More and more, they are acting like leisure travelers, looking beyond the meeting agenda and basing their decision on the remarkable experiences the destination offers.
They want signature hometown cuisine, regional craft brews, local arts and culture, and adventures not found anywhere else.
So, while we’re all fans of tried-and-true meeting locales such as Chicago, San Diego, and Orlando, fresh experiences in new, unexplored places can be the best allure to boost your attendance numbers.
Not to mention that second-tier cities give a lot more bang for your buck by offering price points that most first-tier cities can’t.
Using GroupSync, we uncovered 5 meeting destinations that offer not just attractive affordability, but also ample hotel meeting space for large groups, good air connectivity, great weather, and plenty of share-worthy, après-meeting fun.
Here are the second-tier meeting destinations and cities that deserve a second look in 2018:
Planners don’t have to go far to seek an alternative to Orlando, one of the top (and priciest) meeting destinations in the world. Located just 25-minutes from the Orlando International Airport, sun-drenched Kissimmee just a short drive away from SeaWorld Orlando and Universal Orlando Resort. Plus, poised at the front door of all the Disney World theme parks. In fact, many Kissimmee resorts offer complimentary shuttles to the Disney parks, a perk for attendees bringing their families.
Attendees can also travel via the Amtrak’s Silver Service/Palmetto line, which originates in New York and makes a stop in downtown Kissimmee. This Orlando suburb is more than just world-famous theme parks. Planners are often surprised to discover the city’s bevy of freshwater lakes for group kayaking and canoeing. Or, the group adventures in the famed Florida Everglades, including exciting airboat rides and ecotours. After hours, attendees can explore the quaint historic downtown Kissimmee, lined with local cafes, bars and shopping.
Following an extensive $40-million expansion that wrapped up in October 2017, the 862-room Omni Orlando at ChampionsGate now boasts a total of 248,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting space, including new conference center space and an expansive event lawn. A new Grand Salon Ballroom features aporte cochere for private arrivals and a charming terrace with event gardens, grand lawn, fireplaces and a promenade.
Your attendees can be some of the first to experience their new room product, the Sunset Lodge and Suites featuring studio suites and premium king balcony rooms. Groups looking for golf experiences can check out the newly restored greens at the Greg Norman-designed champion golf courses. And, when attendees want to let loose after hours, they can explore the resort’s 9 restaurants, Mokara Spa, heated pools, a lazy river and the area’s only resort wave pool.
Just east of Denver and a short drive to the Rocky Mountains, Aurora is soon to be the home of the new and exciting Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center. This vibrant suburb boasts close proximity to the Denver International Airport, located just a 10-15 minute drive away (compared to a 30-40 minute driving distance between downtown Denver and DIA). Attendees can skip the rental car altogether and opt to take the newest light rail option, the R Line (also known as the Aurora Line) from the airport. Since DIA is less than a 5-hour flight from all major metropolitan U.S. cities, Aurora is positioned as an appealing destination for groups with attendees across the country.
Former military infrastructure have been transformed into unexpected event venues, like the one-of-a-kind Stanley Marketplace, a historic aviation factory now home to bustling market with restaurants, shops, and a popular beer garden. Arrange teambuilding on the pristine white sand shores of the beautiful Aurora Reservoir, with views of the Rockies in the distance. In addition, Aurora boasts 8 breweries, 11 championship golf courses, and best of all, 300 days of sunshine. Aurora is also close to some of east Denver’s best attractions, like the Museum of Nature & Science and the Denver Zoo.
When it debuts in late 2018, this long-awaited Aurora conference resort will boast 1,500 luxury guestrooms and 485,000 square feet of conference space, ranking it as the largest conference hotel in the Colorado. The sheer size of its meeting, exhibition, pre-function and outdoor event space offers planners flexible options and room to be creative with their programs. The resort will be built as a grand alpine chalet, featuring spectacular Rocky Mountain views from its Grand Lodge, 8 dining outlets, walking trails, putting greens, an indoor/outdoor pool complex with a lazy river and water slides, outdoor tennis and basketball courts, a Relache Spa and Salon and modern fitness center.
With its close proximity to San Francisco and central perch in Silicon Valley, San Jose is an appealing alternative to California’s more popular, and more expensive, meeting destinations, including their neighbor and San Diego. The city offers 2,200 committable hotel rooms on peak in their downtown and 4,000 committable rooms citywide on peak.
Besides their lower room rates, San Jose is also considered one of the most accessible meeting destinations with the San Jose International Airport just less than 4 miles from downtown. Attendees can also chose to fly into the San Francisco or Oakland Airport, both only a 30-45 minute drive away. Fortunately, San Jose doesn’t succumb to the gray, chilly days that San Francisco is synonymous for. Instead, it’s one of the sunniest cities in the nation, with an average of 257 sunny days a year.
