. Destinations on the Rise for Meetings in 2017 | Successful Meetings

Destinations on the Rise for Meetings in 2017

These cities and countries are seriously appealing to planners

Booming Destinations opener

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.

 

"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.

 




Security and Safety
Speaking of more serious considerations, safety and security rank high for respondents to the American Express Forecast, particularly those from Asia-Pacific (where 48 percent cited this as a major concern), Europe, and Central and South America (cited by 27 percent and 28 percent of respondents, respectively).  

"Safety and security is on everyone's minds these days," says Schirmacher. "Protecting attendees from the airport to the venue and back is not easy. As cities work to find ways to add layers of security around convention centers and those districts with a high amount of visitors, it will be essential that planners work with venues, police, fire, and emergency departments within those destinations where the group is meeting."

Of course, no place is totally free from risks, but countries that offer stability and a record of security are more attractive to planners than ever. Destinations topping the Global Peace Index (created by Vision of Humanity, a project of the independent organization Institute for Economics and Peace) are a good place to start. The list takes into account level of political instability and the number of police and security personnel available in a particular country to determine the safest international places for travelers. Topping the list is Iceland, followed by Denmark, Austria, New Zealand, and Portugal.

 

Portugal's capital city of Lisbon, named the "most underrated city in Europe" by Conde Nast Traveler last year, has plenty to recommend it in addition to its security, such as the Berardo Museum of Modern Art, Lisboa Story Centre, and the Sao Jorge Castle; as well as world-class meeting venues such as the Lisbon Congress Center, with eight auditoriums and more than 170,000 square feet of event space.

"Security and safety concerns are certainly on the rise with both in-person and cyberattacks on the rise," says Kotowski. "The added need for technology and Wi-Fi bandwidth is also on the rise, which also relates to the existing infrastructure within a city or convention center. Security and technology contribute to a planner's bottom line; if they need to provide added security or a venue is not equipped with the required bandwidth, this affects cost and the overall attendee experience."


Budget Friendliness
The strong dollar has opened up the world for planners looking to stretch their budget as far as possible.

"For incentive meetings, the strong dollar globally means global destinations like Delhi, India; Budapest; and Prague are trending," says McNairy. "All-inclusive markets in Riviera Maya, Punta Cana, and increasingly Cabo, Mexico are still popular options with the benefits of budget control and a consistent attendee experience." The dollar's strength is making a number of destinations more affordable than in recent memory. The exchange rate for the euro and pound are attractive, making classic (but pricey) European destinations such as London, Paris, and Monaco more enticing than ever.

 

The U.S. dollar is exceptionally strong compared to the Canadian dollar at the moment -- one more reason that the northern neighbor is attracting planners in 2017. Named the No. 1 "Place to Go in 2017" by the New York Times, this year Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary with events throughout the country, and considerable development from Vancouver to Quebec City.

"With its European charm, Quebec City honestly has the best of both worlds," says Gina Cuglietta, director of sales and marketing for the Hilton Quebec, which boasts 20 flexible meeting rooms as well as the largest ballroom in Quebec City. "It has all the advantages of a big city, while being surrounded by a splendid natural landscape."

At least 50 percent of North American and Asia-Pacific respondents and 60 percent of Central and South American respondents to the American Express Meetings & Events "2017 Global Meetings Forecast" pointed to group air rates as having some influence on their selection of destinations.

McNairy emphasizes that second-tier cities have grown more attractive for planners thanks to not only their cultural offerings but friendly budgets.

"While a large metropolitan center may be a top choice for a meeting owner, meeting planners may suggest looking at lower-cost destinations where savings can be redirected to enhancing the content of the meeting," she says. "This situation is common across all regions as meeting planners work with owners and suppliers to find the best fit between location, budget, and meeting objectives."  



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the March 2017 issue of Successful Meetings.

Drivers of Culture
While new infrastructure is helping boost a number of destinations, Bonnie Boisner, vice president of event management for AIMIA, emphasizes that incorporating local culture into meetings and events is becoming more expected as the ages in the workforce trend younger and meetings become more experiential -- and destinations rich in culture are attracting more meetings.

