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. 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.
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 12 best of selections and ratings that were made for our list this year (see “Best Convention Cities for 2017“) not everyone wants to have their group meet all the way in Fargo, ND. Fargo 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.
Other factors are not covered by third party sources. Due to constraints on availability, 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.
Also, there are other factors that only you will know and that may well be the secret sauce and the key to success. What unique considerations about your group will make some destinations 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.
Anyone missing from the list? Do you disagree with any of these findings? Let us know in the comment box below or leave your own rating for under ours for a city you have experience in!