ConventionSouth magazine is the leading resource for meeting planners who book all types of events, conventions, conferences and group travel in the south.
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⎜ ConventionSouth ⎜ J A N U A R Y 2 0 1 6 w w w . c o n v e n t i o n s o u t h . c o m 18 COVER: DRIVE-IN MEETINGS "If possible, keeping the driving distance within four hours is helpful. Second- and third- tier cities, like we have in Mississippi, for exam- ple, are often great choices. Hattiesburg, Jackson, the Gulf Coast and other areas of our state offer unique and economical options for meeting destinations. They offer access to main highway and interstate corridors, smooth traffic flow and access to plenty of parking, which all contribute to a good experience for meeting attendees," she commented. For planners who are not intimately familiar with the destination, working with hospitality officials helps drive-in meetings succeed, as they're able to share their knowledge and exper- tise about the region. "With the help of a local CVB, creating a customized, local experience for the meeting will make it memorable," Clark said. With great meeting options right in Hatties- burg, Clark often cuts the driving distance by hosting events at local venues such as the His- toric Train Depot. "This makes a unique and interesting choice for events and receptions. The train station is still in operation and there is a Grand Hall, smaller meeting room, and a 900- foot covered canopy outside that goes along the train tracks. It makes for excitement when the train comes along right next to where the event is taking place." Budget-conscious meetings are driving, so to speak, the increase in drive-in meetings. Low gas prices along with ease of access for drivers makes this sector a no brainer for many planners who have a budget in mind. "Some businesses are still finding the airline fees cost-prohibitive and are looking for more affordable areas to have their meetings," said Tyra Howard, director of tourism and film for the James H. Rainwater Conference Center and Tourism Authority in Valdosta, Ga. "This area is easily accessible from I-75. Leisure advertis- ing across all mediums stresses that, along with activities for all budgets," she noted, remarking that the city is conveniently situated between two major hubs: Atlanta and Orlando. The Center can host a wide range of events, as it offers more than 33,000 square feet of meeting space and complimentary parking. Howard said that one major factor influencing this market is the use of social media and In- ternet for business. "With the trend of business products that can be sold from home or any- where, it is more affordable for a training team to come to the sales associates' [meetings] versus hundreds of associates traveling to the headquar- ters," she explained. Vice President of Sales for the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Ed Dol- liver agrees that airline prices continue to affect the drive-in sector. "While gas prices are import- ant in the decision to drive, most important is the cost of airfare compared to the cost of driving. With airline prices continuing to climb, driving is a better option for many. Additionally, the 'hassle' of airline travel encourages many to opt for their cars when this is a viable choice," Dolliver said. "We host a number of groups with high mul- tiple occupancy, student groups being a prime example. And it is more cost effective to travel via automobile for three or four people. Traveling by automobile also gives the attendee more scheduling flexibility." Because of the accessibility of the city, "drive-in attendance for meetings in Chattanooga has always been strong. Major contributors are our mix of business—a large portion of our meetings business is state and regional in origin. Our central and convenient location within the region is a major influencer. We are located Ocean Center Emerald Coast, Destin With airline prices continuing to climb, driving is a better option for many.