First-tier cities are exciting, but after attending numerous meetings in them the hustle and bustle can begin to lose some of its allure for delegates. "Big-city fatigue is a reality for attendees, and a group may want to start to look at different destinations," explains Talwar.
There was a time when Hartford, CT, fell off most radar screens as a meetings destination, but that is not the case today. A decade ago, the construction of the Connecticut Convention Center, the adjacent Connecticut Science Center, and nearby new hotels initiated the Insurance Capital's reinvention.
"In recent years, Hartford has been on a mission to forge its own identity. It's never going to be like Boston or New York City, and it seems like it's coming to terms with that," says Kristyn Neal, a real estate executive who helps plan events for Hartford Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs (HYPE).
"Hartford offers the kind of personalized service, experience, and price point that first-tier cities just can't compete with. Add to that the expanding Front Street entertainment complex across the street from the convention center, with its restaurants and entertainment options, not to mention scores of historic and cultural attractions that double as unique social-event venues for groups," says H. Scott Phelps, the president of the Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau (CTCSB), the state's official meetings, conventions, and sports event sales and marketing organization.
Top to bottom: Bellevue, WA, skyline
set against majestic mountains; glass
sculpture by Dale Chihuly hangs in the
atrium of Lincoln Square in downtown;
cast of a fallen tree with Microsoft
Building in the distance
Another city that operates in the shadow of a larger metropolitan neighbor is Bellevue, WA. Its hotel rates are significantly lower on the weekends than those found in Seattle. Plus, its central location in the region and the many major corporations headquartered in Bellevue -- including Microsoft, Expedia, Symetra, T-Mobile, and Eddie Bauer -- help create a strong draw for convention attendees.
One of the best ways lesser-known cities can attract meetings is by focusing on assets that will stir an emotional connection. When Al Hutchinson was president and CEO of Visit Mobile (he is now the president and CEO of Visit Baltimore), he spearheaded a rebranding campaign for the coastal town, called "Born to Celebrate," that was immensely successful.
Greenville, SC, had a unique problem as it is hard to market "Greenville" when there are 36 cities with that name in the country. The convention and visitors bureau rebranded as VisitGreenvilleSC and created a new catchphrase, "Yeah, THAT Greenville."
What VisitGreenvilleSC didn't expect was the community engagement that would ensue. As of October 2016, #yeahTHATgreenville has been used a total of 411,085 times on Instagram. For the first three quarters of 2016, it was used 42,600 times on Twitter.
Plus, this social media translated into sales. Back in 2011, prior to this campaign, Greenville County hotel occupancy averaged 61 percent. Last year, hotel occupancy hit its highest ever at 72.1 percent annual average. Downtown Greenville saw hotel occupancy exceed 90 percent for more than one third of the year, and many downtown hotels are planning to increase their number of rooms.
When planners do connect with second- and third-tier cities, they are finding them to be affordable, compact, and capable of offering unique meeting experiences that are appealing to most attendees and competitive with first-tier city experiences.
Which is why many cities once considered flyover or pass-through places are now burgeoning meeting destinations.
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This article appears in the December 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.