Marketing Convention Districts–Big Business for Smaller DMOs

By Jim Leonard

Marketing Convention Districts–Big Business for Smaller DMOs

As meeting groups look beyond big convention cities for meeting and convention options, smaller destinations have the opportunity to elevate their destination’s meeting brand through convention districts that package meeting and entertainment offerings in convenient proximity to each other. Read time: 7 minutes

To help drive attendance, many meeting planners are increasingly looking for authentic and interesting experiences for their groups vs. big, traditional convention destinations. Many planners are also beginning to experiment with multiple smaller regional meetings vs. single annual conventions. Revitalization and new development in cities throughout the country are helping meet these demands for more interesting (and now also more suitable) meeting options AND raising the bar for what planners expect from meeting destinations overall. The good news for smaller cities is that meeting planner's eyes have been opened to new and interesting destinations, and they are starting to understand how these new destinations can help keep meetings fresh and, as a bonus, often make them more affordable for attendees—all factors that boost meeting attendance. So, as interest (and competition) intensifies, if you think your destination measures up, now is a great time to make a plan to elevate your meeting and convention brand in the eyes of planners.

Montgomery, Alabama’s downtown revitalization over the last 10 years has been remarkable. A historic train station was converted into a spectacular minor league baseball park that seats 7,000. Shortly after, a major civic center renovation and expansion included the addition of the 349-room Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa. An alleyway was opened up that connects the baseball park with this convention center, and it was immediately filled with numerous dining and entertainment options. Several more flagship hotels are now operating in the area, several have been renovated and even more, are under development. An array of local dining, entertainment and retail venues have opened up, and several hundred new residential units within the district have combined to create a new convention and entertainment epicenter in the heart of Alabama’s historic capital city. In an effort to capitalize on all these offerings and to fulfill its mission as an economic development engine, The Montgomery CVB asked Stamp, a destination marketing firm, to “package” the city’s downtown meeting and entertainment offerings into a convention district to make it easier to market to meeting planners and groups.

Because most consumers (including meeting "buyers") are primarily researching and making decisions based on what they find online, their interest is mostly invisible to destination marketing organizations. So, a robust and informative online environment was created to serve as a one-stop shop for meeting planners by providing comprehensive information about Montgomery’s Convention District.

The site's animated opening graphics were designed to quickly take a planner through the course of "a day in Montgomery" from the meeting attendee’s perspective. From the morning meeting venue to the afternoon exploration of attractions, to the evening dining options and after-dinner nightlife—the goal was to illustrate that everything meeting attendees want and need is within an attractive and walkable convention district. Features of the site also include an easy-to-navigate tools menu, dynamic content including details on meeting space, accommodations, local events, and district maps all in a responsive design that automatically fits any size phone, tablet or desktop computer. The site provides an informative and entertaining overview of Montgomery from a unique perspective.

In addition, the Montgomery CVB partnered with the convention district’s accommodations providers to produce a companion piece that serves as a printed overview of the information available online. The future for events and meetings for smaller cities is brighter than ever. And the proof for Montgomery is in the numbers: for the past three years, Montgomery has led all other Alabama metro cities in the state with the highest hotel occupancy. In 2016, travelers in Montgomery spent over $511,000,000, and tourism was responsible directly and indirectly for more than 12,157 jobs. And, Montgomery is taking a top spot in 2017 as a Trivago Best Value Destination.

Cities of all sizes benefit from the economic impact that meeting activities and event-based tourism create. And more destinations than ever are investing in (and often subsidizing) downtown convention district development to generate more visitor activity (meeting attendees as well as leisure travelers). So, is it time to make a plan to develop a meeting district in your community? Or, if you already have all the elements in place, is it time to make a plan to define and then market your convention district?