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Big Business at Small Market Meetings Conference

Big city conventions and corporate meetings get lots of attention. After all, they can easily involve millions of dollars. But a recent conference designed especially for small-to-midsize markets proved that thinking small is a smart business strategy.

The 2014 Small Market Meetings Conference (SMMC) took place September 28-30 in Mesa, Arizona. Approximately 275 meeting planners and industry vendors held hundreds of one-on-one meetings in marketplace sessions where they exchanged contact information and paved the way for future business dealings.

“People interact and start developing relationships. This is where it all begins,” said Joe Cappuzzello, president and CEO of SMMC. “These people are meeting professionals. They’re not going to trust their meeting to a destination they don’t feel comfortable with.”

Cappuzzello said vendors were exposed to smaller cities their clients request.

“These planners are qualified. We checked their meetings, so we know they deliver business. They’re small markets but not necessarily small meetings. They arrange 12-person meetings or ones with 5,000. Here it was all about them.”

Ron Bower is marketing and group sales manager for the Grove City Area (Ohio) Convention and Visitors Bureau. He saw great opportunities at the conference.

“I want to create awareness and bring meetings and groups to Grove City,” said Bower. “We have 13 hotels and several meeting venues. We generally look for groups of up to 100. Smaller is better. But we can do larger groups.”

Tom Lester, tourism and convention manager at the Elko (Nevada) Convention and Visitors Authority, had a similar goal: to lure new visitors.

“I want to get the word out about Elko. Many people don’t realize where it is [northeast Nevada, 430 miles from Las Vegas]. We have a 50,000-square-foot convention center and are adding another 30,000 square feet. We have five new hotels coming in,” said Lester.

An example of one of the many appointments taking place was between Janelle Smith of the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group and Mo Regnier of Gati Event Management.

“My goal is to foster relationships with potential customers of our 1,300 hotels globally,” said Smith. “I want them to reach out to me for sourcing needs, like meetings. I can tell them which of my hotels is a good fit.”

Smith explained to Regnier the range of her hotel group. Regnier told her where he often books group and corporate meetings. The two exchanged contact information and promised to consider doing business in the future.

Dan Williams, the senior director of convention sales at Experience Columbus in Ohio, attended SMMC because small meetings are important even to bigger markets like Columbus.

“Every meeting counts, regardless of size. They’re all important to us,” said Williams. “We’ll roll out the red carpet for every one of those meetings because you never know what they could turn into. It’s a word-of-mouth business.”

Also inspecting SMMC was a CVB executive considering hosting the conference in the future.

“I’m kind of scouting it out and talking to people I know who are here,” said Tom Caradonio, executive director of the Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Caradonio said his CVB hosted Rejuvenate Marketplace last year. That conference attracted 500 faith-based meeting planners and 1,000 hotel and industry suppliers. Caradonio knows the value of these marketplaces.

Conference sponsorships can pay off, too. CVBs use them to foster name recognition for their communities. The Emerald Coast (Florida) Convention and Visitors Bureau sponsored a delegate breakfast.

“Our mission is to keep the relationship we’ve built with SMMC from the start,” said CVB director Ed Schroeder. “We’ve sponsored a breakfast for a long time and want attendees to depend on us for that every year. After that, it’s to build individual relationships with meeting planners and other destinations.” Schroeder said the Emerald Coast has outstanding water and beach activities, fine dining and arts, and three good-size airports nearby.

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Dan Dickson

Dan has been a communicator all his professional life, first as an award-winning radio and TV news reporter for two decades and then as a communications director for several non-profits for another decade. He has contributed to The Group Travel Leader Inc. publications since 2007.