. Second-Tier Cities on the Rise | Successful Meetings

Second-Tier Cities on the Rise

More and more groups are finding what they need in smaller, more affordable cities

Columbia, SC highway skyline

Orlando, Las Vegas, Chicago…it's no surprise these cities rank high on industry lists of top meeting destinations in the U.S. But Columbus, OH; Carlsbad, CA; and Hollywood, FL are probably a bit more unexpected. Smaller cities are coming on strong as meeting destinations. Thanks to factors such as affordability, air connectivity, modern meeting facilities, and extra levels of service, these smaller destinations are making a big impact with planners.

"Meetings and events are critically important to the economies of cities of all sizes around the world," says Kevin Fliess, vice president of marketing for Cvent's Hospitality Cloud in Tysons Corner, VA. "During the past five years we have tracked how cities across the U.S. compete. Factors that have often created a difference have included investments in infrastructure, hotel renovations within a city, economic factors that make a destination more appealing, and offering an alternative to mainstream destinations."

Many planners have determined that being a big fish in a small pond is better than being the opposite. "With all the destination development occurring, the lines are getting blurred," says Christine Shimasaki, CDME, CMP, managing director of Destination Marketing Association International's empowerMINT.com, based in Washington, D.C. "I feel that the term 'tier' is really outdated, as planners need to dive into the overall experience of their meetings and events. It's more than just space when it comes to the overall attendee experience."

It's important to understand who your attendees are and match them with a destination they will find appealing. In the "Decision to Attend Study," a collaboration among IAEE, PCMA, and The Experience Institute, 82 percent of respondents report that the destination definitely factors into their decision on whether to attend a meeting or conference.  

According to Shimasaki, a new behavioral profile template is being tested to help planners and CVBs work together to understand the match between the attendee and destination.

Defining tiers in the meetings industry is a topic that has been discussed often, yet there are no steadfast designations. What may be a first-tier destination to one planner may be a second-tier destination to another. empowerMINT.com's Destination Finder is a logical place to start the research process as it allows a planner to easily search and compare meeting needs across multiple destinations.


Southern Charm
"Great cities aren't born; they're made," said Steve Benjamin, the mayor of Columbia, SC. The city's Main Street is currently undergoing a surge in revitalization. From specialty stores like Uptown Gifts and Mast General Store to the striking exhibits at the Columbia Museum of Art, this is a lively area brimming with culture.

When it's time to get down to business, the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center has 142,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, including a 24,000-square-foot column-free exhibit hall that can accommodate meetings of 25 to 2,500 attendees, and a beautifully landscaped terrace. The only downtown convention center in the state of South Carolina, it's steps away from restaurants, music venues, and lounges.

Although the city is going through unprecedented growth and revitalization, Columbia also maintains all the great attributes that come with a smaller city.

Take the convention center. It customizes over 80 percent of its food-and-beverage orders. Instead of simply offering a set menu, the chef often starts by asking the planner what type of cuisine and ambience they'd like. He builds a custom menu based on these needs.

"When you are meeting in a smaller convention center like Columbia's, you feel very catered to because you are the only group in-house," says Carla Blanton Sims, executive director of the Carolinas Roofing and Sheet Metal Contractors Association, based in Charlotte, NC. She recently planned a convention here for a group of 475.

Another advantage was the incentives her group received. "The rebates you get when meeting in a smaller city are greater," she adds. Parking, Wi-Fi…items you may have to pay for in first-tier cities are often part of the package in smaller cities.


Stepping Up
Betty Blumenauer, director of corporate events for Cardinal Health, a Fortune 500 healthcare services company based in Dublin, OH, has held a range of meetings in Columbus, OH, including executive leadership meetings and customer gatherings.

"Second-tier cities are really stepping up, and Columbus is one of them. There are museums, theaters, professional sports teams, cultural diversity, a focus on being green, and foodie delights," says Blumenauer. "It is advantageous when we have the opportunity to host something in our backyard. In the past, Columbus couldn't accommodate our needs as there weren't enough sleeping rooms or restaurants. That has changed. Columbus is now able to host our programs."

