Destinations know they must offer incredible value to attract meeting groups to their city. The competition is fierce, especially among third- and second-tier cities that want to move up the ladder a peg. Destinations large and small enhance their value by building new hotels, convention centers and meeting venues while refreshing existing ones. New attractions and entertainment districts often follow. The efforts are succeeding in many destinations, which are attracting more meetings and posting higher hotel occupancy rates and revenue rates.
However, the ultimate decision is still in the hands of the meeting planner who must determine whether a destination offers the total value proposition appropriate for their particular conference.
Planners determine value by looking at several practical, bottom-line criteria. These include rates for hotels, meeting spaces and unique venues; food and beverage costs; hotel, CVB and convention center concessions and services; and vendor prices to name a few. A planner’s checklist also addresses accessibility, airlift, cultural activities, walkability and a host of other items.
Because everyone can use a little help now and then, especially when considering a never-used-before destination, planners need to know well in advance that the destination’s convention and visitors bureau has a solid reputation as a willing and reliable partner.
Here are a few destinations with new stories for meeting planners.
As Atlantic City diversifies from a casino-centered destination to one that includes year-round non-casino attractions, meeting and convention business is on the upswing. During the fourth quarter of 2014, the city wrote 33 percent more conventions than during the fourth quarter of 2013. Attendee spending rose 12.3 percent.
Atlantic City hopes to attract even more groups as it renovates and adds new attractions. On the famous Boardwalk, the iconic Steel Pier is undergoing a three-phase makeover that will transform the historic landmark into a year-round attraction by the end of this year. The project includes new dining options, an arcade area, a museum, retail entertainment space and a reimagined Marine Ballroom with 2,000 removable seats and a stage. The highlight of the makeover is New Jersey’s first Observation Wheel.
The Steel Pier’s president, Anthony Catanoso, recently traveled to Italy to conduct the first of three inspections of the 200-foot Observation Wheel, which is expected to open in 2015.
“This is literally one the first legs of the new foundation for Atlantic City,” said Catanoso. “This Observation Wheel is truly a metaphor for how far we can go when it comes to building non-gaming venues in Atlantic City. The wheel, along with the Pier’s extensive renovation, are just some of the many exciting revitalization efforts going on right now at Atlantic City.”
Atlantic City’s meeting space capacity also will get a big boost when the Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City Waterfront Conference Center opens in August. The 100,000-sf facility will connect to the 2,500-room Harrah’s Atlantic City and overlook the Atlantic Ocean and the harbor. Harrah’s new Waterfront Conference Center is the largest, most technologically advanced meeting facility from Baltimore to Boston. The flexible meeting space can be reconfigured into as many as 63 individual meeting rooms including two 50,000-sf pillarless ballrooms that can accommodate up to 5,000 guests.
On the Boardwalk, the Tropicana Casino & Resort is undergoing a $35 million renovation that includes North Tower hotel room makeovers and a new fitness center. Light show entertainment will be added to Tropicana’s boardwalk façade. The project is scheduled for completion by the end of this year.
Glenn Straub, who successfully bid on purchasing the Revel Casino Hotel, has proposed various plans for the complex including the addition of a large waterpark, a smaller casino floor, high-speed ferry transportation from Manhattan as well as a new tower that would house an educational institution.
The Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau (GBCVB) claims to be “The most affordable city in the South,” according to their website.
SportsEvents Media Group named the GBCVB as one of its 2015 Readers’ Choice Award winners because of its quality service and valuable deals for planners. For example, the CVB will provide one registration information person onsite for four consecutive hours for every 100 room nights a group books.
Birmingham’s value helps to attract more groups, including the 2021 World Games featuring more than 4,000 athletes from more than 100 countries. It will be the first time the United States has hosted the 11-day event since the first one in 1981 in Santa Clara, California.
The heart of Birmingham’s meetings and conventions is the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex, which offers more than 220,000 sf of exhibit space and 100,000 sf of meeting space, including two ballrooms seating up to 2,000 guests.
The new Cleveland Convention Center (CCC) and the Global Center for Health Innovation, which opened last year, are attracting more meetings and conventions to the city. The LEED-Gold certified CCC features 30-foot-high ceilings, more than 20 meeting rooms and a 32,000-sf Grand Ballroom. The adjacent Global Center for Health Innovation — the only facility in the world that displays the future of health and health care presented on four themed floors — has an 11,000-sf, column-free junior ballroom.
