With so many destinations vying for visibility and credibility in the meetings market, it takes a concerted effort to stand out among the crowd.
But several places have succeeded. Though different in size and style, these destinations all are focused on improving group offerings.
Located on Lake Bemidji in north-central Minnesota, 225 miles from Minneapolis/St. Paul, Bemidji traditionally attracted smaller groups with its small and medium-sized chain and privately owned hotels.
But with the late 2010 opening of the Sanford Center, an 185,000- square-foot facility, Bemidji instantly elevated its profile for big groups.
“Now we can host groups of up to 1,000 attendees,” says Denelle Hilliard, executive director of Visit Bemidji (www.visitbemidji.com).
The Sanford Center has a 24,000-square-foot arena for consumer/trade shows, a 10,000-square-foot ballroom, two 2,000-square-foot meeting rooms and a 6,000-seat performance hall.
To accommodate the rise in meeting visitors, two new hotels are under construction. A 122-room Country Inn Suites with an enclosed walkway to the Sanford Center will open later this year and an 80-room DoubleTree Hotel, near the center, will open in 2013.
After a meeting, groups can choose activities from many de-stressing spots, including four golf courses, four casinos, fishing and the 80-mile Paul Bunyan Trail for walking, biking and roller blading.
Boat cruises on Lake Itasca, covered wagon excursions and sleigh rides in the winter head the list of popular group activities.
“Bemidji puts attendees in a productive frame of mind,” Hilliard says.
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Home to ArtPrize—the world’s largest art competition—and museums like the Grand Rapids Art Museum and Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and Library, Grand Rapids has quietly developed into one of most dynamic cultural scenes in the Midwest.
“Our destination has an outstanding tourism infrastructure for a city of its size, but many people didn’t know what was here,” says Doug Small, president of Experience Grand Rapids (www.experiencegr.com).
Rebranding efforts started in late 2010 when the city’s CVB changed its name from the Grand Rapids/Kent County CVB to Experience Grand Rapids. That rebranding included a redesign of the website (www.experiencegr.com).
Central to Grand Rapids’ group appeal is the DeVos Place Convention Center, which is connected by skywalk to three major hotels—the 682-room Amway Grand Plaza, 340-room JW Marriott Grand Rapids and 208-room Courtyard by Marriott Downtown—and is close to 60 restaurants, an entertainment district, four museums and several theaters, galleries and shops.
“We’re a very undervalued destination,” Small says.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
City officials in Sioux Falls are giddy with anticipation for the fall 2014 opening of the $115 million Sioux Falls Events Center.
“The new events center will elevate Sioux Falls into a level of the meetings market where we couldn’t compete previously,” says Terri Schmidt, executive director of the Sioux Falls CVB (www.visitsiouxfalls.com).
Under construction adjacent to the Sioux Falls Convention center, the new building will increase exhibit space to 132,000 square feet and offer a concert space for 13,000 people.
A 136-room Hilton Garden Inn downtown—with 6,000 square feet of meeting space—will break ground in the coming months, and another hotel likely is headed to the events center site, Schmidt says.
Located in the southeast corner of the state, Sioux Falls, the largest city in South Dakota, is attractive to groups for a variety of reasons.
“In our exit surveys with meeting planners they continually say we have the facilities and activities of a much larger city,” Schmidt says.
A suburb of Chicago, Rosemont already has a meetings infrastructure with the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center—offering 840,000 square feet of exhibit space—the 92,000-square-foot Rosemont Conference Center, 18,500-seat Allstate Arena and 14 meeting hotels.
“We’re a small town with big city facilities, amenities and hotels,” says Bill Anderson, executive director of the Rosemont Convention and Visitors Bureau (www.rosemont.com). “Groups are drawn to us because we’re compact and easily walkable, clean, safe and close to O’Hare International Airport.”
You can add another magnet to that list with the April debut of a dining and entertainment district, MB Financial Park at Rosemont.
A 200,000-square-foot complex, the MB Financial Park at Rosemont gives attendees a convenient area to relax and recharge after meetings. It feature venues offering live music, upscale dining, movies, bowling and will continue adding stores. Already open is Muvico Movie Theater, Five Roses Pub and Kings Lanes, Lounge and Sports.
Other venues scheduled to open at MB Financial Park at Rosemont include Adobe Gila’s, Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill, Zanies Comedy Night Club, Park Tavern, Hofbrauhaus Chicago and a yet-to-be named Greek restaurant. It also has a lawn for events, which will be used as an ice-skating rink in colder months.
“With the addition of the new entertainment offerings, Rosemont offers the best of both worlds,” Anderson says. “If attendees want to visit Chicago it’s easy to get there from Rosemont and if they don’t want to travel, we’ll have more options for entertainment here.”
Orlando-based writer Edward Schmidt Jr., like emerging destinations, strives for visibility and credibility.