Well, it’s past Christmas and almost the New Year, so I’ve stopped getting scores of daily emails from every online company I ever ordered from, and now starts the “Begin the New Year Right with a New Widget from Widgetmax” email blasts.
While those go right into the junk folder, one thing I did notice that I’m getting already is regular emails from the Offshore Technology Conference, better known as OTC, which will be held the first week of May, 2017 in Houston, the place where it’s been since its debut in 1969.
I have been going every year since the late 70s, and in times of boom or times of bust, it’s always fun, exhausting, crazy, informative, and sometimes a little weird.
My first OTC was an indoctrination I’ll never forget. It was during a boomtime, and was held in Houston’s old (and now gone) Astrohall, a convention center adjacent to the Astrodome. In later years, it would spill over into the Dome itself as well as the nearby Astro Arena, and even later, into the cavernous NRG Park, which replaced all the other buildings.
They also took over the entire parking lot for tours of giant offshore rigs which had been constructed in the lot, as well as numerous helipads which offered rides to some of the operating rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.
But the real story was inside.
About 25,000 people attended those early conferences, which featured booths from companies involved in every aspect of the oil industry, from valve manufacturers to work boots. It took a full three days to walk the floor and visit every booth . . . or at least as many as the old tootsies would allow. And everybody came home with bags and bags of giveaways (or what we now call “tchotchkes”) to give to their kids. Booze flowed like crude and virtually every booth had numerous “booth babes” designed to get the predominantly male attendees to stop by for a visit and a cocktail (long before selfies).
Over the years, the attendance fluctuated based on the state of the industry. There has always been a waiting list for exhibitors, but in the years the budgets tightened, attendance waned, giveaways dried up, “booth babes” were fewer and fewer, and free-flowing booze became bottled water and hot coffee.
There were years where attendance soared near the 100,000 mark, and years where vendors were schmoozing with other vendors, but for the last decade or so, things have been looking up for the OTC, even in the most recent down market.
Last year, for example, more than 68,000 attendees from 120 countries gathered at the OTC, placing it in the top 15 for attendance. Booze is back, but generally only by invitation into private sections of the mammoth exhibits. Since the attendance is about 60-40 male to female ratio as more and more women take their rightful place in our industry, you don’t see many “booth babes”, except for those good ol’ boy companies still stuck in the 80s mentality.
I’m guessing this year will be a good one, hence all the “Register Now” emails I’ve been getting. Oil is still up, our new president seems poised to remove some of the regulations placed on offshore drilling, and people are generally more positive. I wouldn’t be surprised if they set an attendance record this year. Already, over 2,500 exhibitors have signed up, and there is genuine buzz being generated about the introduction of several new technologies.
If you don’t live in Houston and are planning to go, you might want to reserve a hotel room now. Most rooms within a 15-mile radius of NRG Park are already taken, so you might end up out west of Houston or even towards Galveston, but most hotels run shuttles to OTC.
Or, I guess you could always rent a room from a retired “booth babe”. They probably would love the company.