When meeting planners start evaluating possible event destinations, the first step is digging deep into the demographics of their audience and member base.

What do they value? How does age range play into what they value? Where are they coming from? What are the markets their audience members serve?

Then come the more logistical questions that factor into decision-making.

Where have they gone in the past? How will weather factor into the experience? What is the market average cost of locations being considered? Is there availability and suitable meeting space that can handle their audience size? What is the airport connectivity to/from like?

Over the years, we’ve spoken with countless clients (i.e. meeting planners) and found that these questions are vital in the evaluation process and will help in making strategic decisions on site selection.

However, depending on your audience size, these results will still yield a wide range of destination choices. Outside of some of the largest convention programs out there, which only certain cities and properties can handle, there are lots of cities to choose from. Tier 1 cities like Chicago, Orlando, New Orleans, San Francisco, etc. are usually on the list – and that makes sense. These are world class cities with major airport hubs and lots of venue spaces to choose from. However, depending on the time of year, these destinations come at a cost.

With a strong economy and urban development on the rise, there are a lot of cities that are too often overlooked. What we would consider tier 2 and 3 cities are great options that should be considered. Cities like Nashville & Denver would have once been considered tier 2 or 3, but have made that jump given the demand they have created. The combination of their urban development, CVB sales & marketing efforts, and unique culture and charm have allowed them to benefit from significant event industry revenue in recent years.

So where is the next Nashville? What cities are on the rise that should be making it into your event destination consideration? After our own market research and casually surveying planners in the field, here are our top 5 sleeper picks:

1. Phoenix

Weather. Did we mention weather? Unless you are the person that brings the rain, you are likely to see the sun quite often while in Arizona. Downtown Phoenix has made significant progress in development over the last decade and there are tons of new hotel and resort options to choose from in the downtown area along with the surrounding cities. The Convention Center space is beautiful with several new restaurants and development surrounding it. The light rail (just 10 years old) is available to take to connected cities like Scottsdale & Tempe. And activities are endless whether your group likes hitting the greens, hiking Camelback or just relaxing by the pool. Unlike California – costs are reasonable. If you are willing to be daring and deal with the dry heat, the summer months will also get you a killer deal.

2. Columbus

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We promise you it is not just all about Buckeye football here. Just ask meeting & incentive agencies around the country. Columbus is near the top of the list when it comes to up-and-coming cities for the events industry. In spring of 2018 the Convention Center announced a $100M upgrade which will also include expanding the Hilton Columbus downtown. The cost of living, accessibility, job market and university draw has elevated Columbus. Their Short North neighborhood downtown has been the grounds of many new award winning restaurants. It is an active city with hotels chomping at the bit to acquire real estate. It is easy to get in/out of and a central location within the U.S. for those east and west coast travelers.

3. Fort Worth

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If Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston have all been boxes checked in your past, don’t forget about Fort Worth. Fort Worth has a major international airport hub with non-stop destinations to just about anywhere and is a central location within the United States. Downtown Fort Worth has grown over the last several years with a vibrant restaurant scene, parks with running/walking paths, and Texas culture that can be seen throughout. Plenty of large meeting space, such as the Omni Fort Worth, which showcases the culture of the South throughout. The Convention Center is old and there are plans in place to break ground on a new build by 2023 – several years away from being able to host the large convention shows but Fort Worth is on their way. If you are in the small to mid-size event category, DFW could be a perfect fit for you in the short-term.

4. Long Beach

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In the past, Long Beach was an afterthought for meeting planners who would first look at L.A., San Diego or San Francisco. It’s a side of California that many transient people have yet to experience and it’s come a LONG way since the 90’s, truly developing into a vibrant city with lots of unique culture. This iconic harbor city has transformed into an accessible and walkable city that offers the tranquility and artistic vibe of SoCal, at a lower price point and with perhaps less logistical stress. The Long Beach Convention Center underwent a recent $180M renovation and sits right off the water – along with several waterfront hotels with sizable meeting space. A nice option, especially if you are striking out on waterfront areas in San Diego or other west coast regions.

5. Minneapolis

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Maybe not the best place for an event January through March, but this underestimated city has truly blossomed into a metropolis immersed in nature, culture and entertainment. The Super Bowl may have influenced or motivated some of this growth, but it was in development long before then. It’s a city with a vibrant downtown (including the well-known warehouse district), passionate sports and a mecca of large corporate HQ’s driving economic growth and urban development. Large meeting space hotels and their downtown convention center are within 20 minutes of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport making this a convenient option in the north-central region.

As you start evaluating your next event destination or perhaps you are putting together a series of events and need a diverse range of options, be sure to consider these cities.  These destinations represent just a few of the many growing markets who are elevating their game and growing their demand to be landing spots for the multi-billion dollar events industry. 

As a nationwide provider of AV & production, Meeting Tomorrow has experience executing events in all of the above markets.  Statements made in this article are purely opinion based.  Meeting Tomorrow is not affiliated with or compensated by any of the aforementioned city CVB’s. 

About the author:  Adam Butman is the Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships at Meeting Tomorrow. He enjoys traveling with his wife Aleks, running with his dog Gunner, and being close to water.

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