by Leo Jakobson | June 30, 2014
The Wasatch Mountains provide Salt Lake City with a stunning backdrop

Salt Lake City had a banner year, cracking Cvent's list of top 50 U.S. cities for meetings and events, which is based on booking activity such as RFPs received and room-nights booked.

"To be ranked, for the first time, among the top cities for meetings and events in the U.S. is exciting," says Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake, the city's convention and visitors bureau. "This ranking reflects our entire community's commitment to the meetings industry and will hopefully encourage even more groups to consider Salt Lake as a destination for their corporate meetings and events."

With Salt Lake City already home to one of the most convention-friendly public transport systems in the country, Utah's new and efficient TRAX light-rail system became even more convenient in 2012 with the opening of the Green Line airport connection. It costs just $2.50 and goes directly to the Salt Palace Convention Center and convention district hotels.

"We're very fortunate that we have a robust public transportation system -- including buses, but really starring our light-rail line, TRAX," says Mark White, vice president of sales for Visit Salt Lake. "Within the convention district there is no fee [for public transit] -- folks can hop on and hop off. So, we save the attendees a little bit there. But I think the bigger impact is folks being able to navigate around on the light rail system."

Aside from the Salt Palace convention center and many of the convention district's hotels, the TRAX line also stops at a number of venues that are popular for evening events, White adds. That includes the City Creek Center outdoor entertainment district and Gallivan Center plaza, where many large conventions hold opening and closing receptions, he says, as well as venues further afield like the University of Utah; Red Butte Garden and Arboretum; the Utah Museum of Fine Art; and the Natural History Museum of Utah.

"Here, a group might be looking at a $50,000 shuttle bill, which is not unheard of for a larger convention of say 6,000 people (depending upon the city they're in)," White says. "If we can cut that in half or more, that is money in the pockets of the host organization."

Among the newest venues in town is the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, which opened on March 25 in Draper, UT, about 20 minutes from Salt Lake City. The 136,000-square-foot aquarium has dedicated banquet facilities for up to 800 for a reception-style set up, and can handle 2,500 in total.

Another piece of good news for planners is that the city and state governments are moving forward on a plan to bring a privately built, 1,000-room convention center hotel with substantial additional meeting facilities to the Salt Palace Convention Center.