Cities on the Move

These destinations are reinventing themselves to stay relevant to groups

toptier nyc 1

Over the past three decades, Pittsburgh has undergone one of the most dramatic environmental transformations in the world. The "Smoky City" was once the poster child of industrial pollution. It is now dubbed one of the "World's Most Livable Cities," according to Metropolis magazine, and ranks among the top cities in the U.S. for green-certified building space. The community has all but eliminated its infamous smoke problem and invested in its rivers and trails.

It's fitting that Pittsburgh, the birthplace of environmental pioneer Rachel Carson, is today a national leader in the green movement and a model for cities all over the globe.

Pittsburgh has been named among the top three places in the world to visit in 2015 by Condé Nast Traveler. The ranking is among a long list of accolades the city has garnered from travel media that include National Geographic Traveler naming Pittsburgh as one of the "Best of the World -- Must-See Places."

All of this has made Pittsburgh that much more appealing for meetings groups. The city boasts an award-winning, environmentally smart Gold/Platinum LEED certified convention center. The hotel community is rapidly expanding with four new hotel openings in 2015 in downtown alone, including Kimpton's Hotel Monaco.

"Those of us who live here know that the city's amazing amenities combine to create a tremendously desirable place to live and visit," says Craig Davis, president and CEO of VisitPITTSBURGH, the official tourism promotion agency for the Pittsburgh region. "For Pittsburgh to be included among the world's most outstanding destinations speaks volumes about the city's journey over the last 30 years. We are the little city that could. Demand has driven us to be one of the cities you have to take a look at."

Pittsburgh is not the only city that is adjusting its offerings -- or, in some cases, reinventing itself altogether. A number of destinations both large and small are finding ways to appeal to group travelers in unexpected ways.


Leveraging Local Knowledge 
Some cities are making great strides by exploiting the marketability of their local industries. Take Vancouver, the Canadian city that, like Silicon Valley to its south, has become a hotbed of technological innovation. It's a destination that draws upon its sea of experts for meetings and conventions, who can tap into the brain power of the international companies based here, such as social media management company Hootsuite.

The Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques Conference (SIGGRAPH), the world's premier conference on computer graphics and interactive techniques, is returning to Vancouver in 2018, for the third time. "The conference was first held in Vancouver in 2011 and our attendees were impressed by this sophisticated city that offered them outstanding opportunities for discovery, outdoor adventure, and natural beauty," says Mike Weil, SIGGRAPH's exhibition director. The conference returned to Vancouver in 2014.

Vancouver is also attracting brands like athletic apparel company Lululemon, media firm Lionsgate Entertainment, and organic food company Nature's Path. Weil returned to the city just weeks after the conclusion of the 2014 gathering in another capacity -- as part of a Tourism Vancouver fam trip, where the group ran the Lululemon SeaWheeze half marathon.

"I joined other meeting planners and participated in this half-marathon which really does combine the best of Vancouver: beautiful views, weather, and adventure," he says. "The city's oceanside location, beautiful parks with plenty of green space in combination with the mountains 20 minutes from the Vancouver Convention Centre offered a perfect backdrop to the amazing technology, interactive visuals, and art that is part of the SIGGRAPH Conference."


Trending Upward 
Both Vancouver and Pittsburgh made the list of "Cities on the Move" from Watkins Research Group, based on responses of meeting planners about the attributes of the overall experience that they find most appealing. The Kansas City, MO-based research firm not only looked at the top-performing cities, but spotlighted the handful of destinations that made the greatest advances in overall scores since the initial 2012 study. In addition to Pittsburgh and Vancouver, the other rising cities rounding out the top 10 were: Cleveland; Charlotte, NC; Chicago; Cincinnati; Columbus, OH; Nashville; New Orleans; New York City; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C.

Of course, such successful repositioning often requires a nimble marketing team to help get the right message out to groups about what these cities are offering -- and how it's changed. For these reasons, the Watkins Research Group also looked at the CVBs and DMOs that respondents chose for "standing out" in comparison to others. Top performers were: Anaheim, CA; Atlanta; Boston; Chicago; Denver; Indianapolis; Kansas City, MO; Montreal; New Orleans; Orlando; Philadelphia; San Antonio; San Diego; and Toronto. What makes these organizations impressive, according to respondents, is that they are a great partner throughout the meeting-booking process, from drawing up the initial contract through post-meeting follow-up, taking a strategic view; are exceptionally attentive; help find value-adding deals, and know what is going on.

Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau has worked to speak to these planner concerns. Its current campaign, "OKC'ing is Believing," was based on research conducted in 2014 with meeting planners. "They said that Oklahoma City wasn't even on their radar but once they were here, they couldn't believe what they were seeing," says Tabbi Burwell of the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau. From the Boathouse District, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Site for Canoe/Kayak, to its MAPS project, the city has moved forward on an aggressive capital improvement program for new and upgraded sports, recreation, entertainment, cultural, and convention facilities.

Some smaller destinations are reframing their offerings to better appeal to meetings groups. Victoria, a small destination located in Texas' Coastal Bend, has taken advantage of the popularity of its barbecue to create the Great Coastal Texas Barbecue Trail, a huge hit.

The Eugene, Cascades & Coast region in Oregon has created two national meeting campaigns: "Meeting Nerds Aren't Afraid To Go Outside to Reveal What's Inside," and "Meeting Geniuses Take New Paths."  

Even some of the biggest meetings destinations are working to stay a step ahead of planners' needs.

"Planners choose Orlando because our entire tourism community comes together to create special group events and experiences that greatly enhance the attendee's positive memory of the conference," says George Aguel, president and CEO, Visit Orlando, the destination's official tourism association.

But while the city's expansive event spaces, convention centers, and theme parks remain some of its biggest draws for groups, the destination is stressing to planners that Orlando has even more than that to offer. It is home to a flourishing farm-to-table movement and vibrant independent restaurant scene. 2015 has been a landmark year for Orlando dining. Wine Enthusiast named the city one of the year's 10 Best Wine Travel Destinations and The New York Times named Orlando one of the 52 places to go in the world in 2015, citing a dynamic food scene and exciting restaurants. Orlando is a hotbed for celebrity chef restaurants, with Masaharu Morimoto joining Todd English, Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, and Roy Yamaguchi. Even homegrown chefs are making a splash. For the third consecutive year, Orlando captured the most nominations of any Florida city for the prestigious James Beard Foundation's 2015 Restaurant and Chef Award Semifinalists.

New attractions abound, led by I-Drive 360, a retail, dining, and entertainment complex that opened in May on International Drive near the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC).  

The OCCC impressed Ahinsa Mansukhani, partner experiences manager, Microsoft U.S. Partner Programs, during Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference July 12-16, 2015, which attracted 15,000 attendees from more than 150 countries.

"The convention center is a beautiful space with lots of natural light and has a really logical layout. The mirror imaging makes it easy to understand and map out for attendees. The expo floor is large, versatile, and conveniently located. We also loved the venue's green initiatives and their commitment to the environment," says Mansukhani.

 


The OCCC, as well as the surrounding convention district, contributed to the success of the conference. "In Orlando, the entire area surrounding the convention center is dedicated to the conference experience," she says. "The large number of hotels in such a small radius allows for short transit times between hotels, the convention centers, and the many meeting sites. The logistics are really beautiful."

These efforts have helped this top destination stay on top. Cvent revealed its annual list of the "Top 50 Cities for Meetings and Events in the United States," based on meeting and event booking activity conducted through the Cvent Supplier Network.. This year's list saw a number of top cities back on the list, including the top city, Orlando. While Orlando was ranked No. 2 last year, it reclaimed the top spot his year.

"Competition for meetings and conventions business continues to be very heated between destinations that are eager to attract events to boost their local economies," says Bharet Malhotra, senior vice president of sales for the Cvent Supplier Network. "This year we witnessed several cities vying for a position in the top 50 list, with significant movement within the ranks."

 


Long Beach, long a top meeting destination, makes the Cvent list due in large part to an innovative package of CSR and meeting design initiatives undertaken over the last several years. This strategy has positioned the city as being meetings accessible in the minds of planners. The centerpiece of the effort has been the radical redesign of the Long Beach Arena, the highlight of which is the state-of-the-art Pacific Ballroom, a multipurpose event space with one-of-a-kind lighting and sound capabilities and an innovative customizable ceiling.

On the other side of the country, New York City, attracting 6 million delegates each year -- continually tweaks its marketing in hopes of attracting new groups. NYC & Company, New York City's official marketing, tourism, and partnership organization, unveiled the newest iteration of its Make It NYC meetings and conventions marketing campaign at IMEX America this year. "Meet Where You Want To Be," is the new tagline.

