Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego, California
When Conde Nast Traveler released its latest list of The Best Big Cities in the United States, it could have just as easily been writing about The Best Meeting Cities in the United States.
In a survey of more than 100,000 readers, the Conde Nast poll places New York City, Chicago and San Francisco at the top of cities with populations of more than 150,000. I’ve actually visited quite a few of these cities the past few years while working for Smart Meetings, which provides comprehensive reports in print and online all year long about most of these destinations.
Below are a few meeting-related observations about the top 10 cities listed among Conde Nast’s Best Big Cities and why they are so valuable to the meetings and events industry. By scouring our online and print archives, I’ve compiled news that planners can use to host events in some of our favorite and best meeting cities.
Best Big Cities That Are Also Best Meeting Cities
New York City
What’s unfolding along the Hudson River on Manhattan’s Far West Side is indeed noteworthy. In January, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a $1 billion project that would increase the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center‘s size by more than 50 percent, from 2.1 million sq. ft. to 3.3 million sq. ft. The expansion will break ground later this year.
“The Javits Center is in the middle of a renaissance,” says Tony Sclafani, senior vice president and chief communications officer for Javits.
The expansion will add a 58,000-square-foot ballroom that will rank as the largest in the Northeast and a rooftop event space for up to 1,500 guests. There will be five times more meeting space and 27 new loading docks.
Javits has already benefitted from a 6.75-acre green roof, which opened in 2014. The second-largest green roof in the United States, it is home to 17 bird species and helps the convention center reduce energy consumption by 26 percent while including other energy-efficient measures. The previous renovation also included updating the facade and skylights with 6,000 translucent, fritted glass panels designed to prevent bird collisions.
“For us, it’s a great comeback story,” Sclafani says. “The way we view ourselves these days is improving the life of the community. That goes to the heart of where the building is going.”
Chicago will be featured in the December issue of Smart Meetings magazine. Here’s an excerpt:
When it comes to the hospitality and meetings industries, Chicago isn’t exactly starting from scratch. In 2015, the city welcomed more than 52 million visitors, who generated $2.2 billion in hotel expenditures, $935 million in tax revenues and $124.1 million in hotel tax revenues. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former White House Chief of Staff for President Barack Obama, has set a goal of 55 million visitors annually by 2020.
City officials haven’t wasted any time in getting the plans off the ground. In July, Mayor Emanuel and Choose Chicago named David Whitaker the new president and CEO of the destination marketing organization. Whitaker is a respected industry veteran who formerly worked with Tourism Toronto and Brand USA. He’s hit the ground running; after only a few months, he has already introduced a comprehensive list of initiatives to achieve the Mayor’s ambitious goal.
It hasn’t taken long to see results, either. In October, Mayor Emanuel and Whitaker announced record tourism figures for the first three quarters of 2016, for both leisure and group segments. Overall demand for the first three quarters was up by 2.2 percent; September alone saw demand grow by 6 percent.
In 2015, 5.8 million business travelers met in San Francisco for an increase of 2.7 percent. Combined, leisure and business travelers accounted for $9.3 billion in spending; an additional $723 million was spent by meeting planners and exhibitors for goods and services for their citywide conventions and meetings.
To keep pace with the popularity of citywide conventions in San Francisco, Moscone Center is undergoing an expansion that will increase its size from 614,839 to 772,179 sq. ft. The project began in 2015 and will be completed by the end of 2018. Moscone North and Moscone South will be closed April through August in 2017 to achieve target goals, while Moscone West will not be affected and is open for business.
“The expansion of Moscone Center will allow us to meet the growing needs of groups like these into the future,” says Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of San Francisco Travel.
“Oahu is a world-class cosmopolitan city with three exclusive resort areas on one island,” says Kainoa Daines, sales director of Oahu Visitors Bureau. “This provides groups with access to the amenities and activities of a cosmopolitan city, while being able to explore the experiences and relaxation that an island destination has to offer.” With more than 30,000 hotel rooms near Hawaii Convention Center, there is a perfect resort for every group. The Modern Honolulu is situated across from the convention center in neighboring Waikiki. At the boutique hotel, groups can indulge in cosmopolitan dining at Moromito Waikiki. Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto combines signature Asian fusion cuisine with island-grown ingredients.
