Emerging destinations aren’t necessarily undiscovered places. Savannah, Georgia, one of our selected destinations, was founded in 1733 and Columbia, South Carolina, in 1786. But the seven cities listed here all share a common thread as their recent urban revitalization plans are now coming to fruition, resulting in new or expanding convention centers, hotels, creative mixed-use facilities and vibrant downtown neighborhoods.
These exciting new urban environments, along with an increase in airlift and a business-friendly attitude, are attracting corporate meeting planners interested in providing their attendees with new experiences in new surroundings.
The local CVBs are more than ready to assist planners with organizing large or small conferences, meetings, events and offsite experiences. These cities are open for business, and proud of their product.
“The final hotel data from last year tells us that the previous two years have been the best two years in Savannah’s tourism history,” says Joseph Marinelli, president of Visit Savannah. “Even with the addition of a number of new hotels throughout the market and an increase in short-term rental inventory, the occupancy and average rates continue to hold their own. We are extremely encouraged by this, especially with several new properties planned to open later this year. It also tells us that all of the increased non-stop air service from around the country is making a difference.”
“The final hotel data from last year tells us that the previous two years have been the best two years in Savannah’s tourism history.” Joseph Marinelli
Hotel development includes several new luxury properties. There were also major renovations of each of Savannah’s four largest hotels: The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa, Hyatt Regency Savannah, Savannah Marriott Riverfront and The DeSoto.
Savannah’s low cost of living, 14% below the national average, makes it a cost-efficient destination, while the city also is also frequently selected for its well-preserved historical heritage and laid-back Southern lifestyle.
“The popularity of Savannah as a leisure destination is now carrying over nicely for us in terms of attracting future conventions, meetings and trade shows,” Marinelli says. “Locally, a designation like this helps to boost business levels for area businesses, restaurants, tour companies and attractions, while increasing traffic on all of the new flights coming in and out of town.”
The Telfair Museum’s Jepson Center is a great venue for corporate planners. A distinctive, state-of-the-art museum building designed by internationally acclaimed architect Moshe Safdie, it can accommodate large groups with its soaring, three-story atrium, expansive galleries, and on the third-floor, outdoor sculpture terraces. The Jepson Center features a sweeping, three-story central staircase, a 225-seat auditorium for presentations and small performances, a fully equipped boardroom and a prep kitchen.
“I did a corporate event in early 2019 with about 175 attendees,” says Julie Ford Musselman, president and event planner for Hostess City Celebrations Inc. “It was a conference to discuss current happenings in the industry, strategically plan for the year, network and, of course, to have some fun in a great city.”
She adds, “Our host hotel was The DeSoto, a beautiful, iconic property located in the historic district, and with 246 rooms, it was perfect for our group,” Musselman says. “Basically, Savannah offers corporate planners affordable room rates, easy access to the airport, and great support from Visit Savannah, the city’s DMO. I also like that it is a walkable city, which gives our attendees more options to add to their experience and our local city tours were fantastic.”
Part of Musselman’s program also included a cocktail reception at the Jepson Center. “I love the feel of the crisp modern space at the Jepson while you’re overlooking historic Telfair Square, the feeling of old meeting new,” Musselman says. “The galleries serve as interactive components to get conversations started during a cocktail hour and they are always featuring great exhibits.”
Few cities in the country have emerged as a new meeting destination as quickly as Columbia, the capital city of South Carolina, with its big-city amenities and small-town feel. There are numerous new hotel properties catering to every budget, good highway and airport logistics and friendly, Southern hospitality inherent throughout the state. Add in a major state university and a business-friendly attitude among city officials, and meeting planners can introduce attendees to a relaxed and fun-filled meeting experience.
Experience Columbia SC is the DMO that will help corporate planners with research and options for off-site venues as well as introductions to hotel personnel. Attendees will enjoy the city’s walkable downtown, including the 142,500-sf Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, located within walking distance of 1,500 downtown hotel rooms and hundreds of restaurants and shops.
For offsite venues, there are numerous options, including the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden, The Columbia Museum of Art and the South Carolina State Museum.
Columbia’s downtown growth and development, driven by a large student population, a resurgent Main Street and more food and beverage venues, has helped downtown hotel occupancy rates rise, but average room rates are still very attractive to planners. University of South Carolina “Gamecocks” footballs games bring in fall weekend visitors, state government and business travelers arrive mid-week, and local culinary and music festivals take place throughout the year.
