Now It’s Seven Factors That Determine Our 2019 Picks for Best Convention Cities in the USA
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1. – Walkability to restaurants and attractions around the convention center.
2.  – Affordable hotel rooms  How many total rooms does an area afford? How many within 1 mile of the convention center? This will give you a quick indication if there will be enough to accommodate your group. Also, average room rates for every city are available online. One source we’ve used is the General Services Adminstration’s Per Diem rates. Like total hotel rooms, this is a quick comparison that is subject to change with availabilities for that season.
3.  – Close airports and the number of direct flights  What is most important for your group, budget or the value of time for attendees? This information is available in several forms, and a clue to both is the number of direct flights a city has and the distance of the airport to the convention center.
4.  – Safety  Personal crime risk varies by city – even within a city – so we centered in on the area around the convention center to determine scores.
5.  – Promotional appeal  We looked at hot buttons attendees use as leisure travelers when deciding to participate in an event or not: the number of attractions, art organizations and restaurants a city affords. This is the only category where we gave a handicap to smaller destinations.
6. Weather  Although left out of our previous survey, weather was included this year for obvious reason: Sunny weather sells.
7.NEW  – Air Quality  New for 2019, we’re using air quality as a measure of sustainability. Sustainability has long been on planners’ radar. Now is the time to do something about it.


P.S. Now that we have participated in this process more than once, we do have to admit that “best of” lists are limited in the information they provide. While it is hard to argue with many of the 25 best of selections and ratings that were made for our list this year (see “Best Convention Cities for 2018“) not everyone wants to have their group meet all the way down in El Paso, TX. El Paso cleaned up in the small meetings category because they ranked high in all the other criteria used like affordable room rates and safety which were weighed equally with ease of access. This is an obvious limitation of any “best of” list. There’s also other factors not covered by third party sources that we used to create our rankings. Due to constraints on availability, for example, it is possible that a meeting in Atlantic City may have more room nights available for your group than one in New York City, a destination with five times as many rooms.

While we feel we’ve uncovered most of the top convention site selection factors, there are things that only you will know and they may well be the secret sauce and the key to event’s success. What unique considerations about your group will make some convention cities shine compared to others? If the convention is about green building, it’s easy to select a city and convention center that would reinforce your message. Certain cities may offer immersive experiences in a way that advances your conference’s goals or attracts a smaller, yet more committed audience. Obviously for that, the questions asked may revolve around opportunities for exploring local culture or contributing to charity event rather than what will bring in the most people.

Factors like affordability, accessibility as well as what the destination has to offer in the way of infrastructure for the event, are objective. There’s external evidence readily available to compare convention destinations.[1]

[1] Research Sources

    • Editors note: This article has been updated for the release of the 2019 Best Convention Cities Survey. Feel free to offer new comments in the section below.

Leave a Reply

  1. Daniel Howard

    Under ‘Ease of Access’ I’m surprised to see San Francisco with five stars while Salt Lake City scores 4 – particularly comparing the distance from the airports to the convention centers. This is to say nothing about the reliability of Delta’s SLC hub in all weather conditions versus infamously erratic SFO. It also costs nearly 4 times the amount to utilize public transportation from SFO to Moscone as it does the Trax from SLC to the Salt Palace. Private transportation comparisons between the two destinations are equally disparate in terms of cost.

    Surprised also to see equal scores along the safety grid. Salt Lake is recognized as one of the cleanest cities in the country while the characters one will come across near SOMA or Union Square are unsavory, to say the least. My latest visit (last week) certainly had my antennas up along the personal safety scale and far too many of my colleagues have experienced muggings in tourist areas for the city to truly be granted four stars for safety. Here is the latest quote from ‘Scout’ on the current state of crime in SF – ‘With a crime rate of 70 per one thousand residents, San Francisco has one of the highest crime rates in America compared to all communities of all sizes – from the smallest towns to the very largest cities. One’s chance of becoming a victim of either violent or property crime here is one in 14. Within California, more than 98% of the communities have a lower crime rate than San Francisco.

    Separately, it is always interesting and important to compare a city’s crime rate with those of similarly sized communities – a fair comparison as larger cities tend to have more crime. NeighborhoodScout has done just that. With a population of 864,816, San Francisco has a combined rate of violent and property crime that is very high compared to other places of similar population size. Regardless of whether San Francisco does well or poorly compared to all other cities and towns in the US of all sizes, compared to places with a similar population, it fares badly. Few other communities of this size have a crime rate as high as San Francisco.’

  2. John Horchner
    John Horchner

    Hi Daniel, Our rankings are strictly numbers based using third party sources. San Francisco was compared to all the other “big” cities and for safety, in just one zip code around the convention center, so as you noted, it fared well – but your point is well taken – if it was compared to Salt Lake, a “medium” city in our database, it would not have fared well at all. We will have to look at that for next year.

    With that said, nothing replaces your experience – not all the numbers in the world – thanks for sharing!

  3. carol.pica

    We in Tacoma are very excited to have been named among the top 4 cities for small conventions. How do you determine a city is small, medium or large convention city? Thank you!

  4. John Horchner
    John Horchner

    Hi Carol, That’s great! For this year, we used a third party source with the number of hotels – a proxy for the number of hotel rooms available in a given market. I’m in touch with the leading industry source that tracks the number of hotel rooms. I hope we can use their data next year. Till then, if you have data that supports a change in classification – please share and also post it within your destination’s review. People read the comments!