"Convention planners are required to think creatively and find ways to show attendees tried-and-true destinations in new ways," she says.

This is making more international destinations with distinctive local cultures a good bet for meetings groups. Boisner points to two destinations in particular: Iceland -- an easy option for both European and U.S. travelers that is "both safe and provides the scenery and 'soft adventure' many attendees desire" -- and Montenegro, "known for the varied landscape and ability to cater to various groups with a superior hotel product."

 

Iceland includes venues such as Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre, in the heart of Reykjavik, which provides terrific views of the surrounding mountains and North Atlantic Ocean, as well as more than 21,600 square feet of conference space. Or there's Blue Lagoon, with a 90-person-capacity meeting room, 12-person-capacity boardroom, and LAVA Restaurant, with capacity for up to 1,000 attendees -- in a venue where visitors can also take a dip in geothermal waters. It also has a strong room inventory, with properties such as the 251-room Hilton Reykjavik Nordica and the 220-room Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Natura. These attractions are among the reasons Reykjavik was selected as the site of this year's Global Incentive Summit, hosted by Successful Meetings' parent company, Northstar Meetings Group, taking place this November.

Boisner also cites Slovenia, with a central location in Europe, which boasts "a spectacular food and wine scene, and...its lakes and picturesque mountain scenery." She also mentions Colombia as "experiencing a resurgence in meetings due to the increased tourism and infrastructure built around the beach city of Cartagena."

"Millennials are driving planners to consider emerging destinations more seriously," explains Linda McNairy, vice president of global operations and shared services for American Express Meetings & Events, pointing out that according to the American Express Meetings & Events "2017 Global Meetings Forecast," the Millennial demographic makes up about one-fifth of all global travelers. "One supplier responding to our Forecast explained that Millennials 'continue to influence the travel industry by prioritizing unique and personal experiences more than material goods.' This phenomenon has led to planners looking for different types of locations that cater to 'cooler activities' such as musical events or quiet spaces for reflection."

Fitting the bill is the Live Music Capital of the World, Austin, which has invested in new infrastructure to buttress its existing attractions for groups.

"Groups continue to love Austin, and rightly so," says Boisner. "Hotel properties work to keep up with the demand. We like to call it 'the city that has it all,' including hotel product, food, music, culture, and climate." [See our site report about Austin on page 58.]

Seattle and Portland are "growing as second-tier alternatives to larger cities, especially popular with the Millennial demographic," according to McNairy. Then there is Nashville, which continues to add new properties.

 

Last year, Music City achieved a record 70-month streak of year-over-year growth in the number of hotel rooms sold, a first for any top-50 destination, according to research firm STR, and it hit a record 13.9 million visitors for the year. As groups are seeking one-of-a-kind venues infused with history and culture, Nashville's offerings, from the 2,360-capacity Ryman Auditorium (once home to the Grand Ole Opry) to the 280-capacity Sutler Saloon, are tailor-made for memorable, music-rich events. Next year will see the opening of the 533-room JW Marriott Nashville in downtown, with 50,000 square feet of meeting space.

But Nashville isn't even the only music-oriented destination in the region catching planners' eyes this year. Chattanooga, TN, is having a big, music-filled 2017. This month it is opening the new Songbirds Guitar Museum, a collection of more than 300 classic guitars, celebrating the instrument's history and impact on music and pop culture. The museum is housed in the Chattanooga Choo Choo complex, built in the city's former Terminal Station, with a hotel, restaurants, and event spaces, and which is wrapping up a $20 million restoration. This is establishing an entertainment district in the middle of the city, just in time for the 75th anniversary of the song "Chattanooga Choo Choo," made famous by Glenn Miller.

"Many smaller cities and downtowns are gaining traction for certain features, such as breweries, wineries, or culture and arts," says Karen Kotowski, CAE, CMP, chief executive officer of Convention Industry Council. "Many meeting professionals are looking for those special local touches to share with attendees and create an experience rather than just a meeting or event. Having personalized experiences for different audiences is important when a group is catering to different ages and backgrounds."