As far as international association meetings are concerned, Paris is No. 1, according to statistics compiled by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA). The City of Light ranked first, hosting 214 meetings last year. Vienna swapped places with Madrid, moving up from three to two, and Berlin and Barcelona exchanged places at four and five respectively.  

"We are thrilled that Germany has done so well in the ICCA rankings," says Laura d'Elsa, regional director, U.S. and Canada for the German Convention Bureau, based in New York City. "More than 30 percent of international conventions in Germany are in the sector of technology and innovation, and 23 percent in medicine and healthcare, matching Germany's significant expertise and experience in industries such as tech, green tech, automotive, pharma, medical, R&D, and more."


Small but Mighty 
Smaller cities are coming on strong as the sites for meetings and conventions. "One of the interesting trends this year has been the rise of smaller cities moving ahead of and even displacing destinations that are near large metro areas but not downtown," explains Malhotra.

 


Smaller cities that have emerged on the 2015 Cvent list include Pittsburgh; Jacksonville, FL; Tucson, AZ; and Charleston, SC. Within the list, cities including Austin; Charlotte, NC; and Tampa, FL climbed to higher positions; while markets near major cities like Fort Worth, TX and Coronado, CA slipped in the rankings.

Why are smaller cities growing in popularity? More investment in infrastructure and attractions, as well as property renovations, says Kevin Fliess, vice president of Cvent Supplier Network Product Marketing. "It's investment in infrastructure, price competitiveness, and the unique experiences that those different destinations can offer."

In particular, Fliess said the rise in rankings for Charleston and Tucson are examples of planners' desires for more memorable destinations. "Both are fantastic leisure destinations with a lot to offer visitors, but maybe historically haven't been thought of as meeting and event destinations," he says. "Those two cities have made the list this year, and that speaks to a couple things: the investment in infrastructure in those destinations, and the fact that planners and attendees are looking for experiences."

He points out that Charleston is steeped in tradition, with a historic waterfront and striking cuisine, while "You can't beat the outdoor activities in Tucson."

Many second- and third-tier cities offer better availability and are more cost-effective. Bellevue, WA is one such destination and yet it is just minutes away from Seattle's rich cultural and historical offerings.

The Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau, the official tourism and convention marketing organization for the city and county, changed its name to Visit Mobile last month and launched a new brand, "Born to Celebrate."

"This is an incredible moment for Mobile as we begin to take our place as one of America's great destination cities. To capture that momentum, we must develop a brand that can help us tell our story and put a ribbon around the package of outstanding amenities and experiences we have to offer," says Mayor Sandy Stimpson.

The new brand will be featured on the Visit Mobile website as well as all business correspondence, apparel, signage, trade show displays, swag, brochures, visitors guides, social media platforms, and print/digital advertising.

According to Visit Mobile, the promise of celebration is one that is true and authentic to the area, as it is the birthplace of Mardi Gras.

Just as Mobile has pinpointed one of the attributes that make it special, other second- and third-tier cities have done the same. They have selected one distinctive or unique attraction, event, or culture to zero in on.



Questions or comments? Email Andrea Doyle at [email protected]



This article appears in the December 2015 issue of Successful Meetings.

Cvent's Top 10 Cities for 2015
1. Orlando
2. Las Vegas
3. Chicago
4. San Diego
5. Atlanta
6. Washington, D.C.
7. New York City
8. Dallas
9. Nashville
10 Phoenix


Trending Upward 
Both Vancouver and Pittsburgh made the list of "Cities on the Move" from Watkins Research Group, based on responses of meeting planners about the attributes of the overall experience that they find most appealing. The Kansas City, MO-based research firm not only looked at the top-performing cities, but spotlighted the handful of destinations that made the greatest advances in overall scores since the initial 2012 study. In addition to Pittsburgh and Vancouver, the other rising cities rounding out the top 10 were: Cleveland; Charlotte, NC; Chicago; Cincinnati; Columbus, OH; Nashville; New Orleans; New York City; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C.