Many hoteliers are seeing big increases in meeting bookings. “It’s a real combination of things, such as the banking and insurance sectors and law firms,” says David Erbacher, director of sales and marketing at the Hyatt Place Columbia/Downtown/The Vista property. “That’s in addition to the university, government visitors and of course the military. And when many of those folks come here, they like what they see and want to return for a weekend. So many companies are using Columbia as a starting point.” He also noted that Columbia’s proximity to Charlotte, Charleston, Greenville and even Atlanta make it a good central location for business meetings.
Bill Ellen, president and CEO of Experience Columbia SC, says demand for meeting space in local hotels and at the convention center often exceed capability. “We need additional hotels that can accommodate a large block of rooms,” Ellen says. “The hotels work great with us now, but they have so much business they sometimes don’t need to offer discounted group rates. We need more room availability for group blocks, but that will be coming as more hotel projects get into the pipeline.”
Once known as one of America’s most famous “Spring Break” destinations, the Daytona Beach area has development investments of more than $2 billion, and additional hotels, attractions, dining and shopping options are becoming available every year as more planners are interested in Daytona Beach.
ONE DAYTONA is an accommodations, dining, shopping and entertainment destination project about a 10-minute walk to the beach. The mixed-use ONE DAYTONA project, now almost completed, includes two hotels. Daytona International Speedway is within a 5-minute drive of both properties and Daytona Beach International Airport is also only minutes away.
The area’s culinary scene is experiencing a growing number of new restaurants, from small and casual to high-end waterfront dining. There are also about 24 local breweries, including the Daytona Beach Ale Trail, a favorite for some groups
New and expanded hotels in Daytona Beach include Daytona Beach Convention Hotel & Condominiums, a $192 million, 501-room, oceanfront complex under construction just north of the Ocean Center convention center complex. It is expected to be completed next year. The 200-room Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach, a luxury oceanfront resort, opened last year. Also late last year, the 744-room Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort completed a $25 million renovation and The Shores Resort & Spa completed a multimillion-dollar renovation project. The Daytona Beach Resort & Conference Center reopened earlier this after a $12 million renovation.
Three years ago, a $400 million overhaul transformed Daytona International Speedway into a state-of-the-art motorsports facility known as the ‘World Center of Racing.’ These days the Speedway features premium amenities on three concourse levels spanning the front stretch; five expanded fan entrances; 11 social areas called ‘neighborhoods,’ each the size of a football field; dozens of video screens to capture the on-track action; more than 60 luxury track-side suites with patios; and 101,500 new grandstand seats with backs and arm rests.
In addition to car and motorcycle racing, the stadium is also home to a growing number of events and shows as well as unique meeting and convention space for corporate groups. For planners who want to include golf in their agendas, Daytona Beach is a rising golf destination with more than two dozen courses.
“We’ve had several company meetings at the Daytona Beach Hard Rock property,” says Cindy Tyminski, executive global support manager for Teledyne Marine. “The company is based here in Daytona Beach, but we have locations around the world, and we tend to have most of the group meetings right here, with about 60 attendees.”
She adds, “While at the property, we used the meeting rooms, dining venues and of course the hotel rooms for usually 2-3 nights. Sometimes, if the group was smaller than the normal 60 persons, we would go offsite for dinner, but usually we were at the Hard Rock, in one of their dining venues or as a private, catered dinner,” Tyminski says.
She says holding the meeting in Daytona Beach is a win-win for everyone. “The Teledyne Marine home office is located in Daytona, so it’s convenient for the executive staff as well as the almost 400 locals who work for the company.” The company makes subsea connectors for the oil and gas industry in the U.S. and globally. “However, it is also great for those who aren’t local and come from around the world. The Hard Rock is an outstanding and fun hotel, located on the ocean with fantastic customer service. If there are any issues, they are taken care of seamlessly. Both Miami and Fort Lauderdale have lots of international flights, and the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau always provides very helpful assistance with our groups,” Tyminski says.
The proposed Union Row project in downtown Memphis would be the largest mixed-use development in the history of the city. When the $950 million Union Row was announced last year, it was called transformational for downtown Memphis.
The largest mixed-use development in Memphis history is promising to revitalize the city’s center with new residential housing, retail, restaurants, a hotel, office towers, green spaces and even a half-acre park built over a roadway.
For planners, it is expected that 380 new deluxe hotel rooms will be added to the city’s inventory. Another plus for corporate groups is that the new project would invigorate the east end of the Beale Street entertainment district, where the nightclubs and restaurants have not experienced the same success as the west end. This new project will open up more options for corporate groups.
