Orlando might be the top U.S. choice for hosting meetings, but it doesn’t have to be O-Town or bust. There are other cities not commonly considered for meetings and events that might work in your organization’s favor.
But how do you choose from so many unknown destinations? Well, that’s where we come in. Based on GroupSync data and our own travel experiences, the team at Groups360 has selected five cities to shine a spotlight on to get you thinking beyond the destination status quo.
What matters when sourcing a city?
While we will encourage you to think outside the box when picking a host city for your next event, let’s also acknowledge there is a box. A group travel or event planner’s must-have search criteria typically includes:
1. Easy air travel
2. Convention center and meeting room capacity
3. Entertainment opportunities
4. Public transportation
If you know your needs for the above but are stumped when it comes to the destination, the below list offers some guidance. GroupSync’s AI will also make city recommendations suited to your preferences and search criteria.
Our top 5 destinations to consider for meetings and events
We can all agree the hotspot San Diego is beautiful this time of year—no matter which season you’re reading this. Yet take a mostly coastline drive north, and you’ll be in Anaheim in less than two hours.
It’s got theme parks, sure. Plenty of them. (Insider tip: Opt for hotels close to the Anaheim Convention Center if you plan to wear your mouse ears, as they’re still a short drive from the parks while being on the more economical end.)
The Anaheim Resort, which contains the convention center, is your one-stop shop. Disneyland. Meeting space. Hotel rooms. Restaurants. Shops. Hosting more than 25 million visitors a year, it’s still being developed and built out.
Your outdoors-loving group will still enjoy California’s beauty while bonding, as Anaheim GardenWalk is considered an “eatertainment” destination. Its venues accommodate groups from large to small, at 3,300 capacity down to 60.
Don’t miss it: Bringing Fido along? No judgment. Anaheim has dozens of pet-friendly hotel accommodations, and some parks even offer daytime boarding.
Start here: Visit Anaheim
Fort Myers, FL
Fort Myers is so intent on increasing its event capacity exposure that its Conference Services team partners with meeting planners for some of the heavy lifting. That includes touring and inspecting facilities, meeting with local suppliers, and convention registration assistance, all of which is especially helpful for part-time planners.
Lee County also offers grants and incentives to companies booking meetings that are held by a specific date.
You might be here for work, but don’t miss the opportunity to recharge at the beach. A short drive away, Sanibel Island’s beaches are known for their shelling, a meditative and relaxing hobby. There’s even a name for those seen taking part in the practice: the Sanibel Stoop.
In the evening, walk around the downtown core’s River District before showtime at the Florida Repertory Theater, which the Wall Street Journal called “one of America’s Top Repertory Companies.”
Don’t miss it: If you’re here for the weather, get the full outdoor experience by chartering a boat at one of 20 marinas.
Start here: Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau
Myrtle Beach, SC
There’s a preconception about Myrtle Beach that isn’t wrong:
✓ Sandy beaches
✓ Golf courses
✓ Hotels galore (425, at last count)
✓ Tourism ($7 billion in annual economic impact)
Yet it’s an ideal conference, trade show, and meeting choice, too. The Myrtle Beach Convention Center—welcoming more than 14 million visitors each year—is connected to the Sheraton and steps away from the beach (which, let’s be honest, remains the main draw).
To take advantage of that ocean breeze, opt for the Events Plaza. The hotel and convention center’s concessionaire provide all food and beverage services, meaning one less vendor for you to book.
Don’t miss it: Visit Myrtle Beach and the Champion Autism Network partner to train staff at hotels and restaurants so they’re autism-aware and experiences are sensory-friendly. The Myrtle Beach International Airport even has a quiet room for decompressing before or after a flight.
San Antonio, TX
While Austin’s been keeping it weird, San Antonio’s been keeping it beautiful. USAToday called the city’s 15-mile River Walk one of the country’s 10 most attractive sights—and luckily the 1.6 million-square-foot Henry B. González Convention Center sits right on it.
Yet the River Walk isn’t the only gem. There’s LEGOLAND Discovery Center, the Carver Community Cultural Center, and a steady stream of events celebrating the city’s diversity. Book a shoulder stay at one of the hundreds of hotels for extra exploration time.
As for selling your higher-ups on San Antonio, the city’s made it easy to present on the meeting and event destination: Find B-roll, descriptive text, floor plans, and more on its website.
Don’t miss it: As the seventh-biggest city in the United States, San Antonio covers its bases for visitors to easily navigate—by double-decker bus, plane, boat, bike, foot, and public transit.
While Atlanta is a perennial favorite due to its plethora of hotel rooms and reasonable average room rate, the very fact that the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the country’s busiest airport is a deterrent. It might feel efficient to fly your team into this major hub, but after navigating through the nearly 200 gates among thousands of fellow travelers, don’t forget you still have post-airport traffic to contend with.
Why Savannah? First, it’s downright charming with its Spanish moss-draped parks, riverboat cruises, and architectural tours. It’s also extremely walkable, due to the city’s grid.
Before you let loose for playtime, though, consider the Savannah Convention Center’s impressive stats:
● A 330,000 sq. ft. complex
● Divisible exhibit space of 100,000 sq. ft.
● 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space
● A 25,000 sq. ft. Grand Ballroom
● 367-seat auditorium
Start here: Visit Savannah
Omaha, named after a Native American Tribe, means “Those going against the wind or current.” That’s what you’d be doing by planning a meeting in this unexpected event destination—a city that claims to have invented the Reuben sandwich, cake mix, and TV dinners.
Here’s why we love it:
1. Flight ease: nonstop service to 30 busy airports
2. Convention center: CHI Health Center Omaha (346,000 sq. ft.) is 4 miles from the airport
3. Rooms galore: 15,000+ throughout metro
4. Transportation: taxis, rideshares, hotel shuttle service, rental vehicles, motorcoaches, and pedicabs
Don’t miss it: Also unexpected when it comes to Omaha? Its zoo—known as one of the best in the United States—is home to the continent’s largest indoor rainforest. The zoo’s millions of annual visitors can vouch for it.
Start here: Visit Omaha
Reinvigorate your experience by choosing a unique city
Group travel and event planners can burn out on only having the same handful of options. Opting for a unique city can bring some much-needed change as well as give attendees an experience to look forward to.
While GroupSync will always provide you with alternative destination ideas based on your travel and event requirements, be on the lookout for future blog articles offering up additional recommendations.