Every destination is special, every destination is different, but not every destination has the basic component meeting experts might deem the “p” factor. Translation: perfect for planners.
So, in pursuit of this multifaceted quest, we scouted the nation’s top cities to guide planners to the right destination for their repertoire of needs. First stop: Resonance Consultancy’s “2018 Ranking of America’s Best Cities,” a comprehensive analyzation of large cities’ key strengths and differentiating characteristics coupled with experiential data from such online channels as TripAdvisor, Yelp and Instagram.
Here are the study’s Top 10 cities, along with their leading lures:
Described by Resonance as a place “full of hustle and heart, dreamers and doers,” the nation’s largest city serves up everything to everybody, planners are no exception.
Of the greatest appeal to meetings’ decision-makers are the current $1.5 billion expansion of the Javits Center; a $16 billion investment in JFK, LaGuardia, Newark Liberty and New York Stewart International airports, in addition to the hotel scene — 117,300 hotel rooms as of May 2018, expected to reach 138,000 by end of 2020 (according to NYC & Company). In the hotel arena are the recently opened Mr. C Seaport, a Lower Manhattan luxury hotel by the Cipriani family, and AC Hotel New York Times Square. Slated for 2020 is the uber-luxurious Aman New York.
Recognizing its draw as an epicenter for nightlife, New York appointed a Nightlife Mayor for this destination whose new-on-the-scene additions include the Alley Cat Amateur Theatre, a restaurant/bar designed to recreate the ambience of a theater’s backstage, and The Woodstock, a ’60s-themed bar in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. Sweetening the deal are the city’s 72 restaurants boasting one or more Michelin stars.
Coming onboard are The Shed, a truly unique eight-story building structure unlike any other arts venue in the city scheduled to open next year. The $70 million Statue of Liberty Museum will also open next year, and SPYSCAPE, the world’s largest interactive spy museum, opened its doors in February.
Having picked New York for her 2020 and 2021 events, Tracy Orpin, CMP, conferences and meetings manager, International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP), details her selection process. “New York, like many first-tier cities, is typically out of the question due to hotel and food costs, but the city offers a lot, and the ease of traveling there is great.
After speaking to Lisa Lopez from NYC & Company on many occasions regarding ‘how’ we can get IAAP to New York, she introduced me to Katrina Stewart at the New York Marriott Marquis Times Square, and we made it happen with affordable room rates and contract options that fit nicely into our budget.”
For a city that strikingly sits on the shores of Lake Michigan and recently vaulted onto the culinary map, its biggest surprise is that it’s unexpectedly affordable. Named in 2017 the “Best Big City in the U.S.” by Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards and home to such organizations as the American Bar Association and American Medical Association, it is no stranger to the meetings market.
“Chicago is constantly abuzz with new developments,” says Marc Anderson, executive vice president, Choose Chicago. He cites the new Chicago Architecture Center along the river with 10,000 square feet of gallery space and the indoor meeting place of Gallagher Way, a park/plaza just outside Wrigley Field. “Chicago has also had quite a hotel boom in recent years,” continues Anderson, mentioning Hotel Zachary, St. Jane Chicago in downtown’s historic Carbide and Carbon building, Moxy Chicago and Hilton’s first triple-brand hotel near McCormick Place.
Beyond McCormick Place’s 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space and 173 meeting rooms are the city’s award-winning dining landscape comprised of more than 7,300 restaurants. According to Anderson, “Chicago has delivered James Beard Foundation winners 23 out of 24 years. In fact, after 25 years in New York, the foundation selected Chicago in 2015 as the new host city for its elite awards ceremony for which the Windy City is slated to host the Beard Awards until at least 2021.”
The future home of the National Museum of Gospel Music (2020) and longtime home to the Field Museum (celebrating its 125th anniversary this year), Chicago’s nightlife is equally impressive from Second City and live theater to the Lyric Opera Chicago and the Joffrey Ballet, in addition to 200-plus music venues, such as Andy’s Jazz Club and Rosa’s Blues Lounge.
If you’re in “the business” in L.A., you’re in entertainment, Hollywood-style. Known for such iconic landmarks as the Hollywood Sign, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Walt Disney Concert Hall, what better place to impressively reward attendees than in the city whose role is to entertain the world?
To Ellen Shortill, director, convention and meetings, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), L.A. spelled success for the association’s 2017 annual convention, attracting more than 14,000 attendees over three days.
“For me, the key takeaway was that to meeting planners who are essentially producers (and directors, editors, scriptwriters and more), it was refreshing to be in a destination where production is truly understood. Los Angeles is the entertainment capital of the world, and what meeting producer doesn’t love going to the land of producers, where the entire team understands the need to work together to create the next greatest hit. It made my team feel like stars.”
