Meetings in Fort Wayne, Ind., have taken on a new look this year — a national look.
“When we looked at our convention calendar this year, we noticed how many national conventions we have booked,” said Dan O’Connell, president/CEO of Visit Fort Wayne. “Usually, we have four or five a year, but all of a sudden, we have more than 20 events coming here.”
National groups meeting in Fort Wayne this year include the National Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference (1,000); the National Missionary Church Conference (700); the National Youth Basketball Tour Championship Tournament (5,000); and the National Brewery Collectibles Club of America CANvention (2,000).
Fort Wayne will also host more than 80 state, regional and Midwest meetings and sporting events.
So, what’s going on here?
“I believe it is a number of factors,” said O’Connell. “First, we are centrally located in the heart of the Midwest, making us convenient. Groups, especially hobbyists, like our affordability. The average daily room rate is $75 a night.”
The city also has high quality of meeting space, O’Connell said.
“These are not unique qualities,” he said. “I believe what separates us from others is our Midwest hospitality.
“For example, we held a parade for the 5,000 motorcycle riders who were here for the National Gold Wing Road Riders Rally that brought in 10,000 people. For a PGA qualifying event, we put up banners all over the city and an oversized golf ball. We like to go that extra step.”
Hobby groups, in particular, are drawn to Fort Wayne, home to Vera Bradley, designer of quilted handbag and luggage and accessories, and the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center, second only to the genealogical center in Salt Lake City in terms of items in its collection.
Another factor are changes Fort Wayne made in 2008, among them expanding its convention center, adding a second attached convention hotel and moving its Parkview Field Ballpark downtown.
“This new package seems to be working well,” said O’Connell.
“Also, the sales process has changed in the last few years,” he said. “With the onset of videos, meeting planners can take a virtual tour of our quality meeting facilities and hear testimonials without having to make a site trip. That makes it easier for us to compete on a national level.”