Cleveland is pumping billions of dollars into private and public developments and improvements as the city prepares to host the 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC) in mid-July.
By the time the RNC kicks off, Cleveland expects to have online 5,000 rooms among 19 hotels within a 20-minute walk of the CCC. The Hilton Cleveland Downtown, Convention Center Hotel, will connect via an underground walkway to the Cleveland Convention Center, the Global Center for Health Innovation and the downtown mall.
Recently opened hotels include the 156-room Metropolitan Hotel, The Cleveland Kimpton Hotel (122 rooms), the 150-room Aloft Hotel Downtown and the 484-room Westin..
Detroit — the comeback city — is today in an enviable position to give lessons on how to turn lemons into lemonade as substantial success stories replace dire tales of bankruptcy and neglect. In August, the city will receive a much-needed boost as they host approximately 6,000 delegates who are slated to attend the 2015 ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition. Thousands of association meeting planners will get a firsthand look at the new and exciting value proposition offered by the rebounding Motor City. According to past history, many of these attendees will book conventions there for years to come.
“The city has a great story to tell. …Detroit will do a fabulous job hosting our event in August.” — John H. Graham
“ASAE is very excited about this year’s Annual Meeting & Exposition in Detroit,” says ASAE president and CEO John H. Graham, IV, FASAE, CAE. “From the newly renovated Cobo Center to the wide range and varied nature of venues, it makes Detroit uniquely different and a great location to hold meetings. The city has a great story to tell, and we look forward to our attendees seeing it firsthand. Detroit will do a fabulous job hosting our event in August.”
The transformation and renovation of the Cobo Center factored into the decision to select Detroit as the annual meeting site, according to an ASAE spokesperson. Cobo boasts new space, a stellar ballroom and additional meeting rooms. ASAE seeks cities that are accessible and affordable to their members, and Detroit is centrally located, allowing business to reach U.S. and international locations with ease. In addition, ASAE notes that the overall hotel package is very good as to quality and value, especially the room rates that are near the convention center.
Finally, the Detroit CVB has been a longtime supporter of ASAE and the association community, and it’s important that ASAE gives back and supports Detroit in promoting the great meeting package they can offer associations.
The Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau (DMCVB) recently announced new convention bookings such as the US For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Championships in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
“We are proud to be chosen as one of the two host cities for FIRST Championships in 2018–2020,” said Larry Alexander, DMCVB president and CEO. “The timing couldn’t be better; renovations at Cobo Center will be complete and new development continues throughout the city, including the new M-1 Rail and District Detroit, which will both be up and running when FIRST is in Detroit. Also significant are the knowledgeable experts and resources in the STEM field located right here in Detroit.”
Several other major groups recently booked Detroit including the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International. This year marks 82 years that SAE has hosted its event in Detroit and the group recently committed to a six-year deal through 2020.
The National Association of Letter Carriers expects 9,000 attendees for its convention in Detroit in July 2018. NALC has met in Detroit four times over the years, but has not come back to Detroit since 1966.
Detroit is on a winning streak hosting more conventions than ever. This year alone convention business is bringing in 200,000 new visitors and an estimated $214 million in direct spending to the region. Major conventions in addition to ASAE coming to town in the coming months include: USA Volleyball, May 2015, attendance 10,000; National Baptist Christian Convention USA, Inc., June 2015, attendance 25,000; the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, July 2015, attendance 36,000; National Medical Association, July 2015, attendance 2,000; and Youmacon, October 2015, attendance 10,000.
The city’s largest convention hotel, The Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center, completed a massive, one-year renovation project that has transformed 1,298 guest rooms and 100,000 sf of meeting space. Located on the riverfront in the heart of downtown Detroit, the hotel’s guest rooms offer some of the most spectacular views of Detroit with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the city skyline, the Detroit River and Canada.
The fourth-largest city in the nation offers an attractive blend of big-city glitz and homespun Southern styles. Houston is hot, hot, hot say three notable publications. Travel + Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler and The Boston Globe all named Houston in their roundups of “must visit” global destinations in 2015.
