A handful of big cities – Orlando, Las Vegas, Toronto, London, Barcelona, Berlin, Singapore, and Rio de Janeiro – continue to dominate the global meetings market. But as costs rise and availability falls, meetings organizers are increasingly moving their events to alternative cities.

Ian Cummings, vice president of EMEA at CWT Meetings & Events, notices this emergence of secondary cities.

“In Spain, for example, Seville is very popular at the moment. Gothenburg in Sweden, and Lyon and Nice in France are also very exciting locations. Interestingly, in the CWT Meetings & Events’ 2019 Future Trends Report, four German cities – Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, and Frankfurt – made the list of the top 10 cities for meetings and events in Europe,” he said.

Cummings also noted growing interest in secondary cities in the UK, with Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham all making the most of their strong hotel and activity infrastructure for meetings and events, while a few Scottish destinations are also gaining momentum.

According to Tracey Edwards, general manager of event travel management at Corporate Travel Management, secondary cities are working hard to attract events business. “They realize the importance of events to their economy so are focused on delivering a better result to the client,” she said, citing collaborative efforts by US cities such as San Antonio, Denver and St. Louis.

“In Australia, this is often the case in locations such as Adelaide, Hobart, Canberra and Port Douglas,” she added.

Caroline Gair, director of supplier relations at Cievents, identified the Chinese island city of Macau as a growing force in the meetings industry in Asia.

“Viewed as the Las Vegas of the East, Macau has amazing hotel infrastructure with a huge amount of meeting space offering very competitive rates and an active tourist bureau offering incentives to bring meetings business to Macau,” she explained.

SIGNIFICANT SAVINGS, ENHANCED EXPERIENCES

Of course, there’s a strong financial incentive to look beyond the traditional conference cities. “Cost is a huge factor. With high-occupancy and high-cost cities such as Paris and London, availability can be an issue for larger groups, but companies can get a lot more for their money by using a secondary city – such as exciting external team-building activities, offsite restaurant choices and even some meaningful local CSR activities,” Cummings said.

Cievents’ Gair cautioned that land cost savings can be eroded by increased transport costs as well as more limited flight availability and the need for additional stops. “Depending on the city, local tourist bureaus could offer additional financial benefits to bring a meeting or convention to their city,” she added.

Sherrif Karamat, president and CEO of Chicago-headquartered events network PCMA, believes that availability of lodgings and event space and cost will always have a role in selecting a host city for business events, but noted that “the industry is undergoing a transition period where events participants increasingly seek authentic and unique experiences.”

He cited his own organization’s 2018 signature annual event, Convening Leaders, which was held in Nashville, Tennessee, capitalizing on its state-of-the-art convention center, iconic music scene, and Southern cuisine. “Nashville was a wonderful collaboration of business and leisure,” he said.

Despite the potential savings, increased flexibility and appeal of unique experiences, secondary venues still face a significant challenge to unseat the tried and trusted conference cities.

“Clients often arrive with pre-selected destinations and it’s hard to convince them otherwise,” said Cummings. “Some are willing to listen to alternatives, and we really should be providing some great, thought-provoking options.”

Cievents is finding clients more willing to look at secondary city options if there are no additional logistics and organizational burdens. “If significant savings … were going to impact their overall budget, this may be the ‘sweetener’ to get it across the line in the final decision-making process. As we know, clients’ budgets aren’t increasing, so it is all about savings to the bottom line. I think most clients are open for discussion in this regard.”

CITIES Offer INCENTIVES

Aware of the heavy bookings and high costs associated with the market leaders, many secondary cities are working harder than ever to present themselves as viable alternatives.

Cummings cited Scotland and Ireland as leading promoters which work the events trade show circuit and “offer great city information to attract business events.”

Gair said secondary cities tend to be more proactive in attracting meetings business. “They know they need to work harder to get clients across the line, so will often include more value-adds, [free] rooms, cost waivers, which all positively impact the bottom line. For example, in Australia, some of the secondary cities in country Victoria include airport bus transfers which are a significant cost saving for the client.”

For event organizers, the selection of a lesser-known venue can mean some degree of added risk and Corporate Travel Management’s Edwards said this makes good research even more essential. “You must ensure it has the amenities, activities and broad range of service offerings your group requires. Having conversations outside your hotel contacts will help expand your options, while a meeting planning partner can help with group travel flight analysis. Another good option is to reach out to local tourism and convention bureaus as they usually are a great source of knowledge.”

Cummings also advocates sound research, including site visits and testing of transport links for delegates. “Try the restaurants before you recommend them and perhaps provide extra information for those who may want to explore more or stay a bit longer, considering some may have never been to that city before,” he added.

Photo Credit: Hamburg, Germany, has quietly become one of the most popular destinations for meetings and events in Europe. kapitalist63 / Flickr