Of course, such successful repositioning often requires a nimble marketing team to help get the right message out to groups about what these cities are offering -- and how it's changed. For these reasons, the Watkins Research Group also looked at the CVBs and DMOs that respondents chose for "standing out" in comparison to others. Top performers were: Anaheim, CA; Atlanta; Boston; Chicago; Denver; Indianapolis; Kansas City, MO; Montreal; New Orleans; Orlando; Philadelphia; San Antonio; San Diego; and Toronto. What makes these organizations impressive, according to respondents, is that they are a great partner throughout the meeting-booking process, from drawing up the initial contract through post-meeting follow-up, taking a strategic view; are exceptionally attentive; help find value-adding deals, and know what is going on.

Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau has worked to speak to these planner concerns. Its current campaign, "OKC'ing is Believing," was based on research conducted in 2014 with meeting planners. "They said that Oklahoma City wasn't even on their radar but once they were here, they couldn't believe what they were seeing," says Tabbi Burwell of the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau. From the Boathouse District, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Site for Canoe/Kayak, to its MAPS project, the city has moved forward on an aggressive capital improvement program for new and upgraded sports, recreation, entertainment, cultural, and convention facilities.

Some smaller destinations are reframing their offerings to better appeal to meetings groups. Victoria, a small destination located in Texas' Coastal Bend, has taken advantage of the popularity of its barbecue to create the Great Coastal Texas Barbecue Trail, a huge hit.

The Eugene, Cascades & Coast region in Oregon has created two national meeting campaigns: "Meeting Nerds Aren't Afraid To Go Outside to Reveal What's Inside," and "Meeting Geniuses Take New Paths."  

Even some of the biggest meetings destinations are working to stay a step ahead of planners' needs.

"Planners choose Orlando because our entire tourism community comes together to create special group events and experiences that greatly enhance the attendee's positive memory of the conference," says George Aguel, president and CEO, Visit Orlando, the destination's official tourism association.

But while the city's expansive event spaces, convention centers, and theme parks remain some of its biggest draws for groups, the destination is stressing to planners that Orlando has even more than that to offer. It is home to a flourishing farm-to-table movement and vibrant independent restaurant scene. 2015 has been a landmark year for Orlando dining. Wine Enthusiast named the city one of the year's 10 Best Wine Travel Destinations and The New York Times named Orlando one of the 52 places to go in the world in 2015, citing a dynamic food scene and exciting restaurants. Orlando is a hotbed for celebrity chef restaurants, with Masaharu Morimoto joining Todd English, Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, and Roy Yamaguchi. Even homegrown chefs are making a splash. For the third consecutive year, Orlando captured the most nominations of any Florida city for the prestigious James Beard Foundation's 2015 Restaurant and Chef Award Semifinalists.

New attractions abound, led by I-Drive 360, a retail, dining, and entertainment complex that opened in May on International Drive near the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC).  

The OCCC impressed Ahinsa Mansukhani, partner experiences manager, Microsoft U.S. Partner Programs, during Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference July 12-16, 2015, which attracted 15,000 attendees from more than 150 countries.

"The convention center is a beautiful space with lots of natural light and has a really logical layout. The mirror imaging makes it easy to understand and map out for attendees. The expo floor is large, versatile, and conveniently located. We also loved the venue's green initiatives and their commitment to the environment," says Mansukhani.

 

PointeOrlando
Pointe Orlando, a shopping complex near the convention center, is helping that city create a destination experience for meeting attendees


The OCCC, as well as the surrounding convention district, contributed to the success of the conference. "In Orlando, the entire area surrounding the convention center is dedicated to the conference experience," she says. "The large number of hotels in such a small radius allows for short transit times between hotels, the convention centers, and the many meeting sites. The logistics are really beautiful."

These efforts have helped this top destination stay on top. Cvent revealed its annual list of the "Top 50 Cities for Meetings and Events in the United States," based on meeting and event booking activity conducted through the Cvent Supplier Network.. This year's list saw a number of top cities back on the list, including the top city, Orlando. While Orlando was ranked No. 2 last year, it reclaimed the top spot his year.

"Competition for meetings and conventions business continues to be very heated between destinations that are eager to attract events to boost their local economies," says Bharet Malhotra, senior vice president of sales for the Cvent Supplier Network. "This year we witnessed several cities vying for a position in the top 50 list, with significant movement within the ranks."

