Whether using technology that promotes a location or the real-life experience of exploring a destination, convention and visitors bureaus have embraced marketing their destinations beyond the usual downtown corridor to meeting planners and attendees.

The motivation, of course, stems from securing meeting bookings and foot traffic for local businesses. The efforts also go to the heart of bureaus’ shifting promotion mission.

“CVBs are looking to get people to stay longer [by selling diverse neighborhoods],” said Melissa Cherry, chief operating officer of Destinations International. “They’re saying, ‘You already saw downtown, you can extend for a day to see a [new] area, or you can come back another time for it.’”

Encouraging travel and exploration in secondary neighborhoods has become especially popular in the age of overtourism, with destination marketers looking to limit the impact of excessive tourism while helping to drive economic growth in neighborhoods that have traditionally been less attractive to visitors.

The emphasis by travelers today on having memorable moments while away also is driving the promotion of outer areas.

“People are looking for a more experiential relationship with destinations than in the past,” said Cherry. “Everyone has their perception before they arrive. It’s the bureau’s job to make sure people know what’s important.”

Some destination marketing organizations, like the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, create micro-sites for meeting groups.

“Micro-sites focus on key buckets of consolidated information from our website, including ‘50 Fun Things to See and Do,’ maps, transportation, and dining,” said William Pate, the group’s president and CEO. “It’s a simpler version of Atlanta.net, with no hotel information so as not to entice attendees to book outside the room block. The micro-sites also have a “What’s Hot” section that pulls in from our calendar of events, with the date range set to coordinate with the date of the convention.”

Atlanta even creates a mobile phone app for each group, creating a more customized digital experience for those bringing group business to the city and its outlying neighborhoods. It may seem like a small touch, but it provides a major impact for those choosing Atlanta for a meeting or convention.

The rise of visitors traveling for both business and leisure has made customization and choice more important.

“We try to make it easy for conventioneers to understand what’s near them so they can explore the city on their free nights,” said Pate. “When the user downloads the app, we can acknowledge their meeting with a unique welcome screen. The general Discover Atlanta app that’s available to the public can be configured to convention guests, allowing us to tailor the user experience.”

Cities have also become more sophisticated when it comes to highlighting the specific businesses and culinary options that provide them with unique characteristics.

Travel Portland, the bureau for Portland, Oregon, has embraced marketing different neighborhoods to meeting planners based on their individual attributes. The reality is that, more often than not, the traditional downtown restaurants and stores that travelers visit probably aren’t the most memorable options for a traveler to visit.

Known especially for its food and craft brewery scene, Portland has “a culinary class of professionals, an urban wine movement and distilleries, and a maker’s culture that all started in neighborhoods outside of downtown because the rent was cheaper,” said Marcus Hibdon, director of communications and public relations at Travel Portland. “In fact, most of our best restaurants are outside of the downtown area.”

To hook event planners, real-life experience with the city’s different neighborhoods has made a positive impact.

To make planners aware of these offerings, Travel Portland brings customers, and potential meeting buyers, “to different parts of the city so they can understand how a Northeast restaurant might feel different than a Southeast place,” Hibdon said. “We always include a visit into some of our best neighborhoods.”

Experience as Powerful Tool

In our digital age, with a bounty of information available online, the traditional familiarization trip for planners may seem passé. Experience, however, is a powerful tool when it comes to encouraging planners to select a particular destination for their event.

“The response from meeting planners to our neighborhoods is overwhelmingly positive,” said Hibdon. “We definitely have seen [familiarization trip] attendees ask for bids following their trips. We’ve had a number of meeting planners say Portland was their highest-attended meeting. Certainly part of that can be attributed to our marketing of our neighborhoods and their business communities.”

Atlanta has seen similar results. “For our big conventions, planners set an attendance goal so we check if we met, exceeded, or fell short of that objective,” Pate said. “If [the attendance goal is met], that’s likely because of our marketing that’s specific to the group.”

Atlanta and Portland are just two examples of cities that have turned to highlighting their more interesting neighborhoods to event planners.

Marketers want their city to be seen as more than just a downtown area, and getting the word out has proven to be a successful method for attracting more business.

Photo Credit: The Pearl District neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, is full of great restaurants and a new focus for event planners. Ian Sane / Flickr