 

That's the case with Grand Rapids, MI, a city with a downtown packed with restaurants, clubs, theaters, and museums. Last year saw the reopening of the Gerald Ford Museum, and every fall the city plays host to the citywide international art competition, ArtPrize, over 19 days. The 158-acre Frederick Meijer Garden includes a vast variety of plant species, as well as bronze sculptures by Rodin and Degas and a 1,900-seat outdoor amphitheater. Known as Beer City USA, Grand Rapids includes 15 breweries and two cider mills, many of which are available for events (while properties such as the JW Marriott Grand Rapids and Amway Grand Plaza Hotel offer their own craft beer-themed packages for groups).

Another cultural hub catching travelers' eyes this year is Asheville, NC. Named as the No. 1 "best place to visit in the U.S. in 2017" by Lonely Planet, this city in the Blue Ridge Mountains boasts attractions such as the River Arts District, where almost 200 artists work out of studios in converted industrial buildings, as well as a thriving culinary scene and more than 1,500 new hotel rooms being added to its inventory. The city's event venues are as arty as the city itself. Groups can hold gatherings at the Asheville Art Museum, with an impressive collection of 20th- and 21st-century American art, as well as space for up to 200 attendees; or the Morris Hellenic Cultural Center, set in the historic Montford District, with a 5,000-square-foot banquet hall that can accommodate up to 300 people.

But fun and culture aren't the only aspects drawing in planners. AIPC's Cameron says that he has seen meetings and conventions emphasizing "serious business" over leisure.

"Many planners now seem to be looking more at destination features that complement their event objectives rather than just visitor attractions, and for some, like many medical meetings, even the suggestion that a destination is being selected on the basis of its leisure qualities can create real problems," he says.

That has meant many planners are focusing on the industry-specific resources that cities and destinations offer rather than the leisure elements.

Drivers of Culture
While new infrastructure is helping boost a number of destinations, Bonnie Boisner, vice president of event management for AIMIA, emphasizes that incorporating local culture into meetings and events is becoming more expected as the ages in the workforce trend younger and meetings become more experiential -- and destinations rich in culture are attracting more meetings.

"Convention planners are required to think creatively and find ways to show attendees tried-and-true destinations in new ways," she says.

This is making more international destinations with distinctive local cultures a good bet for meetings groups. Boisner points to two destinations in particular: Iceland -- an easy option for both European and U.S. travelers that is "both safe and provides the scenery and 'soft adventure' many attendees desire" -- and Montenegro, "known for the varied landscape and ability to cater to various groups with a superior hotel product."

 

The Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran church
is one of Iceland's many stunning
cultural attractions
The Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran church is one of Iceland's many stunning cultural attractions

Iceland includes venues such as Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre, in the heart of Reykjavik, which provides terrific views of the surrounding mountains and North Atlantic Ocean, as well as more than 21,600 square feet of conference space. Or there's Blue Lagoon, with a 90-person-capacity meeting room, 12-person-capacity boardroom, and LAVA Restaurant, with capacity for up to 1,000 attendees -- in a venue where visitors can also take a dip in geothermal waters. It also has a strong room inventory, with properties such as the 251-room Hilton Reykjavik Nordica and the 220-room Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Natura. These attractions are among the reasons Reykjavik was selected as the site of this year's Global Incentive Summit, hosted by Successful Meetings' parent company, Northstar Meetings Group, taking place this November.

Boisner also cites Slovenia, with a central location in Europe, which boasts "a spectacular food and wine scene, and...its lakes and picturesque mountain scenery." She also mentions Colombia as "experiencing a resurgence in meetings due to the increased tourism and infrastructure built around the beach city of Cartagena."

"Millennials are driving planners to consider emerging destinations more seriously," explains Linda McNairy, vice president of global operations and shared services for American Express Meetings & Events, pointing out that according to the American Express Meetings & Events "2017 Global Meetings Forecast," the Millennial demographic makes up about one-fifth of all global travelers. "One supplier responding to our Forecast explained that Millennials 'continue to influence the travel industry by prioritizing unique and personal experiences more than material goods.' This phenomenon has led to planners looking for different types of locations that cater to 'cooler activities' such as musical events or quiet spaces for reflection."