Created around the theme, “Focus on the Big Picture,” a highlight of this only-in-L.A. event was the President’s Reception, to which record-shaped invitations were sent for an evening on the rooftop of the GRAMMY Museum.
Additional options include the Hollywood Bowl and the Greek Theatre, and activities associated with the region’s sports teams — the Los Angeles Dodgers (MLB), Lakers and Clippers (NBA), Kings (NHL), Rams and Chargers (NFL). Along the traditional route (though traditional only by L.A.’s standards), the city has more theaters and museums than any other in the nation, such as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ six-story Academy Museum, slated to open next year.
As the nation’s sixth-largest hotel market with 1,022 hotels offering more than 102,000 hotel rooms, many are new to the scene or newly renovated. Among them are Hotel Figueroa, which reopened last January following a $30 million renovation transforming its longtime Moroccan décor to a contemporary look (steps from the Los Angeles Convention Center and STAPLES Center); The West Hollywood EDITION, the first West Coast property under Marriott International (Ian Schrager’s EDITION lifestyle brand) opening on the Sunset Strip later this year and The Surfrider Malibu, the 2017 redesign of a 1950s-era motel into a modern California beach house.
Forever known for its lavish landscape across seven hills, the always-present silhouette of the Golden Gate Bridge and proximity to such prestigious institutions as Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, fresh enhancements include downtown’s towering 1,070-square-foot Salesforce Tower and the $550 million, 305,000-square-foot expansion of the Moscone Center (scheduled for completion in January). In addition, the San Francisco Travel Association promises meeting planners more than 360 out-of-the-box thinking facilities and venues, nearly one for every day of the year.
Named the World’s Leading Meetings & Conference Destination in 2017 (the fifth consecutive year) by the World Travel Awards and the No. 1 Trade Show Destination by Trade Show News Network for 24 consecutive years, its recovery from the tragedy on the Las Vegas Strip a year ago has been steady and impressive. Expected to continue in visitor appeal, its over-the-top attractions, along with the multiphase renovation and 1.4 million-square-foot expansion of the convention center, ensures its spot with meeting planners. In addition to nearly 150,000 hotel rooms and more than 11 million square feet of meeting space, reinvestment for 2018 through 2020 and beyond is estimated at $16.9 billion.
One repeated visitor is the Service Industry Association (SIA), the industry’s only C-Level directed association. Explaining SIA and Vegas’ history, executive director Claudia J. Betzner says that when she began coordinating the association’s events three decades ago, she would alternate east and west destinations. However, after noticing that when SIA was in Las Vegas, the attendance increased 15 to 20 percent, a decision was made in 2000 to only hold the annual summit in Vegas. Having used TAO Nightclub at the Venetian and Chateau Nightclub & Rooftop at Paris Las Vegas, her conclusion is definitive: “Better dining options, great shows, pretty much anything you want is in Las Vegas.”
Her advice to planners when picking a hotel is to not just look at price and location but to get referrals for hotels with whom it is easy and pleasant to work. “I have used Paris Las Vegas for my major summit the last three years and just re-signed a new contract. I love the people there. It’s a pleasure to work with them — from sales to convention services, front desk, reservations and more.”
Bob Dorsa, co-founder and president, American Credit Union Mortgage Association (ACUMA), details his evolution to the destination of Vegas. “Dating back 30 years ago to myself as a younger event planner, I envisioned staging events with great venues in an exciting city, one that was easy to reach and featured a plethora of entertainment.” His choice: Las Vegas.
“Our association is somewhat unique; everyone is in the same business. This makes networking first and foremost. In past years, we organized groups to see performances such as Elton John, Celine Dion and Bette Midler. We now observe suppliers treating guests to Top Golf and dinner cruises on Lake Meade. And the list goes on and on.”
In conclusion, Dorsa urges planners not to procrastinate if specific dates are required. If flexible, however, there may be bargains should a hotel need to fill vacant space when they near capacity.
San Diego: 263 days of sun, 23 beaches and a convention center ensconced beside an urban waterfront. It’s this visual that beckons planners repeatedly. Sweetening the deal are the promise of almost 3,000 rooms under construction and a convention center expansion proposed on November’s ballot.
Known for the world-famous San Diego Zoo, the 1,200-acre Balboa Park (North America’s largest urban cultural park), farm-to-table dinners and an impressive craft beer scene, additional embellishments are in the works. Under construction is a massive waterfront project: a $1.3 billion, eight-block, 12-acre Navy Broadway Complex that will house a 17-story headquarters for the U.S. Navy and the Manchester Pacific Gateway — four office buildings, two hotels, a museum, a retail promenade and an almost two-acre park.
