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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Cities Line Up to Host SMM Conference

Planning ahead is always a good idea, especially in the busy world of meetings and conventions. The Small Market Meetings Conference (SMMC) is booked years in advance so both travel planners and industry vendors can keep those future dates and sites on their radars.

The next SMM Conference will be held in Huntsville, Alabama, October 2-4. After that, South Bend, Indiana, will host the meeting in 2017; Ontario, California, takes a turn in 2018, and Green Bay, Wisconsin, has agreed to present it in 2019. Conference planners will notify past attendees and other planners and vendors about each conference well before their scheduled dates.

The conferences are organized by The Group Travel Family, located in Salem, Ohio, and are presented by Small Market Meetings magazine, which covers the conferences extensively.

Getting back to Huntsville, this year’s host city is located in north-central Alabama, just below the Tennessee state line, and is the county seat of Madison County.

“It’s easy to get to and get around in,” said Bob Rogers, vice president of convention sales for the Huntsville-Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’re a perfect-size market for smaller meetings because you don’t get lost in the shuffle of a huge city. We focus on smaller groups and give them the personal attention and Southern hospitality they’re looking for.”


Rockets, Missiles and Space

Nicknamed Rocket City, Huntsville has deep ties to NASA’s space program and the U.S. military’s rocket program. Huntsville is home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command at the Redstone Arsenal. SMMC attendees can expect a close-up look into these exciting programs.

“Commercially, we have pretty much everything to do with missiles, either through the military or NASA,” said Rogers. “It’s all developed here from a propulsion standpoint. We’re also designing and developing the rocket for the new Mars mission.”

Huntsville’s rockets are an easy sell for planners hunting for an unusual meeting site. The city’s U.S. Space and Rocket Center is the No. 1 attraction in Alabama. The on-site Davidson Center for Space Exploration, where many groups hold meetings or events, has an authentic Saturn V moon rocket, a National Historic Landmark, poking through its roof. Guests enjoy the thrill of socializing or dining directly beneath it. The hall also has many historic exhibits and artifacts to view.

Conference Rundown

The SMMC will be held in Huntsville’s Von Braun Center, the city’s largest meeting venue. Attached to it is the official conference hotel, the 295-room Embassy Suites. Also close by is the 290-room Marriott Huntsville. Two more hotels adjacent to the center will come online in the next year.

The three-day format of the conference is familiar to past attendees and easy to follow for newcomers. Registration begins Sunday afternoon, October 7. That evening, an interesting keynote address will precede dinner and entertainment, both presented by the Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau. This is a great time for delegates to meet new people and get comfortable with one another.

On Monday morning, breakfast is another networking opportunity before the first seminar. That’s followed by the main event, Marketplace I, where meeting planners conduct their prescheduled six-minute meetings with industry representatives. It’s a chance to meet and exchange contact information that will, it is hoped, lead to future business for both parties. After lunch, various fun afternoon activities around Huntsville are planned. That evening, more dining and entertainment will be offered.

Tuesday morning presents another breakfast/networking opportunity just ahead of the second industry seminar. Then it’s back to work in the hall with Marketplace II. With all work concluded, there will be the closing luncheon and a fun presentation from the 2017 host conference city: South Bend. Finally, delegates are urged to remain through lunch for the Diamond Drop, during which one lucky delegate will win a genuine diamond gemstone.

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.