How a unique local experience can help make your next conference one to remember. 

By Chris Schriever

On my most recent client site visit, I found myself thinking about all that goes into selecting a city and venue to host a conference. I’d been to Chicago, Austin, Nashville, Charlotte and soon, I’d be heading to Louisville. When I realized my own excitement to explore a city I didn’t know all that well, I was reminded of the value of encountering a unique experience—and, how convention attendees are drawn to unique experiences too.

As a conference planner, it is important to make the event memorable. From spotlighting the signature hometown cuisine, craft beer and liquor made by the neighborhood brewer to accommodations that offer guests a greater sense of place, each detail contributes to planning an event that won’t be easily forgotten. People are simply no longer content with work travel that requires them to stay in a hotel in Anywhere, USA and sit in a conference center for a week without truly getting out and experiencing the destination. But, at the same time, most companies and organizations don’t have enough staff or budget to plan every detail for travelers. A solution to both challenges lies in the second-tier city: cities that are smaller in size, but larger in charm and attentiveness.

Here are a few reasons why second-tier cities can actually help deliver your most memorable conference-going experience yet:

Genuine hospitality and walkable experiences

A downtown environment and area attractions are a top priority for events and conferences. But this can often come with drawbacks in large cities—congestion, lines, high-costs and an overwhelming number of options. In mid-sized cities, the downtown and neighborhood experiences provide the best of both worlds: genuine hospitality provided by locals and numerous local entertainment and dining options that are often more approachable and cost-effective than those featured in larger, more tourism focused cities.

Second-tier cities are often eager to welcome and support conferences that drive enthusiastic visitors. The local convention and visitors bureau (CVB) can provide maps and tour ideas for any gathering, adding to the value that these cities offer professionals, families, women and seniors. Plus, attendees likely aren’t setting out to visit second-tier cities on their family vacations so the novelty of exploring someplace new and unexpected will be exciting, especially if you take the time to highlight the character of the city and showcase what it prides itself on.

Specialized services, flight options and affordability

For mid-sized cities, a central location with direct flight accessibility is a major selling point—especially if it’s not a coastal city. These airports, though modest in size, can often provide individualized attention to best serve your conference needs.

For example, Blue Grass Airport (LEX) serves 18 non-stop destinations via four airlines—Allegiant, American, Delta and United. With approximately 80 daily flights, Lexington, like many second-tier cities, is virtually one connection from anywhere in the world.

A more intimate airport also can work with meeting planners and airlines to ensure your conference travelers are looked after. Blue Grass Airport will gladly meet with planners to determine popular flight routes and can reach out to airline partners to inform them of your event needs. In many cases, airlines can add flights or provide larger aircraft to support conventions.

Smaller airports serving mid-sized cities also pride themselves on hospitality and a lasting first impression. Ask them to provide the following complimentary services for meetings and conventions:

  • Welcome greeting for your guests on television monitors leading to the baggage claim area
  • Use of the Welcome Center in the baggage claim area to greet and/or register guests
  • Complimentary passes to the airport-operated executive lounge for VIPs and speakers
  • Premium bus service and limousine locations for guest pick-up and drop-off.
  • Advertising opportunities for your company and conference sponsors, including custom displays or welcome banners curbside along the terminal
Help marketing your event

In second-tier cities, the CVBs can also help you increase attendance at your convention and make your meeting planning easier. They can provide:

  • Marketing materials ranging from brochures, photography and videos to tote bags and maps
  • Memorable conference spaces. Move beyond a convention center and choose more unique space such as a historic home or (in the case of our experience in Lexington, Ky.) bucolic horse country estates

Again, second-tier cities are often eager to share what makes them special with guests and will likely love that your event is giving them an opportunity to do so!

From the localized breakout experiences and memorable event space opportunities, to general accessibility, it’s clear that what second-tier cities may lack in size, they make up for in hospitality, convenience, attentiveness and local charm. Consider choosing a second-tier city for your next conference or event, and you’ll see the difference.

Want to learn more? Get in touch today.