It's hardly a surprise to see destinations such as Orlando or Chicago rank high on lists of top meetings destinations every year, but Kissimmee, FL, and Indianapolis? This year those two cities ranked right up there with the largest cities on Cvent's list of the Top 50 Meeting Destinations in the United States.
"Although the top 10 remain fairly consistent on the list, there are some up-and-comers that always surprise," says Kevin Fliess, vice president of marketing for Cvent's Hospitality Cloud, in Tysons Corner, VA.
"Second- and third-tier cities really want your business. They welcome groups with open arms," says Sean Connolly, meeting and event manager for GE Global Research, based in Niskayuna, NY. One of 10 GE research centers, this New York facility employs over 2,000.
Connolly, who has organized meetings in first-tier cities like New York and Boston, also frequently brings groups to destinations including Saratoga Springs, NY. "From hotels to food and A/V, it is much more cost-effective. In New York and Boston, the cost of a hotel room alone can be double."
Smaller cities are coming on strong as meeting destinations thanks to their affordability, good air connectivity, modern meeting facilities, and an extra level of service. And Connolly's company isn't the only one that is taking notice. Here are four reasons a lot of organizations are giving second-tier cities a second look.
A new and controversial president of the United States, a shaky economy, terrorism…these are factors affecting today's meetings and conventions. "There is a great deal of uncertainty in the world today. It's not going to be a smooth ride as the economy is going to hit some bumps -- some we can predict, others will come from left field," says Rohit Talwar, an internationally renowned futurist and CEO of U.K.-based Fast Future Research.
Fast Future Research
The 2017 American Express Global Meetings and Events Forecast predicts that the number of meetings and number of attendees per meeting may see a decline. This is resulting in increased competition among destinations, second- and third-tier cities included.
"We are seeing more of a dog fight as the total number of meetings is unlikely to grow dramatically and as associations merge in response to transformations in the business world," adds Talwar. "Second- and third-tier cities may benefit as all of this uncertainty about the future is causing corporations to look at where they can cut costs and keep attendees safe."
Top: New York's other Broadway, in
Saratoga Springs, is a vibrant street
brimming with lively restaurants,
shops, and cafes;
Below: Saratoga Race Course opened
in 1864 and is home to the oldest major
thoroughbred horse race in the
United States, the Travers Stakes
Security is a focus at all of the meetings Connolly plans. Danger lurks everywhere, but Connolly finds it's easier to keep his meeting groups secure in second- and third-tier cities. "We bring security wherever we go. When meeting in a destination like Saratoga Springs, our security team normally finds it more manageable. In a big city there are so many variables and opportunities for your people to go to the wrong place. It's much tougher to manage a group in the middle of Manhattan."
Todd Garofano, president of the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau, agrees that security is top of mind today. "We find that Saratoga is alluring to many board meetings of high-profile companies and other organizations because of how well our hotels, meeting venues, attractions, and amenities are situated," he says.
Downtown Saratoga brims with restaurants, cafes, and shops, and Connolly's groups walk from the City Center, the site of his meetings, to their hotels and other functions. "Saratoga is very attractive. There is a vibrant downtown with lots of activities to choose from," explains Connolly.
The affordability of second- and third-tier cities also makes them appealing to companies looking to play it safe with their meetings budgets. Not only are meeting facilities and accommodations more reasonable in most cases but tax rates are usually lower as well. For a recent meeting Connolly planned for 280, attendees could take in a polo match; go to the historic Saratoga Race Course, or visit the Saratoga Performing Arts Center -- all within walking distance of the host hotel. "Not having to hire ground transportation saved money from our budget and time from our agenda," says Connolly.