It’s also why Houston continues to attract large groups, including the Texas Municipal League (TML), which held its Annual Conference for 4,500 attendees at the Hilton Americas last year. The TML chose Houston for several reasons, including value, says Christina Corrigan, director of communications and programs for the Austin, Texas-based TML. “Houston is an excellent destination for the TML Annual Conference due to the location, number of hotels within walking distance, the quality of the hotels and reasonable room rates,” she says. “Our conference hotels offered affordable rates and concessions that included VIP room upgrades and discounted staff rooms. TML consistently fills its annual conference room block and requires overflow hotels to meet our room needs so attrition is not an issue.”
The Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau and George R. Brown Convention Center (GBCC) contributed to the value that the TML received. “The convention center offered free Wi-Fi in common areas, worked within our budget and provided excellent service,” says Corrigan. “The Greater Houston CVB was our partner in planning. They provided expert service, hosted our planning trip to the convention center one year out, scheduled site inspections, provided marketing materials, hosted an onsite table promoting local restaurants and attractions, and were proactive in ensuring our planning team had what was needed to deliver a stellar conference, including connecting us to vendors for shuttle services, offsite events and other needs.”
Looking to attract more conventions and preparing to host the 2017 Super Bowl, Houston is investing more than $1.5 billion in downtown improvements,
The investment also includes development of the new 1,000-room Marriott Marquis Hotel scheduled for completion in fall 2016. The property will be connected to the GBCC and boast 100,000 sf of meeting space including a 39,000-sf ballroom, the city’s largest. The 325-room Hyatt Regency Houston Galleria is scheduled to open in the fall with 12,000 sf of meeting space. In November, the 328-room JW Marriott Houston Downtown opened with 16,000 sf of meeting space.
Corrigan says that Houston’s investment in convention district improvements shows that the city is committed to enriching the conference experience for associations. “The added retail space and parking, Discovery Park, new restaurants, extended light rail line, and large number of high quality downtown hotels all make Houston a very attractive destination for conferences,” says Corrigan. “It is one of the TML’s preferred destinations because of the location, convention center layout, quality hotels, pricing and support from the CVB and city staff.”
Jacksonville’s popularity has a great deal to do with its formidable hotel product. The 510-room Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa in Ponte Vedra Beach has refurbished 56,000 sf of meeting space and opened two new restaurants. Another property, the 72-suite Four Points by Sheraton Jacksonville Beachfront, has completed a $2 million renovation. A former independent hotel, the 201-room DoubleTree by Hilton Jacksonville Airport, opened earlier this year following a multimillion-dollar makeover. The renovation included the property’s 11,000 sf of meeting space, a redesigned lobby and a restaurant.
The linchpin of Jacksonville’s convention business, the Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center, offers 78,000 sf of exhibit space and 22 meeting rooms. The Schultz Center for teaching and leadership, provides 50,000 sf of banquet and training space as well as 16 meeting rooms. Popular convention hotels include the 963-room Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront, with 110,000 sf of meeting space, including a 27,894-sf ballroom.
Located along scenic Lake Michigan, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, offers everything planners could want in a destination especially when it comes to price points. “The daily cost of lodging and meals in Milwaukee is one of the lowest among the top 70 cities,” according to Visit Milwaukee.
Abundant meeting and hotel space is another plus. Nearly 3,000 hotel rooms are located within walking distance of the Wisconsin Center (WC), which features 189,000 sf of exhibit space and 80,000 sf of meeting space. The WC is connected via skywalks to the 729-room Hilton Milwaukee City Center and the 481-room Hyatt Regency Milwaukee.
In October 2013, the WC and its attached hotels hosted the four-day Annual Meeting of the Milwaukee-based American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine (AACPDM). The WC was a perfect fit for the meeting, says Tracy Burr, executive director. “We like smaller convention centers because our group isn’t big,” says Burr. “We have housed our meeting in one hotel, but our meeting has grown big enough to where it made sense to go with a convention center, especially since Milwaukee gave us excellent meeting room and sleeping room rates. Plus we were able to have almost all of the sleeping rooms in one location.”
In addition, the layout of the WC fit the AACPDM’s needs. “Our meeting has up to 12 breakouts a day,” says Burr. “The flow of the meeting and ease of finding rooms are important because our meeting is jam-packed with educational sessions from morning to night. We don’t like to house our meeting over multiple levels, and the Milwaukee center is more of an intimate setting where everything is in proximity.”