Fitting the bill is the Live Music Capital of the World, Austin, which has invested in new infrastructure to buttress its existing attractions for groups.

"Groups continue to love Austin, and rightly so," says Boisner. "Hotel properties work to keep up with the demand. We like to call it 'the city that has it all,' including hotel product, food, music, culture, and climate." [See our site report about Austin on page 58.]

Seattle and Portland are "growing as second-tier alternatives to larger cities, especially popular with the Millennial demographic," according to McNairy. Then there is Nashville, which continues to add new properties.

 

Nashville is full of country
music-infused venues and properties
Nashville is full of country music-infused venues and properties

Last year, Music City achieved a record 70-month streak of year-over-year growth in the number of hotel rooms sold, a first for any top-50 destination, according to research firm STR, and it hit a record 13.9 million visitors for the year. As groups are seeking one-of-a-kind venues infused with history and culture, Nashville's offerings, from the 2,360-capacity Ryman Auditorium (once home to the Grand Ole Opry) to the 280-capacity Sutler Saloon, are tailor-made for memorable, music-rich events. Next year will see the opening of the 533-room JW Marriott Nashville in downtown, with 50,000 square feet of meeting space.

But Nashville isn't even the only music-oriented destination in the region catching planners' eyes this year. Chattanooga, TN, is having a big, music-filled 2017. This month it is opening the new Songbirds Guitar Museum, a collection of more than 300 classic guitars, celebrating the instrument's history and impact on music and pop culture. The museum is housed in the Chattanooga Choo Choo complex, built in the city's former Terminal Station, with a hotel, restaurants, and event spaces, and which is wrapping up a $20 million restoration. This is establishing an entertainment district in the middle of the city, just in time for the 75th anniversary of the song "Chattanooga Choo Choo," made famous by Glenn Miller.

"Many smaller cities and downtowns are gaining traction for certain features, such as breweries, wineries, or culture and arts," says Karen Kotowski, CAE, CMP, chief executive officer of Convention Industry Council. "Many meeting professionals are looking for those special local touches to share with attendees and create an experience rather than just a meeting or event. Having personalized experiences for different audiences is important when a group is catering to different ages and backgrounds."

 

The local craft beer scene (and unusual
meeting spaces it provides) is drawing
groups to Grand Rapids
The local craft beer scene (and unusual meeting spaces it provides) is drawing groups to Grand Rapids

That's the case with Grand Rapids, MI, a city with a downtown packed with restaurants, clubs, theaters, and museums. Last year saw the reopening of the Gerald Ford Museum, and every fall the city plays host to the citywide international art competition, ArtPrize, over 19 days. The 158-acre Frederick Meijer Garden includes a vast variety of plant species, as well as bronze sculptures by Rodin and Degas and a 1,900-seat outdoor amphitheater. Known as Beer City USA, Grand Rapids includes 15 breweries and two cider mills, many of which are available for events (while properties such as the JW Marriott Grand Rapids and Amway Grand Plaza Hotel offer their own craft beer-themed packages for groups).

Another cultural hub catching travelers' eyes this year is Asheville, NC. Named as the No. 1 "best place to visit in the U.S. in 2017" by Lonely Planet, this city in the Blue Ridge Mountains boasts attractions such as the River Arts District, where almost 200 artists work out of studios in converted industrial buildings, as well as a thriving culinary scene and more than 1,500 new hotel rooms being added to its inventory. The city's event venues are as arty as the city itself. Groups can hold gatherings at the Asheville Art Museum, with an impressive collection of 20th- and 21st-century American art, as well as space for up to 200 attendees; or the Morris Hellenic Cultural Center, set in the historic Montford District, with a 5,000-square-foot banquet hall that can accommodate up to 300 people.

But fun and culture aren't the only aspects drawing in planners. AIPC's Cameron says that he has seen meetings and conventions emphasizing "serious business" over leisure.

