Michelle Kennedy oversees integrated marketing for global Business Event Management firm, PRA, serving over 100 destinations worldwide. Kennedy brings more than 20 years of industry experience, having held head marketing positions with several Fortune 500 companies and leading brands.
It is widely known that second-tier destinations have always been a popular choice for certain markets. With better availability, a wider geographic footprint and lower rates, planners are drawn to these sometimes-overlooked destinations. However, in the last year or so, second- and third-tier markets, also referred to as non-urban spaces, are getting the attention they deserve. And that newfound popularity is expanding, as several planners in this space continue to give second-tier destinations a second look — no pun intended.
The importance of second- and third-tier cities and non-urban destinations was one of several items highlighted in the recently distributed in SITE’s Bangkok Manifesto, aimed at establishing a vibrant dialogue within incentive travel membership and the business world at large. Many industry leaders came together, including Tony Lorenz, former PRA Business Events CEO, to express their thoughts on the nature, purpose and direction of incentive travel within the ever-changing business world.
As shared in the manifesto, our industry must encourage more second- and third-tier cities and non-urban destinations to embrace incentive travel as part of their business mix, highlighting that success in our business is not dependent on massive infrastructure or investment.
These smaller, consumer-centric destinations deliver authentic, unrivaled content, places and one-of-a-kind experiences at an attractive price point. Just last year, interest in second- and third-tier destinations, relative to first-tier destinations, was up a remarkable 91%.
With the clear trend of a business and leisure travel mashup well underway, niche destinations readily stand apart.
PRA recently published an article on the benefits of secondary markets and the relentless focus on client experience. From business and messaging objectives forward, these markets leverage the heart of a small destination’s personality to deliver on its promise. Let’s revisit those now.
One main reason meeting planners are gravitating toward second- and third-tier cities and non-urban destinations is because of the noticeable lower price point. Instead of putting the full meeting budget toward accommodations, more money can be used for exciting team-building activities, off-site restaurant choices and even local corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. Not only are prices a comparative bargain in smaller cities, but the venues are first-rate. Some of the finest hotels are in these markets. And the restaurants, special events and entertainment opportunities rival those in major cities. For many groups though, it is not just about costs. Participants yearn for new and unique bucket-list experiences, many times available only in smaller markets. A private Derby Days experience at Churchill Downs or a second line parade on the streets of New Orleans can only happen in these destinations.
Smaller markets are working harder than ever to present themselves as worthy alternatives. They are proactive when it comes to attracting business, because they know they need to work to get the client’s attention. For many groups entering these destinations, they are the focal point, as opposed to a destination that has major conventions happening every week. That personalized attention is an added incentive.
For example, second- and third-tier cities and non-urban destinations can work with planners directly to provide attendees with perks and benefits – from room enhancements and airport transfers to specialized destination experiences. These smaller destinations offer possibilities that enhance the overall guest experience.
With a higher sense of place and more local experiences, second- and third-tier cities and non-urban destinations provide attendees that missing piece. Signature restaurants run by city locals, neighborhood breweries, off-the-grid activities and unique accommodations crafted to enhance the destination experience are just some of the ways these cities make their mark on the meetings industry.
From customized, high-end experiences and individual perks, to significant cost savings, what second- and third-tier cities and non-urban destinations lack in size, they make up for in convenience, hospitality and local charm. Now, more than ever, there is an increasing acknowledgment across the industry on the importance of offering a wide portfolio of destination options for every type of client and budget. C&IT