Offsite venues also were a draw. “We held our welcome reception at the art museum on the lakefront,” says Burr. “That was well-received by our attendees. We held our celebration dinner at the Harley-Davidson Museum. They were both reasonably priced.” The popular Harley-Davidson Museum can accommodate association groups from 20 to 1,000 delegates.
Meet Minneapolis president and CEO Melvin Tennant called 2014 the city’s “Best. Year. Ever.” as it posted all-time records. In 2014, Minneapolis hosted 534 conventions and meetings, posted a 72 percent hotel occupancy rate, and recorded average daily room rate (ADR) of $148, according to Meet Minneapolis, the city’s CVB. Meanwhile, revenue per available room was $107.
The Minneapolis Convention Center (MCC), the largest convention center in the Upper Midwest, is a key part of the success. The MCC received the Venue Excellence Award for Convention Centers at the Annual Conference of the International Association of Venue Managers. The MCC isn’t resting on its laurels. The facility is installing new carpets in all meeting rooms, broadening Wi-Fi bandwidth, painting interior lobbies and adding new seating and charging stations in the main lobby.
The MCC is a main reason why the Orlando-based International Association for Identification (IAI) held its six-day annual convention for 1,200 attendees in Minneapolis in August 2014. Attendees stayed at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis and Millennium Hotel Minneapolis, both connected to the MCC via walkway. “The convention space in Minneapolis was ideal,” says Candy Murray, conference planner for the IAI. “The proximity of meeting rooms to our exhibits and to the space where we had events and networking was very convenient. I could keep everything close together. Often, when you go to a first-tier city, the convention centers are so massive that it’s difficult to have meeting spaces close to each other.”
Murray’s group was the only one at the MCC. Being “the only game in town” has value, says Murray. “It helps us get value at offsite venues, restaurants and entertainment venues because we are bringing a fair amount of people into the downtown area, and we are the only group in town at that time,” she adds.
The CVB’s assistance also translated into value. “It was huge,” says Murray. “They did so much upfront work for me like determining the hotels most suitable for room blocks. They also connected me with DMCs that helped with tours and offsite events. They made appointments with vendors. That’s huge because it saves me time, and time is money.”
Murray ended up using a DMC that was included in the list provided by the CVB. “The DMC helped us with a large midweek event at Nicollet Island Pavilion (a popular event space),” says Murray. “They bused attendees there and helped provide dinner, entertainment, games and displays. They made a trout pond and brought in fish. There was a display of birds native to the area. We had interactive carnival-type games and strolling musicians.”
Oklahoma City touts its considerable affordability. “We certainly are affordable and stack up well against cities of similar size,” boasts the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau website.
Simone Smith, meetings manager of the DC-based American Dental Education Association, agrees with the CVB. Smith planned a meeting for 350 attendees that was held in late 2013 at the Sheraton Oklahoma City Downtown Hotel. “The cost was good in terms of meeting space and sleeping rooms, which were $20 or $30 per night, less expensive than some other hotels we have used at other destinations,” says Smith. “We had concessions in our contract. They gave us things like suite upgrades, good rates for staff to help with our registration and programs, and complimentary VIP ground transfers to and from the airport.”
According to Smith, Oklahoma City’s value compares favorably to many first-tier destinations. “In a first-tier city you might not get the kind or rates we are seeking for these small education programs,” says Smith. “Our big meetings go to more first-tier cities than second-tier cities. We have more flexibility with the smaller programs to go to a second-tier city because of their size. That’s beneficial to our members.”
“We have more flexibility with the smaller programs to go to a second-tier city because of their size. That’s beneficial to our members.” — Simone Smith
Affordability is among the notes that Oklahoma strikes in a new reimagining campaign that the city kicked off in August. The campaign includes new advertising as well as a new logo and hashtag. The effort also portrays Oklahoma City as a premier destination for meetings and conventions. The logo and tagline “OKC-ing is Believing” appears in all their branding including the CVB website and social media. The hashtag, #SeeOKC, encourages people to share photos, videos and other content via social media.
In addition, Oklahoma City expects to attract and retain larger conventions by building the Downtown Convention Center, which will replace the aging Cox Convention Center. The new center will boast approximately 235,000 sf of sellable space, including exhibition halls, meeting rooms and ballrooms. Construction is planned to begin in 2016. AC&F