Among the upgrades happening in the city, a $125 million renovation and expansion project at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, connecting to the Hyatt Regency Downtown, is underway and set to be complete by July 2017.

Columbus isn't the only city that is investing in its convention center. The Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, WA has been completely renovated with new finishes, technology, and lighting. It offers 54,000 square feet of space ranging from the 2,500-square-foot Executive Conference Suite to the 36,000-square-foot Center Hall.

Located just nine miles east of Seattle, and 17 miles from the Seattle-Tacoma Airport, Bellevue boasts hotel rates that are significantly lower than in Seattle. 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. With 1,500 guest rooms for citywide conventions, Bellevue is uniquely suited for groups of up to 3,000 -- groups just like Washington DECA, a high school student leadership organization, that meet in Bellevue annually. "For a small nonprofit like ours, we get a great deal of attention from Bellevue. We are a much bigger fish here than we are in the larger cities," explains Eliza Webb, Washington DECA's program director. "Most importantly, Bellevue treats us as a partner."


Attractive Affordability
Diane Morgan, director of meetings for the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA), based in Londonderry, NH, coordinates TCI EXPO, the world's largest tree care industry trade show and conference, which attracts approximately 3,200 arborists and tree care workers; and Winter Management Conference, the premier business conference for the industry. Morgan, who is responsible for selecting conference locations, handling speaker negotiations, working with hotels and convention centers, and ultimately implementing TCIA's largest events, manages a department of three and oversees the organization and planning of more than 100 workshops and training sessions within the tree care industry.

Second- and third-tier cities fit the bill perfectly for all of Morgan's events. "I am attracted to the affordability of the convention center, hotels, airlift, and food and entertainment," she says.

Pittsburgh, PA; Hartford, CT; Columbus, OH; and Milwaukee are cities Morgan has used in the past. "Another driving factor is that second-tier cities will allow you to book your convention further out than first-tier cities, allow," she says.

She not only likes the attention her group gets in second- and third-tier cities, but the incentives she often receives. Plus, labor unions are easier to work with and often have more affordable rates.

The Pittsburgh CVB was particularly helpful, she says. They patiently helped Morgan plan a three-year rotation for 2010, 2015, and 2018.

Over the past half-century, Pittsburgh has undergone one of the most dramatic environmental transformations in the world and continues to rank among the top 10 cities in the U.S. for green certified building space. The "Steel City" is becoming a hub for high tech, education, medicine, banking, and tourism.

Its accessibility makes Pittsburgh attractive to meeting professionals. The city is located within 500 miles of nearly half of the population of the U.S. and Canada and is a 90-minute flight for half of North America or a six-hour car or train ride from nine states, Washington, D.C., and Canada.

An exciting mix of culture, shopping, world-class hotels, and dining are all nestled within 30 square blocks at the heart of Pittsburgh's urban core.

Convenience is key and Pittsburgh's got it, with more than 14 hotel properties within walking distance of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, restaurants, attractions, theaters, and more.

Pittsburgh is also at the forefront of sustainability. The David L Lawrence Convention Center is the world's first convention center to be built to Gold LEED Certified standards and then upgraded to Platinum LEED Certified. This reflects a commitment to environmental responsibility of the region.

Just because a city isn't first tier doesn't mean it doesn't have attractions that will excite groups. Many offer the same, if not more, cultural offerings.

St. Louis is a prime example. The National Blues Museum that explores the Blues and celebrates the genre as the foundation of all modern American music opened on April 1 and is planner friendly as are the Lakeside Terrace at the Butterfly House and the City Museum, all in St. Louis.

The bottom line is: Labels be damned. Second-tier cities are worth a second -- or third -- look.  



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the July 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.

Stepping Up
Betty Blumenauer, director of corporate events for Cardinal Health, a Fortune 500 healthcare services company based in Dublin, OH, has held a range of meetings in Columbus, OH, including executive leadership meetings and customer gatherings.

