JUL 2018

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 U L Y 2 0 1 8 w w w . c o n v e n t i o n s o u t h . c o m 22 oday's small and midsize markets may not have expansive real estate on their side but many are still packing a mean punch in terms of competition with their big-city counterparts. In fact, a recent Skift Trends Report – "The Rise of Mid-Size Cities in the Meetings Industry" – suggests that industry movements may be trending smaller as meeting planners find value in terms of affordability, access to community infrastructure and ease of planning. Warren Isenhour, president and CEO of Isenhour International, noted that in the first half of 2018, he planned events for groups in Chattanooga and Memphis, Tenn.; Jacksonville, Orlando, and Daytona, Fla.; Birmingham and Montgomery, Ala. "Most of those are small markets and the appeal is the quality of service my groups are receiving from the convention and visitors' bureau (CVB) on down to the hotels and convention centers," he said. "I think the reality in the growth is that groups want to be seen as relevant and important to the places they go. In these markets you can be the big fish versus being in the larger markets where you are a blip on the screen." The Skift report points out that "many groups are getting priced out of the larger metropolitan areas as rates for hotel rooms, meeting venues, food and beverage, and other ancillary spend increases incrementally every year." In addition, "midsize destinations have easily navigable downtown footprints. They often have a unique visitor experience or local vibe that's not easily duplicated elsewhere. More than anything, midsize cities are more affordable, and local leaders in both the public and private sectors go further out of their way to service groups because they appreciate the business." Hollie Hawkins, sales manager with the Amarillo (Texas) Convention & Visitor Council, emphasized that groups know the difference between price and value. Even if costs between a large and small market are similar, she said, "we are able to give that more personal feel. We are able to do a lot more for them just from our office, and other attractions are able to comp more for the experience. It's more of a package; groups are looking at it as a whole." Unique Experiences A 2018 trends study from the Incentive Research Foundation underscores the importance of "unique" as a significant development for meetings and conventions. In this case, the report suggests that small to midsize markets deliver with "equal wow factor to their bigger, greater known counterparts." The report said that this trend is driven by a travel-seasoned population looking for offbeat experiences. Isenhour pointed to appealing small market movements such as craft breweries and distilleries, and walkable downtown investments. "In many larger markets, the accessibility of the area is a challenge," he said, adding that transportation in the form of shuttles and taxis are needed to go places. "Many smaller markets have developed their downtown and convention areas to make them very walkable and full of activities and things to do. And the growth of mid-tier airlines like Southwest, Allegiant and others have made the markets much more reachable with direct flights and lower costs." Pack A Powerful Punch With Big Time Results By Selena Chavis Small Ma r ke t s T A cattle drive through the city streets is one of the unique experiences that groups can enjoy in Amarillo, Texas.

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