day/week online resource of all types of information about OTC and the offshore industry. This interactive tool allows oil and gas professionals to search and find information that includes an exhibitor list, news items, press releases, a list of organizations, an exhibitor zone and more.

 Last year’s version seemed to meet with attendees’ general approval. “Yes, it definitely has had some success,” said Rubin. “We will continue it, and we expect it to grow additionally in the next several years. We also have an on-line registration system in place for exhibitors to use, so that they don’t have to stand in line.”

 New technology forum. A new feature that is not due to debut until 2004 is an area that will be called “Spotlight on New Technology.” Nevertheless, officials want exhibitors and attendees to know about it now, so that they can plan for it next year. 

 “This will be a specialized program for companies with brand-new technologies to showcase those products and services,” said Rubin. “We expect to tell folks at this year’s OTC what our plans for the forum will be.” Work on this project has been underway for some time, added Richards. “This is something that we should have done a long time ago. I had hoped to have it going this year, but we couldn’t quite get it ready in time. However, by announcing it this year, we will be able to promote it thoroughly.”

 Student participation. With an eye toward the future and maintaining sufficient human capital in the industry, OTC organizers are striving to bring as many interested college and high school students to Reliant Center as possible. “Traditionally, we have always had student activities, especially on the last day,” said Rubin. “That is when we bring in several hundred students through the professional societies. Of course, the greater question of future industry employment levels is really a question beyond OTC, where all societies need to do more.” Richards agrees with the need to recruit more students. “I happen to work with young people through the Marine Technology Society. We work very hard to get young students involved with MTS, and bringing them to OTC is a priority for us. We find that most students who get involved stay with us.”

 There is a new wrinkle to student participation this year, said Richards. “We will have our first group of disabled students. There are a number of gifted students with disabilities, who deserve to come out to the show and are interested in the industry. We want to do all that we can to encourage them. It took us a couple of years to get this organized and implemented, so we are pleased to finally have this underway.”

 Tie-in with the Houston Astros. Last but not least among new offerings is a special relationship established for the many sports fans among attendees. OTC organizers are extremely pleased to have established a reciprocal trade promotion with the Houston Astros professional baseball team. This allows both groups to take advantage of OTC week coinciding with a four-game series between the Astros and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

 An Astros stand will be set up within Reliant Center, to sell discounted tickets and other items to OTC attendees. Over at Minute Maid Park, where the Astros play, a special display will be set up to inform the public about the offshore industry and its many technical achievements. A local photographer has been commissioned to provide special photos for that display. In addition, Tuesday, May 6, has been named “OTC Night” at the ballpark, with Richards throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.  WO

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