 

The out-of-the-box design
of the Pacific Ballroom at
the Long Beach Arena makes
a statement to meeting groups
that the city is a good partner
with which to collaborate on
creating cutting-edge events
The out-of-the-box design of the Pacific Ballroom at the Long Beach Arena makes a statement to meeting groups that the city is a good partner with which to collaborate on creating cutting-edge events


Long Beach, long a top meeting destination, makes the Cvent list due in large part to an innovative package of CSR and meeting design initiatives undertaken over the last several years. This strategy has positioned the city as being meetings accessible in the minds of planners. The centerpiece of the effort has been the radical redesign of the Long Beach Arena, the highlight of which is the state-of-the-art Pacific Ballroom, a multipurpose event space with one-of-a-kind lighting and sound capabilities and an innovative customizable ceiling.

On the other side of the country, New York City, attracting 6 million delegates each year -- continually tweaks its marketing in hopes of attracting new groups. NYC & Company, New York City's official marketing, tourism, and partnership organization, unveiled the newest iteration of its Make It NYC meetings and conventions marketing campaign at IMEX America this year. "Meet Where You Want To Be," is the new tagline.

As far as international association meetings are concerned, Paris is No. 1, according to statistics compiled by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA). The City of Light ranked first, hosting 214 meetings last year. Vienna swapped places with Madrid, moving up from three to two, and Berlin and Barcelona exchanged places at four and five respectively.  

"We are thrilled that Germany has done so well in the ICCA rankings," says Laura d'Elsa, regional director, U.S. and Canada for the German Convention Bureau, based in New York City. "More than 30 percent of international conventions in Germany are in the sector of technology and innovation, and 23 percent in medicine and healthcare, matching Germany's significant expertise and experience in industries such as tech, green tech, automotive, pharma, medical, R&D, and more."


Small but Mighty 
Smaller cities are coming on strong as the sites for meetings and conventions. "One of the interesting trends this year has been the rise of smaller cities moving ahead of and even displacing destinations that are near large metro areas but not downtown," explains Malhotra.

 

The Pittsburgh skyline today shows
why the "Smoky City" is now one of
the "World's Most Livable Cities"
The Pittsburgh skyline today shows why the "Smoky City" is now one of the "World's Most Livable Cities"


Smaller cities that have emerged on the 2015 Cvent list include Pittsburgh; Jacksonville, FL; Tucson, AZ; and Charleston, SC. Within the list, cities including Austin; Charlotte, NC; and Tampa, FL climbed to higher positions; while markets near major cities like Fort Worth, TX and Coronado, CA slipped in the rankings.

Why are smaller cities growing in popularity? More investment in infrastructure and attractions, as well as property renovations, says Kevin Fliess, vice president of Cvent Supplier Network Product Marketing. "It's investment in infrastructure, price competitiveness, and the unique experiences that those different destinations can offer."

In particular, Fliess said the rise in rankings for Charleston and Tucson are examples of planners' desires for more memorable destinations. "Both are fantastic leisure destinations with a lot to offer visitors, but maybe historically haven't been thought of as meeting and event destinations," he says. "Those two cities have made the list this year, and that speaks to a couple things: the investment in infrastructure in those destinations, and the fact that planners and attendees are looking for experiences."

He points out that Charleston is steeped in tradition, with a historic waterfront and striking cuisine, while "You can't beat the outdoor activities in Tucson."

Many second- and third-tier cities offer better availability and are more cost-effective. Bellevue, WA is one such destination and yet it is just minutes away from Seattle's rich cultural and historical offerings.

The Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau, the official tourism and convention marketing organization for the city and county, changed its name to Visit Mobile last month and launched a new brand, "Born to Celebrate."

"This is an incredible moment for Mobile as we begin to take our place as one of America's great destination cities. To capture that momentum, we must develop a brand that can help us tell our story and put a ribbon around the package of outstanding amenities and experiences we have to offer," says Mayor Sandy Stimpson.

The new brand will be featured on the Visit Mobile website as well as all business correspondence, apparel, signage, trade show displays, swag, brochures, visitors guides, social media platforms, and print/digital advertising.

According to Visit Mobile, the promise of celebration is one that is true and authentic to the area, as it is the birthplace of Mardi Gras.

Just as Mobile has pinpointed one of the attributes that make it special, other second- and third-tier cities have done the same. They have selected one distinctive or unique attraction, event, or culture to zero in on.



Questions or comments? Email Andrea Doyle at [email protected]



This article appears in the December 2015 issue of Successful Meetings.