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J U L Y 2 0 1 6 ⎜ ConventionSouth ⎜ w w w . c o n v e n t i o n s o u t h . c o m 19 SMALL MARKETS... BIG ON CREATIVITY Staying relevant in a competitive meetings marketplace requires ongoing creativity on the part of small to mid-sized cities. Since value is often the name of the game when groups consider second- and third-tier cities, smaller markets are known for their ability to create customized, cutting-edge experiences within budget constraints. Below are some small markets that are creatively addressing the needs of groups. ► ROME, GEORGIA According to Debbie Galloway, sales coordinator for meetings and conventions with the Greater Rome Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), small groups are often interested in touring the city's historical town and learning its history. In response, the destination launched a free Georgia's Rome app. "Groups can complete a series of challenges – a 'treasure hunt' type of experience – to help visitors easily explore the town on their own schedule while interacting with locals along the way," Galloway noted. "This app can also be tailored to a specific group for the duration of their time in Rome." ► NORTHERN KENTUCKY The availability of novel group outings and fun team-building activities has become a key selling point for Northern Kentucky in recent years, said Stefanie Wyckoff, business development manager with meet NKY/Northern Kentucky CVB. "More and more, we're helping groups put together personalized experiences or connecting them with a local community-service project that is meaningful to their membership," she said, adding that destination partners also help groups arrange unique, personalized events such as a Southern picnic at a working alpaca farm, an elegant museum dinner, a riverfront scavenger hunt, a themed cruise aboard a paddlewheel riverboat, an urban dine-around or an exhilarating afternoon of zip lining and ropes courses. ► STILLWATER, OKLAHOMA The city of Stillwater has hosted meetings within local museums, attractions and the renovated gymnasium of its community center, previously the local junior high school. "We have the ability to create customized experiences because of the close relationships we have with our partners," said Cristy Morrison, president and CEO of Visit Stillwater. "As the birthplace of the Red Dirt Music genre, musicians are more than happy to provide live music with a purely local flair. Oftentimes, the stage is shared with Pistol Pete, who appears straight off of the campus of Oklahoma State University, and Eskimo Joe and Buffy love to welcome visitors with one of the world's most recognized smiles." ► HAMPTON, VIRGINIA Michelle Hergenrother, senior group sales manager at the Hampton CVB, noted that the destination has recently identified an underserved niche and has begun reaching out to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. "We recently just held the first LGBT Family Conference in Virginia and look forward to holding it again next year," she said. ► MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST Not always viewed as a family-friendly destination due to the number of casinos in the region, the Mississippi Gulf Coast has upped its game in recent years to appeal to younger generations. For instance, the destination has hosted a youth group that comprises 1,500 kids and 300 chaperones from the Second Baptist Church out of Houston, Texas, for the past three years. The destination's convention center essentially becomes a one-stop shop for worship and entertainment, also providing easy access to the beach across the street, noted Janice Jefferson, director of sales with Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast. They even set up a carnival for the kids on their last day, complete with a fireworks show. n SMALL MARKETS...BIG ON MEETINGS projected opening in 2017 and will feature 4,500 square feet of meeting space. While a small market may not be able to accommodate a convention of 10,000 to 20,000 people, many already have the infrastructure in place to support several thousand. For instance, along with the Mississippi Coast Coliseum & Convention Center, Jefferson pointed out that the Mississippi Gulf Coast region also has numerous high-end casino hotels, each with 50,000 square feet of meeting space or more. The region is equipped to support groups of 50 to 5,000. The city of Hampton, Va., is unique as a small market in that it offers the state-of-the-art Hampton Roads Convention Center, housing 344,000 square feet of space that includes a 102,000-square-foot exhibit hall and a ballroom that can accommodate 1,800. The center is connected to a 295-suite convention hotel and there are an additional 1,600 hotel rooms within walking distance of the center. "This is something generally not found in a smaller market," noted Michelle Hergenrother, senior group sales manager at the Hampton CVB, adding that small markets can keep up with technological advances just like their larger counterparts. "We are centrally located in the middle of the Coastal Virginia region, between Colonial Williamsburg and Virginia Beach, so we find we are in a great location for conferences and conventions." n Virginia Air & Space Center in Hampton, Va.