"Many planners now seem to be looking more at destination features that complement their event objectives rather than just visitor attractions, and for some, like many medical meetings, even the suggestion that a destination is being selected on the basis of its leisure qualities can create real problems," he says.

That has meant many planners are focusing on the industry-specific resources that cities and destinations offer rather than the leisure elements.


Security and Safety
Speaking of more serious considerations, safety and security rank high for respondents to the American Express Forecast, particularly those from Asia-Pacific (where 48 percent cited this as a major concern), Europe, and Central and South America (cited by 27 percent and 28 percent of respondents, respectively).  

"Safety and security is on everyone's minds these days," says Schirmacher. "Protecting attendees from the airport to the venue and back is not easy. As cities work to find ways to add layers of security around convention centers and those districts with a high amount of visitors, it will be essential that planners work with venues, police, fire, and emergency departments within those destinations where the group is meeting."

Of course, no place is totally free from risks, but countries that offer stability and a record of security are more attractive to planners than ever. Destinations topping the Global Peace Index (created by Vision of Humanity, a project of the independent organization Institute for Economics and Peace) are a good place to start. The list takes into account level of political instability and the number of police and security personnel available in a particular country to determine the safest international places for travelers. Topping the list is Iceland, followed by Denmark, Austria, New Zealand, and Portugal.

 

Lisbon boasts cultural, business,
and leisure attractions
Lisbon boasts cultural, business, and leisure attractions

Portugal's capital city of Lisbon, named the "most underrated city in Europe" by Conde Nast Traveler last year, has plenty to recommend it in addition to its security, such as the Berardo Museum of Modern Art, Lisboa Story Centre, and the Sao Jorge Castle; as well as world-class meeting venues such as the Lisbon Congress Center, with eight auditoriums and more than 170,000 square feet of event space.

"Security and safety concerns are certainly on the rise with both in-person and cyberattacks on the rise," says Kotowski. "The added need for technology and Wi-Fi bandwidth is also on the rise, which also relates to the existing infrastructure within a city or convention center. Security and technology contribute to a planner's bottom line; if they need to provide added security or a venue is not equipped with the required bandwidth, this affects cost and the overall attendee experience."


Budget Friendliness
The strong dollar has opened up the world for planners looking to stretch their budget as far as possible.

"For incentive meetings, the strong dollar globally means global destinations like Delhi, India; Budapest; and Prague are trending," says McNairy. "All-inclusive markets in Riviera Maya, Punta Cana, and increasingly Cabo, Mexico are still popular options with the benefits of budget control and a consistent attendee experience." The dollar's strength is making a number of destinations more affordable than in recent memory. The exchange rate for the euro and pound are attractive, making classic (but pricey) European destinations such as London, Paris, and Monaco more enticing than ever.

 

Quebec City offers cutting-edge
properties, steps from
Old World charm
Quebec City offers cutting-edge properties, steps from Old World charm

The U.S. dollar is exceptionally strong compared to the Canadian dollar at the moment -- one more reason that the northern neighbor is attracting planners in 2017. Named the No. 1 "Place to Go in 2017" by the New York Times, this year Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary with events throughout the country, and considerable development from Vancouver to Quebec City.

"With its European charm, Quebec City honestly has the best of both worlds," says Gina Cuglietta, director of sales and marketing for the Hilton Quebec, which boasts 20 flexible meeting rooms as well as the largest ballroom in Quebec City. "It has all the advantages of a big city, while being surrounded by a splendid natural landscape."

At least 50 percent of North American and Asia-Pacific respondents and 60 percent of Central and South American respondents to the American Express Meetings & Events "2017 Global Meetings Forecast" pointed to group air rates as having some influence on their selection of destinations.

McNairy emphasizes that second-tier cities have grown more attractive for planners thanks to not only their cultural offerings but friendly budgets.

"While a large metropolitan center may be a top choice for a meeting owner, meeting planners may suggest looking at lower-cost destinations where savings can be redirected to enhancing the content of the meeting," she says. "This situation is common across all regions as meeting planners work with owners and suppliers to find the best fit between location, budget, and meeting objectives."  



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the March 2017 issue of Successful Meetings.