At 655 square miles, the area of Houston could contain the cities of New York, San Francisco, Miami, Seattle, Boston, Minneapolis and Washington. The surprise, however, is that Houston’s most delicious appeal is its collection of 10,000 restaurants, many inspired by its rich ethnic diversity — more than 145 different languages are spoken by its residents (a greater number than New York). Home to NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center and the world’s largest medical center, it’s also the base of the nation’s second-largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies.
Of the Texas city’s leading teambuilding activities, Judi Quesonova, CMP, CTA, vice president of client services with Visit Houston, gives details. “The all-time favorite team activity involves sports.” At Avenida Houston, meeting attendees have access to three Houston sporting venues and four professional sports teams within a few blocks of one another, creating endless possibilities. For the more active are night biking with HTX Nite Bike and the opportunity to channel your inner ‘stuntman’ instincts at Avenida Houston’s Discovery Green, where certified coaches teach participants to run, jump, climb, crawl, balance and vault like stunt professionals.
Late last year, the Houston Downtown Management District unveiled “Plan Downtown,” which is described as “a 20-year plan to redevelop the city’s downtown and improve visitor appeal, business climate, livability and connectivity.”
The future of Houston’s meetings world is positive and is on an upward trajectory. Since 2014, Visit Houston has seen a 40 percent increase, surpassing its 2017 goal by more than 50,000 room nights. Last year, it booked 429 conventions and meetings, representing more than 800,000 room nights for such groups as the American Dental Association (2022) and the National Association of Realtors (2025).
First impression: a turquoise ocean fronted by white-powder beaches and seasoned with a Latin American and Caribbean flair. Add to the mix a continually growing hotel market (including Hyatt Centric Brickell Miami, Mr. C Hotel in Coconut Grove and The Dunns-Josephine Hotel in Historic Overtown), the highly anticipated $620 million expansion of the Miami Beach Convention Center, MBCC, (enhanced with a $7.4 million bonus in art, one of the nation’s largest public art commissions) and PortMIAMI’s new state-of-the-art cruise terminals funded by three of the city’s major lines: Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises. The result is a planner’s dream.
Known for its multicultural neighborhoods, from Little Havana to Coconut Grove Village West to Little Haiti, it’s not surprising that out-of-the-norm teambuilding options are the norm. Here’s only a portion of the rundown from Rolando Aedo, CDME, chief operating officer, Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. A hands-on graffiti tour of Wynwood allows guests to tour and then paint their own murals. As the nation’s only destination with two national parks, Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park, only there can a planner offer airboat rides through the Everglades. For wine lovers, there’s a tour of Schnebly Redland’s Winery & Brewery, the country’s southernmost winery, where teams can learn to make vino from tropical fruits.
“The outlook for meetings in Miami is positive,” says Aedo. Mentioning that the destination has secured major citywide conventions even before the MBCC’s promised completion of its expansion/renovation, among this year’s groups are the American Health Information Management Association and the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
The noted headquarters of Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, Costco and Starbucks, Seattle is no stranger to business, and by association, it’s a seamless match for meetings.
“With everything within walking distance or a short ride away, it felt like (Seattle) was our venue, even with such a large number of attendees.” — Tricia Simpson
Tricia Simpson, manager, education-programs logistics, International Trademark Association (INTA), an association of more than 7,200 organizations from 191 countries, agrees: “Seattle has been very successful for us.”
Having recently conducted INTA’s fourth Seattle meeting since 1994, attendance tells the tale: 1994 had 3,475 attendees compared to 2018’s nearly 11,000 participants. Simpson explains INTA’s over-the-years’ interest by reiterating that the Washington State Convention Center is ideally located in the heart of Seattle’s downtown, its waterfront location offers remarkable mountain and cityscape views, the unique restaurant scene showcases farm-to-table opportunities, and there’s the iconic Space Needle and Pike Place Market. “With everything within walking distance or a short ride away, it felt like the entire city was our venue, even with such a large number of attendees,” says Simpson.
Her advice to planners: “Seattle is experiencing terrific growth and is changing quickly. Most planners may be pleasantly surprised.”
As one of America’s original cities, this Massachusetts capital is defined by a rich history, cobblestone pathways, abundant green space and 75 regional institutions of higher learning (including Harvard, Boston University and MIT). Its innovation, passion and welcoming ways, which attracted Reebok’s headquarters to the city last year, additionally appeal to many planners. AC&F