Meetings and events groups looking outside of the traditional convention markets are being drawn to cities such as Detroit; Savannah, Georgia; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Seattle.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—There’s more to group business than the typical big-convention markets of Las Vegas; Orlando, Florida; and New Orleans. As other markets become burgeoning corporate hubs, they are attracting groups by offering a variety of hotel inventory to choose from, some with lower price points and many with ease of access through their airports.
These markets range from Detroit and Minneapolis in the Midwest to Savannah, Georgia, and Charlotte, North Carolina, in the South to Seattle and San Francisco on the West Coast.
“You are seeing a lot of very nice, new hotel product in some markets, and meeting attendees are looking for different places to try and experience,” said Steve Goodman, founder and managing partner at MeetingAdvice in Atlanta.
One of the “big stories” on the meetings front that is bringing a lot more group business to perennial favorite San Francisco is the four-year expansion of the Moscone Center, a $551-million project that was completed in January, said Jan Freitag, SVP of lodging insights at STR, parent company of Hotel News Now.
Following the reopening of Moscone, hotels in San Francisco marked a 36% increase in group revenue per available room for the first quarter of this year, according to STR data. Room rates were up 17% for group business during the same period, Freitag added.
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Other markets on the West Coast that are attracting groups are Denver, Phoenix, San Diego and Seattle, said Julie Purnell, San Francisco-based managing director at CBRE Hotels Advisory. Some smaller markets that offer more price-sensitive alternatives include Bellevue and Spokane, Washington.
“These cities and others are getting creative in how they accommodate groups,” Purnell said. “They may even shut down streets to host groups who want to have big parties, have whole groups or conventioneers take over museums, or use piers for special events.”
In the Midwest, Detroit has become more of a high-tech center, most notably with Google opening office space last November inside Little Caesars Arena downtown. Group average daily rates are around $170, compared with $225 in other markets, Freitag said.
“There are new boutique hotels in Detroit, it is easy to get to, and not as expensive as some other markets,” he said.
Chesapeake Hospitality’s Sheraton Detroit Metro Airport Hotel and Detroit Metro Airport Marriott both have seen their group business go up from last year and continue to grow, said Chris Green, principal and chief commercial officer.
Another Midwest locale experiencing its fair share of group business is Minneapolis.
Sharon Chicks, director of sales and marketing for The Emery Hotel in Minneapolis, said the city competes for groups against markets such as Raleigh, North Carolina; Louisville, Kentucky; Charleston, South Carolina; and Boise, Idaho, for groups.
The 229-room Emery Hotel has 4,000 square feet of meeting space and can accommodate groups of up to 150 for meetings, although more of the meetings tend to be geared toward 30 to 50 people, Chicks said.
“Minneapolis has matured,” she said. “We have the pro sports teams and college sports, culture, nightlife, restaurants, shopping, and we are easy to get to—all of which is important for holding meetings.”
In the South, the 249-room DeSoto Savannah in Savannah, Georgia, has seen a 9.5% jump in group business from last year, Green said. Another of Chesapeake’s hotels, The Ballast Wilmington in Wilmington, North Carolina, recorded a 10% increase this year in group bookings for meetings, he said.
“The top meetings markets have become extremely pricey, especially with the high cost of labor,” he said. “Markets like Savannah and Wilmington can be more competitive on price, and have a lot of history and interesting sites and nightlife to offer to groups, no matter where they are from.”
Groups are coming to these markets for corporate meetings, association meetings and training, he said. In part, that’s because the markets are easily accessible in a variety of ways; for example, many groups are driving in, he said.
“Our corporate group business will continue to keep growing because of all of the demand in these busy markets,” Green said.
Another southern destination that “checks all the boxes for a growth in group business” is Charlotte, North Carolina, said Robert Hannigan, GM of the 217-room luxury Kimpton Tryon Park, located in the city.
“A lot of groups have been to Atlanta or Orlando, and are looking for an alternative,” he said. “The city has a beautiful new downtown core with a lot of demand generators for those who want to hold meetings here.”
The hotel is located just a few blocks from the Spectrum Center, an indoor arena that is owned by the city of Charlotte and operated by its main tenant, the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets. The property is also close to the Charlotte Convention Center.
“You have corporate meetings and events going on in this city that are related to so many industries, such as banking, pharma, technology and automotive,” Hannigan said.
Meeting attendees also are flocking more and more to southern Florida destinations such as Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
“You are seeing a lot of new properties in the beach and downtown areas, and you have a choice of airports to fly in to,” Goodman said.
In the South, markets like Nashville, Tennessee, are “on fire,” and Austin, Texas, continues to be a great alternative to Dallas and Houston—both offering a variety of hotel, restaurant and entertainment choices, Goodman said.
Austin and Savannah also are in-demand markets for meetings events, Kimpton VP of Sales Telesa Via said.
“These areas are more off-the-beaten path cities and are investing and evolving rapidly to appeal to planners with new local group activities to showcase their cities,” she said. “Planners have hit the major markets with their groups and are now looking for something different, while also saving on costs.”
Planners want unique design with hyper-local elements, along with substantial meeting space to accommodate full groups and more intimate spaces for breakout needs, Via said. Also, hotels that stand out often have local partnerships with artists, musicians, artisans and breweries that they can easily tap into for breaks or receptions.
“A lot of the most popular group markets seem to have it all, and that is what meeting planners and meeting attendees are looking for when they plan events,” Goodman said.