If all goes to schedule, construction of the first Phase 1 buildings would be completed by August 2021. Although the project’s name, Union Row, conjures up Civil War thoughts, the name has nothing to do with the Civil War. Rather, Union Row was Memphis’ southern border until 1850, when the city merged with the rival municipality of South Memphis. “The street was named to commemorate the union of the two cities,’’ states a marker erected by the Center City Commission many years ago.
Even before the Union Row project was announced, Memphis was working on a $10 billion, nine-year city project that included expansive convention center upgrades and 17 new downtown hotels, which all started, or will start or be completed by the end of 2019. The media, has taken notice. Food & Wine magazine put Memphis in its Top 50 Places to Go and Eat 2019; Frommer’s named the city the Best Place to Visit in 2019; and TravelChannel.com lists Memphis as the hottest Southern destination in 2019.
The Memphis Convention Center (MCC) is undergoing major renovations and enhancements, including interior and exterior improvements. The vision is for meeting spaces to offer river and skyline views along with outdoor terraces, glass-enclosed concourses, pre-function space, 46 breakout rooms, and a column-free, 118,000-sf main exhibit hall. The MCC will complete its renovations and expansion by fall 2020.
Although Memphis has lots of great meetings properties, including the Sheraton Memphis Downtown Hotel, directly connected to the MCC, the Crowne Plaza Memphis Downtown, the Hilton Memphis and others, it is the iconic The Peabody Memphis that attracts not only tourists coming to view its famous lobby ducks, but corporate planners as well, from international multinationals to local companies.
The Peabody’s history dates back to 1869 when the original hotel opened and immediately became the social and business hub of Memphis. In 1925, a grander Peabody was built at its present location, well deserving of its reputation as the “South’s Grand Hotel.” In 1933, ducks were placed in the hotel’s lobby fountain, setting in motion an 86-year tradition that continues today with the daily March of the Peabody Ducks.
Of course, the Peabody is as creative and traditional with its meetings services as they are with their five Mallard ducks. They hosted their first meeting in 1869, their opening year, and the property has remained as the city’s best-known business and social hub, with historic exterior and interior architecture and space for a variety of functions, from small breakfast meetings to large conferences, with 80,000 sf of flexible meeting venues.
Jim Jacobs, co-founder and chief commercial officer at Memphis-based Green Mountain Technology says although he is familiar with many other U.S. destinations, he always holds his annual GMT Parcel Summit in Memphis, and most often at The Peabody. “I really love Memphis. There is no city like it in the country, so I always want to introduce the attendees at the Parcel Summit to this wonderful destination,” Jacobs says. “The staff at The Peabody always does a phenomenal job; they play a major role in making this event first class and a truly Memphis experience. We greatly value our partnership with The Peabody. We look forward to many more years with the property as the home base for the GMT Parcel Summit.”
Another Memphis-based corporate planner chose their home city for both the annual National Sales Meeting and Vendor Summit is Lani Glancy, vice president, talent development, diversity and communications for AutoZone Inc. “We hold our National Sales Meeting in September/October, and a Vendor Summit in May/June,” she says. “The NSM is a celebration and recognition of the accomplishments of the prior and a launch event for the programs and work planned for the current year. Peak attendance for the NSM is around 3,000. The Vendor Summit is an invitation-only event that combines information sharing and relationship building with our company’s product and parts suppliers. Peak attendance for this program is approximately 800.”
Glancy says their space needs are different for each group, but there is never a problem in Memphis with accommodations available for groups of varying sizes. “For the NSM, we use the entirety of the Memphis Convention Center, as well as meeting space in six different hotels” Glancy says. “We have one evening where everyone is together at an offsite location, perhaps in AutoZone Park, the FedExForum, Beale Street or Mud Island. We also have smaller groups that will go to dinner together at one of Memphis’ many terrific downtown restaurants.”
She adds, “For training and team-building, we have held events at the National Civil Rights Museum, at Tom Lee Park and in our own Store Support Center, which faces the Mississippi River. Memphis is AutoZone’s hometown, and we are very proud of the opportunity to host our attendees in the city where our company was founded. We have been, and continue to be, very pleased with the affordability of the location and the wide variety of venues that are available for our programs. Easy access to downtown from the airport, the close proximity of the venues we use to our convention center and the great hospitality and service we receive from the CVB, hoteliers and event staffs are just a few of the reasons we stay in Memphis.”
