by Alex Palmer | March 03, 2017

This year is seeing a wide range of destinations catching planners' eyes, whether due to new infrastructure, rich culture, or simply that they offer a good deal. Successful Meetings spoke with planners, industry leaders, and some of the destinations' marketing organizations to discuss the hot spots of 2017 and what was moving them to the top of planners' lists.

In particular, cities that are investing in their downtown and convention districts are making it easier for planners to hold a large-scale event, with satellite gatherings or pre- and post-events simpler to get to. Gary Schirmacher, CMP, senior vice president of industry presence and strategic development for Experient, A Maritz Global Events Company, points to cities such as Seattle, Denver, Los Angeles, Chicago, and National Harbor, MD (near Washington, D.C.), as ones which are doing a particularly good job of developing the downtown residential and multiuse buildings.

"Increasing convention center districts and downtown households has always seemed to drive success and popularity of a destination," he says. "People promote growth and independent small businesses can thrive with a dense population in a downtown district."  
Take the Windy City, for instance. "Development near Chicago's McCormick Place [the largest convention center in the U.S.] has created a neighborhood and the opportunity for more development that cultivates a true convention center district," Schirmacher says. "Upgrades, expansion, and new hotels, along with an increase in residential, make the McCormick Place district more accessible with less time in the bus lane for big shows."

Schirmacher cites Denver as a city on the rise, with an expansion of the Colorado Convention Center approved by voters, allowing the city to grow its vibrant convention center district with hotels, shops, and restaurants. Add in light rail from the airport to downtown and new growth of convention facilities near the airport like the Gaylord Rockies and the Westin DIA, and "it can be quite exciting to meet in Colorado," he says.

Internationally, he points to two destinations that are making big infrastructure investments: Singapore and Dubai. Of the former, he points to the city-state's "Great airport, lots of downtown residences, five-star facilities, and a spirit of service that delivers at the highest levels."

As for the latter, it has been a major convention draw for years, and has lately made even more investments. For example, the Jumeirah Group unveiled Jumeirah Al Naseem -- the final phase of the Arabian resort, Madinat Jumeirah, completing a 10-year transformation of a significant stretch of Dubai's coastline. The group also last year unveiled The Terrace, at luxury hotel Burj Al Arab Jumeirah, offering 107,000 square feet including a restaurant, pool, beach, and cabana space -- all stretching 1,000 square feet into the sea.


Burj Al Arab Jumeirah recently
unveiled The Terrace

"Dubai is a flourishing success story and an ideal destination for meetings and events," says Charlie Taylor, group director of brand communications for the Jumeirah Group. "Beyond its convenient location at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa (less than a four-hour flight for one-third of the world's population), the facilities and infrastructure are second to none. With more than 100,000 rooms across 680 hotels, Dubai has a room option for every budget and taste, and many are attractions in themselves."

Rod Cameron, executive director of International Association of the Convention Centres (AIPC), emphasizes that the destinations attracting groups have either new or upgraded facilities and technology, allowing planners to reshape program configurations, often at short notice.

"[The destinations] offer creative capabilities that can actually help organizers plan and deliver more demanding programs and enhance the event experience," he says. "They will offer access to important or emerging markets and/or potential sources of new membership." He adds that they will also provide "a good and efficient 'package' of event amenities, including hotels, off-site venues, and transportation in order to make the most effective use of budgets and planners' time."

Houston, also cited by Schirmacher, certainly fits that description. At the end of last year, the 1,000-room Marriott Marquis Houston opened its doors, across the street from the George R. Brown Convention Center, adding 154,000 square feet of meeting space to the fast-expanding convention district. The section of Avenida de las Americas in front of the convention center is also getting an extensive makeover this year, with at least seven new restaurants, as well as entertainment and nightlife offerings rolling out in coming months. The roadway is also being narrowed from eight lanes to three, providing room for a wide pedestrian promenade.

According to the American Express Meetings & Events "2017 Global Meetings Forecast," between 33 and 42 percent of respondents across all regions cite ease of transportation to meeting locations and airlift as major factors driving their selection of meeting locations. The cities and countries spending on upgrades to airports, hotels, and convention centers, as well as bigger-picture improvements to a destination's infrastructure, help them to draw in visitors.