Connecting with the surrounding city provides substantial benefits to meeting groups. By ensuring that visiting attendees interact with local businesses and attractions outside the convention center, planners not only make the event and destination more memorable, but further fuel the local economy.
"Having a good number of locals who mix in with convention goers actually helps with welcoming those out-of-towners into the city," says Eric Blanc, CMP, director of sales, marketing, and convention services at the Tampa Convention Center.
Located in downtown Tampa on the waterfront of the bay, the 600,000-square-foot center serves large-scale events, coordinating with Visit Tampa Bay, as well as the area's hoteliers. Its expansive outdoor space allows for waterfront events for up to 10,000 attendees, and is also the site of public events such as concerts and fireworks on holidays.
"It's an open event and if we have conventions in the house, the groups can attend for free," says Blanc. "A lot of what we do is geared to the locals and offered as an amenity to our customers who are staying here."
He maintains that this blend of locals and visitors helps create a more memorable event for meeting groups, and that the convention center has embraced the idea of also being an "entertainment center."
These are some of the goals for the Puerto Rico Convention Center. Though it is touted as the most technologically advanced convention center in the Caribbean, with easy access from ports and airports, the city is working to further integrate it into the surrounding city. Plans are underway to link it to Old San Juan with a boardwalk allowing pedestrians and cyclists -- both locals and visiting attendees -- to easily move between the waterfront convention district and historic area.
Rob Hunden says convention centers
can be key to city growth.
In addition to this multi-use waterfront development, the convention center district also just added the 126-room Hyatt House San Juan and early 2016 will see the opening of the 149-room Hyatt Place San Juan. As HSP's Hunden explains, creating this variety of "demand generators," offering attractions to a wide range of people at all times of the day or night -- beyond the convention center itself -- is what will help keep the convention district a powerful, well-oiled engine.
"There are cities large and small that are investing in their downtown core, entertainment, restaurants, hotels, and convention centers," says Hunden. "Until then, those cities trying to figure out their next move, they have to figure out what are going to be the pieces of the puzzle that they need to fill in in order to stay competitive."
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This article appears in the June 2015 issue of Successful Meetings.