Rising from the corner of Southwest 11th Avenue and Southwest Alder Street, the new Hyatt Centric Downtown Portland hotel will offer 220 rooms, 3,000 sf of meeting space and a restaurant and bar from a soon-to-be-named Portland restaurateurs. The hotel is expected to open for business in January next year.
These days the Hyatt Centric is just one of seven hotels under construction in Portland’s Central City district, and seven additional properties have been recently completed. With over 4,000 hotel rooms added in the past six years, Jeff Miller, president and CEO of Travel Portland, says many of those new rooms already have leisure travelers and corporate group attendees waiting to check-in.
“Downtown Portland has seen a significant number of new hotels open over the past three years,” Miller says. “Even with the new inventory, occupancy rates remain high, signaling that Portland remains a premiere travel destination for the more than 8.6 million visitors who traveled here last year.”
Another new hotel scheduled to open early next year is the 600-room Hyatt Regency. The hotel will offer corporate planners a block of 500 rooms right across the street from the Oregon Convention Center. The property will be Hyatt’s first full-service hotel in Oregon.
Like many other downtown properties, it will be within walking distance of shopping, dining and professional sporting events, and the MAX Light Rail system takes riders from downtown directly to Portland International Airport.
A renovation of the Oregon Convention Center is also underway. The project includes numerous upgrades to the center’s public spaces and ballrooms, as well as a reconstruction of the exterior plaza on the northeast corner.
The new designs, inspired by Oregon’s landscape, will include lichen-like carpets and forest canopy ceilings. The north plaza will be renovated to provide more flexible and usable space and to improve access for adjacent hotel guests and transit commuters. Renovations are expected to be completed by year end.
This is one of California’s most affordable and accessible cities, served by 150 flights daily. The soon-to-be-expanded Sacramento Convention Center currently offers 384,000 sf of event space and 31 meeting rooms. Construction is expected to be completed next year. There are more than 2,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of the convention center, and with a total of 4,000 hotel rooms within a 3-mile radius of downtown, Sacramento offers corporate planners plenty of accommodations options.
The Sacramento City Council approved an expansion and renovation plan for the convention center that will transform the building and add more exhibit space, an additional, flexible ballroom and an outdoor plaza. The newly expanded Sacramento Convention Center will reopen in the fall next year.
Just steps from the convention center, the 505-room Hyatt Regency and 503-room Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel offer plenty of rooms and event spaces for corporate conferences and meetings. Another 1,100 hotel rooms can be found within a few blocks of downtown.
Expected to open later this year is a new 170-room Hyatt Centric, located next to the Golden 1 Center, six blocks from the convention center.
This city continues to grow its hotel occupancy with new hotels each year. Two Marriott properties with conference center space are scheduled to open in Downtown Sioux Falls next year and BNSF Railway reached an agreement with the City of Sioux Falls to sell 10.25 acres of land downtown for future development. While no plan has been announced at this time, the land could potentially support hotels. Village on the River will be a new 11-story development that will house AC by Marriott when completed next year.
The Arc of Dreams is a resounding steel structure that will span the width of the Big Sioux River 70 feet above the water. The Arc, which will be a cornerstone piece of the SculptureWalk, is expected to debut soon.
Earlier this year Rosenbauer America’s South Dakota office hosted 500 people for its annual Dealer Meeting in Sioux Falls. The Rosenbauer Group is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of fire-service vehicles and firefighting equipment.
“During our Dealer Meeting we hold classes about our products for our sales staff and employees,” says Callan Jarabek, meeting planner and marketing manager for Rosenbauer South Dakota, LLC. “We have industry vendors display their products and attend our banquets, and we have guests from Sioux Falls and surrounding area businesses that we also conduct business with on a daily basis, which includes local banks, manufacturing supply companies, shipping companies and state and local political representatives.”
Jarabek says she booked several Sioux Falls’ meeting properties for three-to-five nights, depending on attendee needs. “We rented out the entire Sheraton Sioux Falls & Convention Center with covered access to Premier Center for our dealers, as well as some of the surrounding hotels for our vendors and employees. All of the activities were onsite, including classes, training and meals.”
She adds, “Sioux Falls was chosen because our North Dakota office is based in Lyons, just north of the city, and it is a central location for our plants in Nebraska and Minnesota. Sioux Falls is simply the best place to host. The city and the hotels are affordable and they are so easy to work with, I just can’t imagine us ever trying a different location again.” C&IT