Their post-meeting scene is also a hit. Silicon Valley’s prosperity has transformed this formerly sleepy city into a thriving network of shops, more than a 100 dining and nightlife options, a state-of-the-art lightrail system, and a buzzing arts and culture scene
Attendee perk: Being in the heart of Silicon Valley has its benefits. Mainly complimentary and blazing fast WiFi (up to 4x faster than internet around the country) throughout the entire downtown.
Offering 65,000 square feet of function space, the Fairmont San Jose can host groups for a 200-person reception to a theatre presentation for 3,000. Meeting rooms include the classically beautiful Crystal Room (2000 square feet) and the Imperial Ballroom (13,000 square feet). This property is known especially for their food, with a culinary staff that hails from around the globe, and offers groups innovative European, Mexican, Persian, Chinese and American banquet options.
Fort Myers & Marco Island, Florida
Southwest Florida is worlds away from the nightlife and theme parks of Orlando and Miami. Instead, the charm lies in its tranquil island atmosphere, strolling along miles of sugary sand beaches, paddling in the Everglades and sampling local seafood freshly caught from the Gulf of Mexico – all at a fraction of the cost of a big-city meeting. Located just 17 miles from the Southwest Florida International Airport, Fort Myers offers the biggest concentration of meeting-oriented venues, all under the shade of royal palm trees and pristine blue skies. It also appeals to groups with its year-round gorgeous weather, easy access to Gulf shores, golf, dining, museum scene and open-air shopping. There’s nothing quite like a seaside meeting, so expect attendees to extend their stays and spend afterhours outdoors, playing tennis or golf, sunning, swimming, fishing, boating and beachcombing.
About 45 minutes from the Southwest Florida International Airport, Marco Island is the largest in a chain of islands along the Gulf of Mexico, an area billed as the Paradise Coast. And, even among these calm islands, it stands out as one of the most tranquil with the tropical essence of the Caribbean. Expect sweeping ocean views, acres of wildlife preserves, sparkling beaches, upscale resorts, sun-drenched golf courses, island activities and opportunities for dolphin and tropical bird spotting.
This grandiose, hilltop resort sits seaside and is the first-ever JW Marriott on the beach in the continental U.S. After a $300 million makeover, the property will add the adults-only Lanai Tower, expanding its room count to 810 guestrooms and suites and its meeting space to 100,000 square fee. The new Lanai Tower will feature a rooftop restaurant and meeting space on its first three floors, including the 30,000 sq. ft. Calusa Grand Ballroom, with wall-to-wall windows, views of the Gulf of Mexico, five outdoor terraces and 24-foot ceilings. Attendees will be drawn to its villa-like suites, four swimming pools, two championship golf courses, and the resort’s 3-miles of white sandy beach. Group activities include wave runner tours that bring them up close to regional wildlife and into secret back bays, local rum tastings, fish-grilling classes, and private beachfront receptions.
Despite being considered Texas’s most atmospheric and charming city, San Antonio is often overshadowed by Dallas, Houston and Austin as a meeting destination. But, not for its lack of convention-worthy assets, such as its lower room rates, consistent warm weather, famed Tex-Mex cuisine, historic sites, and its world-famous River Walk. The city’s best meeting asset is its accessibility, with the San Antonio International Airport only 15 minutes from downtown. Meeting planners looking to save on transportation costs will be attracted to San Antonio’s walkability. The 14,000 hotel rooms in downtown are all within walking distance to the convention center and the River Walk’s exuberant collection of restaurants, shops and entertainment. Attendees will want to spend hours strolling the 15 miles of this festive waterway, surrounded by cypress trees, the scent of zesty Mexican and South Texas dishes, and lively sounds of mariachis. From there, attendees can walk to the historic Alamo, one of Texas’ most treasured icons; more centuries-old Spanish missions, the San Antonio Museum of Art, and Hemisfair Park. Further out of downtown, groups can explore 40 golf courses, SeaWorld San Antonio and Six Flags Fiesta Texas.
Located just across from the San Antonio Convention Center, the Hilton Palacio del Rio offers more than 27,000 square feet of event space, including 25 meeting rooms, two rooftop ballrooms, the historic and elegant Pavilion by Hilton in HemisFair Park, and the Stetson Ballroom with floor-to-ceiling windows offering views of the River Walk.
Another great attendee perk: Every room comes with a private balcony that overlooks the River Walk or the city.
This hacienda-hotel sits right on the banks of the San Antonio River and in the middle of River Walk. Attendees can hop on river boat tours that load just outside the hotel or simply step out their front doors to walk the quaint pathways of River Walk to the Alamo, just two blocks away.