From frigid rooftop site tours, to his pick for coolest up-and-coming meeting destination: Meeting Advisory Division Director Chris Merritt offers his insight into site selection with some amusing stories along the way.

For the past three years, Orlando-native Chris Merritt has partnered with meeting planners to help them discover new venues and destinations for their events.

Find out which meeting amenity made the biggest impression on him, which city he thinks is the top rising meeting destination, and the one convention he’d want free registration to for life:

Outside of Groups360 you spend your time:
Exploring Nashville with my wife Annikki and our 2 dogs. We moved in the summer. It’s our first time living outside of Florida, so we’re spending our days experiencing Music City. We love concerts, finding hiking trails and exploring different areas of town.

Your must-have during business travel:
A giant Costco-sized lint roller. The hair from my two dogs, Hero and Luna, tend to “travel with me” and make their way into my luggage.

3 things most people don’t know about you:
1. I’m a creative person and love creating things with my hands. 2. My obsession with all things comic books and their mythology (Batman being #1!) 3. I’m a theme park enthusiast and originally wanted to become a roller coaster designer in college!

The most fun you’ve had at an event:
Charity teambuilding events. I saw an event where 400 attendees built 15 bikes for underprivileged kids for Christmas. You accomplish a lot: You build morale, create engagement and give purpose and perspective.

Your prediction for the next up-and-coming meeting destination:
Houston, TX. I’m consistently surprised what comes up in my destination searches when working with clients. Houston is one of those surprises. Coming from Orlando, it can be hard thinking of a destination outside the obvious. But, Houston is a pleasant surprise: They’ve made massive investments in the city, with convention center renovations, enhancing downtown, and building new hotels. Since Houston is still under the radar, there are still great rates and value.

What’s the most creative meeting solution you’ve seen?
Exhibit mailboxes, which is ideal for reverse tradeshows or when there are a ton of materials to exchange. Instead of leaving another packet of information to the pile at your client’s booth, you leave it in their mailbox instead. There are so many benefits: You can provide a more personalized info packet later on, connect with someone even when you didn’t have a chance to meet them in person, and help keep their booth clutter-free.

Your dream keynote speakers:
Simon Sinek and Mel Robbins, they both have a great perspective on how we should all treat each other.

You’re given free registration to any conference for the rest of your life. What conference would that be?
No hesitation here – San Diego Comic Con. There is so much creativity, from elaborate homemade costumes to working replicas of Star Wars robots, to both the established and up-and-coming comic artists. It reminds me of the card shows I would go to with my dad at malls and baseball card shops when I was little.

Most memorable moment working with a client?
When I accompanied a client for winter site inspections in Pittsburgh. He was planning a summer convention and wanted to see the rooftop terrace of the convention center as a possible reception space. It was -10 degrees with the wind chill. I’ll never forget shivering on top of the Pittsburgh Convention Center trying to take notes.

Your 3 personal tips for meeting planners looking for that perfect meeting destination:

  1. Be open to destinations that are not on your initial list. Just because a city isn’t top-of-mind, doesn’t mean that it is not an ideal fit.
  2. Don’t always believe the perception of a destination, especially if you assume it can’t fit your event because of the location or if something is out of your price range. In the meetings world, the market changes constantly. Rates can change day-to-day. And, destinations can have new inventory, new airlift, etc every year.
  3. There is data out there – use it to streamline your search. Spend more time on the front end to narrow your list of destinations and properties that are an ideal fit before sending out your RFP. This will save you so much time and frustration. You’ll get faster and better proposals, and not waste time on options that don’t make sense.