"Second-tier cities are really stepping up, and Columbus is one of them. There are museums, theaters, professional sports teams, cultural diversity, a focus on being green, and foodie delights," says Blumenauer. "It is advantageous when we have the opportunity to host something in our backyard. In the past, Columbus couldn't accommodate our needs as there weren't enough sleeping rooms or restaurants. That has changed. Columbus is now able to host our programs."

Among the upgrades happening in the city, a $125 million renovation and expansion project at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, connecting to the Hyatt Regency Downtown, is underway and set to be complete by July 2017.

Columbus isn't the only city that is investing in its convention center. The Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, WA has been completely renovated with new finishes, technology, and lighting. It offers 54,000 square feet of space ranging from the 2,500-square-foot Executive Conference Suite to the 36,000-square-foot Center Hall.

Located just nine miles east of Seattle, and 17 miles from the Seattle-Tacoma Airport, Bellevue boasts hotel rates that are significantly lower than in Seattle. 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. With 1,500 guest rooms for citywide conventions, Bellevue is uniquely suited for groups of up to 3,000 -- groups just like Washington DECA, a high school student leadership organization, that meet in Bellevue annually. "For a small nonprofit like ours, we get a great deal of attention from Bellevue. We are a much bigger fish here than we are in the larger cities," explains Eliza Webb, Washington DECA's program director. "Most importantly, Bellevue treats us as a partner."


Attractive Affordability
Diane Morgan, director of meetings for the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA), based in Londonderry, NH, coordinates TCI EXPO, the world's largest tree care industry trade show and conference, which attracts approximately 3,200 arborists and tree care workers; and Winter Management Conference, the premier business conference for the industry. Morgan, who is responsible for selecting conference locations, handling speaker negotiations, working with hotels and convention centers, and ultimately implementing TCIA's largest events, manages a department of three and oversees the organization and planning of more than 100 workshops and training sessions within the tree care industry.

Second- and third-tier cities fit the bill perfectly for all of Morgan's events. "I am attracted to the affordability of the convention center, hotels, airlift, and food and entertainment," she says.

Pittsburgh, PA; Hartford, CT; Columbus, OH; and Milwaukee are cities Morgan has used in the past. "Another driving factor is that second-tier cities will allow you to book your convention further out than first-tier cities, allow," she says.

She not only likes the attention her group gets in second- and third-tier cities, but the incentives she often receives. Plus, labor unions are easier to work with and often have more affordable rates.

The Pittsburgh CVB was particularly helpful, she says. They patiently helped Morgan plan a three-year rotation for 2010, 2015, and 2018.

Over the past half-century, Pittsburgh has undergone one of the most dramatic environmental transformations in the world and continues to rank among the top 10 cities in the U.S. for green certified building space. The "Steel City" is becoming a hub for high tech, education, medicine, banking, and tourism.

Its accessibility makes Pittsburgh attractive to meeting professionals. The city is located within 500 miles of nearly half of the population of the U.S. and Canada and is a 90-minute flight for half of North America or a six-hour car or train ride from nine states, Washington, D.C., and Canada.

An exciting mix of culture, shopping, world-class hotels, and dining are all nestled within 30 square blocks at the heart of Pittsburgh's urban core.

Convenience is key and Pittsburgh's got it, with more than 14 hotel properties within walking distance of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, restaurants, attractions, theaters, and more.

Pittsburgh is also at the forefront of sustainability. The David L Lawrence Convention Center is the world's first convention center to be built to Gold LEED Certified standards and then upgraded to Platinum LEED Certified. This reflects a commitment to environmental responsibility of the region.

Just because a city isn't first tier doesn't mean it doesn't have attractions that will excite groups. Many offer the same, if not more, cultural offerings.

St. Louis is a prime example. The National Blues Museum that explores the Blues and celebrates the genre as the foundation of all modern American music opened on April 1 and is planner friendly as are the Lakeside Terrace at the Butterfly House and the City Museum, all in St. Louis.

The bottom line is: Labels be damned. Second-tier cities are worth a second -- or third -- look.  



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the July 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.