On crescent-shaped Waikiki Beach, Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort & Spa is steps away from a range of watersports, including surfing, parasailing, stand-up paddleboarding, sailing and personal watercraft. Back on land, visitors can hike Diamond Head State Monument, the 760-foot extinct volcanic peak, which offers 360-degree views of the entire island. The Kahala Hotel & Resort boasts views of Diamond Head and Koko Head craters, and has hosted many high profile guests in search of a secluded getaway.
Disney magic meets the Hawaiian spirit at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina on the leeward side of Oahu. Dining features a Makahiki theme named after the traditional Hawaiian celebration during the harvest season. Disney characters make an appearance amid Hawaiian cuisine and decor. The resort community is not far from must-visit historical points of attraction.
Louisiana is featured in our November issue. Here’s an excerpt:
It’s been a tumultuous few months for the state of Louisiana. After one of the worst natural disasters since Hurricane Katrina, parishes surrounding Baton Rouge and Lafayette continue to grapple with wreckage and damages precipitated from catastrophic flooding in August. Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency after the historic, unpreceded storm dropped 7.1 trillion gallons of water on the southern half of the state.
This time, however, New Orleans, the national symbol of resilience and recovery, stood relatively dry and has served as an example for its neighbors, lending emergency relief efforts and support in assessing the needs of those impacted by the floods. The following week, Crescent City became a second haven to the 2017 NBA All-Star Game after the organization pulled the event from North Carolina amid passage of the controversial House Bill 2 (HB2).
“Even in the midst of a historic crisis, I am excited that the NBA has recognized how great the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana are,” Edwards said. “In Louisiana, one of the strongest bonds that unite all of us is our passion for sports. Not only will NBA fans be able to participate in the All-Star Game events; they will also be a part of our world-famous Mardi Gras festivities. The fan experience can’t get any better than that.”
Stephen Perry, president and CEO of New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau echoed the sentiment. “New Orleans has always been a destination that welcomes all. Count on us to maintain New Orleans’ nearly 300-year-old history of tolerance and hospitality regardless of nationality, religion, sexual orientation or any other criteria that limits our full potential. This is the mark of a world-class city.”
In addition to Harvard University, which celebrates its 380th anniversary this year, Greater Boston boasts many other colleges and universities that deserve their share of the academic spotlight. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is world-renowned for its engineering and mathematical achievements and Tufts University has a magnificent school of medicine. The technology sector and medical meetings are booming in Boston now, according to Moscaritolo.
Boston University has an outstanding school of communication and Babson College has an entrepreneurs’ curriculum that lures Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group Ltd., to speak there every year. Other institutions in the metro area include Boston College, Northeastern University, Wellesley College and Berklee College of Music.
In the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston, John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center has undergone significant upgrades to its technology infrastructure as well as its food-service facilities. Adjacent to Hynes, the Prudential Center, a retail and entertainment complex, will house just the third Eataly in the country by late 2016. It’s a 45,000-square-foot marketplace and restaurant created by chef Mario Batali to educate, entertain and nourish people in authentic Italian style.
Recent museum openings and expansions add to Boston’s meeting allure, helping planners deliver a broad learning experience for attendees. Projects of note include Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, the Harvard Art Museums, Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation, and the massive Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Already a favorite among millennials, Portland has a lot going for it when it comes to meetings, starting with the LEED Platinum certified Oregon Convention Center. For meeting-goers, the sustainability practices in place at the convention center set the tone for comprehensive green experiences, including transportation, food and refurbished historic buildings.
“As more and more people discover how special our city is, Portland is adding some great new facilities for meetings and conventions,” says Desiree Everett, director of convention sales for Travel Portland. “Planners and delegates alike have an easy time getting around Portland with our world-class transit, but what I think they really love is taking advantage of our tax-free shopping.
“Of course, who can forget about Portland’s national reputation as the top foodie destination? All this is offered up with the friendly hospitality and big-city amenities only available in a place like Portland.”
