Indy Seeks Meetings Pole Position

Destination management companies are excited about Indianapolis’ progress

Indianapolis operates in the competitive Midwest meetings marketplace, where many cities vie to be hosts for regional and even national corporate and association group events. But Indy is expecting its brand-new infrastructure will give it additional edge in attracting them. The developments have local destination management companies, which help visiting groups with events and activities, gearing up excitedly for larger meetings, associations, and citywide conventions.

What’s driving Indianapolis’ aspirations is the city’s current period of infrastructural transformation that began to materialize in summer 2008 with Lucas Oil Stadium, the current home of the NFL’s Colts with purpose-built group facilities and exhibit space. Then, last fall, Indianapolis International Airport unveiled the $1.1 billion Colonel H. Weir Cook Terminal, which is greeting attendees in a modern and passenger-efficient setting. And, next year, in Feburary, the destination will premiere a nearly twice-as-large, 566,000-exhibit-sf Indiana Convention Center and a 1,005-room JW Marriott hotel across the street. Not to mention that Super Bowl XLVI will arrive in town in 2012. 

“We’re increasing our staff and seeking new business previously not targeted,” notes Shannon Gardner, president of Accent on Indianapolis. “We are fortunate to be part of the DMC Network, a consortium of DMCs in the U.S. and Canada. We’ve been talking to colleagues in bigger markets, where historically we have not shared common clients. With the expansion and opportunity to service larger groups, we are discovering more and more common clients.”

“People love Indy when they get here; the challenge is we’re not always at the top of the ‘places to see’ list,” says Gardner. “With internationally recognized events like the Super Bowl, Final Four, and the Indy 500, we’re getting more and more people to experience our city and help spread the word that we have a great destination.” 

Tracy Povolock, director of operations at DMCIndy, anticipates handling more and larger receptions and galas, VIP events, and teambuilding activities, among other events, when the bigger and more diverse groups start to come. Povolock says her company’s experience in working with various group segments, including international, corporate, association, military, and incentives, will give it leverage in attracting those event buyers. 

Both Gardner and Povolock credit the JW Marriott—the last and signature component of the four-property, 1,626-room Marriott Place Indianapolis complex with 104,000 sf of group space—for raising the city’s profile in the national group market. “They’re not just filling up their own property, but looking at the big picture and what will impact the entire city in terms of citywide convention groups,” says Gardner.

“A primary focus for the JW Marriott has been to pursue groups looking for 1,000 peak-night rooms in one hotel, 2,000 peak-night rooms within one complex now available within Marriott Place, and 2,000 to 4,600 peak-night citywide conventions now able to be housed entirely downtown,” details Povolock, including those that had bypassed Indianapolis because of its former size limitations. She adds, “There is a heavy concentration on the national association market, but their sales efforts do cover all market segments,” noting that Marriott Place was planned to both host in-house groups and be an integral part of the larger convention package.

Sports-themed adjunct activities are a specialty of Indianapolis, which recently have been bolstered by Lucas Oil Stadium. “We’ve utilized it, ranging from welcome receptions with 500 attendees to more intimate corporate dinners with under 100 attendees,” says Gardner. 

“The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is an incredible venue for special events when it’s not hosting its three major races,” adds Povolock. But “we are fortunate that our city has a variety of off-site venues; our museums sports venues, bars, restaurants, and attractions are eager to work with groups of all sizes,” she adds. 

Tammy Seldon, director of conferences and membership for the Giant Screen Cinema Association, an IMAX theater industry trade group, used Indiana’s claimed oldest bar, the Slippery Noodle Inn, for a sponsored event for 350 guests last September during a four-day, 500-person annual meeting. She called it “fantastic and a great venue.”