Oregon Convention Center is a role model for sustainability. The waste-diversion program helps planners minimize garbage by recycling, composting and donating. The long-term goal is to achieve 80 percent waste diversion. Last year, the convention center got more than 6,500 new rooftop solar panels, making it the second-largest solar installation nationally, producing 25 percent of the facility’s electricity. The largest convention center in the Pacific Northwest, it offers 255,000 sq. ft. of contiguous exhibit space, two ballrooms and 50 meeting rooms. There’s a 30,000-square-foot plaza available for events located across from the convention center.
Collier County, dubbed Florida’s Paradise Coast by the local convention and visitors bureau, is part meeting destination and part winter refuge. The annual Midwest migration has definitely helped create a getaway on the state’s southwest Gulf Coast with all the amenities groups need to be inspired and feel rewarded.
Naples is the key meeting and entertainment city in Collier County, which also includes Marco Island, Everglades City, Immokalee and Ave Maria. Embodying all that is wet and wild on Florida’s Paradise Coast, Naples Grande Beach Resort is a grand home base to experience the entire region.
“We’re modern yet coastal,” says Frank Cavella, director of sales and marketing for Naples Grande. “We’re designed to give you a sense of Florida—the feeling that you’re really in a resort.”
Seattle will be featured in the December issue of Smart Meetings magazine as part of our story on the state of Washington. Here’s an excerpt:
Seattle’s inhabitants tend to be a hearty breed, as wimpier types tend to be driven away by the, ahem, damp winters. It speaks volumes that the nation’s oldest continually running outdoor market is in Seattle, not San Diego or Miami. This region may have been the birthplace of Microsoft and Starbucks, but it’s also the home of REI and Eddie Bauer, grunge music and the famously boisterous NFL Seattle Seahawks fans. Rugged rules, here.
Seattle also holds a firm position among the world’s top business cities. With 20,000 guest rooms and Washington State Convention Center, the “Emerald City” is a great choice for conferences throughout the year.
“Seattle is on a lot of people’s bucket lists,” says Rob Hampton, senior vice president of convention sales and services for Visit Seattle. “It’s a very progressive, innovative city and companies like Amazon bring a young demographic to our city. All the things people want to do when they’re done with meetings─shopping, theaters, restaurants, visiting neighborhoods visiting the Space Needle─are just blocks from downtown.”
Seattle is in the process of developing a new convention center two blocks from the existing facility; the new center, with more than 250,000 sq. ft., is slated to open in 2020. The 1,200-room Hyatt Regency Seattle is also in development, set to open in 2018.
“We will have two convention centers right in heart of downtown,” Hampton says. “The architect is making sure it fits into community and the beautiful natural area.”
The May issue of Smart Meetings magazine featured a Q&A with Joe Terzi, president and CEO of San Diego Tourism Authority. Here’s an excerpt:
Last year, San Diego was featured in National Geographic Channel’s documentary series, “World Smart Cities.” What makes San Diego a smart city?
San Diego has always been a great destination for leisure and business. The National Geographic documentary focused on the fact that we are a city with both beauty and brains! A classic beach town with 70 miles of spectacular coastline, the best weather in the country and a wealth of attractions are only part of the story. San Diego has emerged as a center of excellence and innovation, leading the way with advances in health care, technology and cyber security, just to name a few.
What sets San Diego apart from other major meeting cities?
San Diego is one of the best destinations for both single-property and major citywide meetings. We have a diversity of product—with unique neighborhoods, a vibrant and compact waterfront downtown, an international airport in the center of the city and a world-class convention center.
There are more than 12,000 available rooms within walking distance of San Diego Convention Center, including three mega-hotels—each with 1,500 rooms and just steps from the entrance to the center. The Gaslamp Quarter, a 16-block entertainment district, allows meeting attendees to step out of the convention center or their hotels and experience hundreds of restaurants, bars and entertainment opportunities. Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, is located one block away, in San Diego’s East Village.
Which groups seem to like San Diego the most for meetings and conventions?
Key to our success is maintaining our relationship with the meetings industry and high-end medical association business. Our convention center hosts approximately 70 conventions annually. Our diversity of product allows us the opportunity to find a fit for everything from the highest-end incentive groups to groups working with very tight budgets. We are committed to supporting all group needs—from small board of directors meetings to 30,000-peak-room-night mega citywide conventions, like our annual Comic-Con convention.