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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Huntsville Ready to Welcome 
Small Market Meetings Conference

Huntsville, Alabama, is a gem for professional planners looking for a city to host their company or organization’s next meeting, conference or special event. Located in northern Alabama near the Tennessee line, Huntsville has emerged as both a technology and a research hub and as a fun city that offers a lot to do.

To discover the benefits of meeting in Huntsville, planners simply need to start asking questions. If they do, the staff at the Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau will do an impressive job of selling them on this surprising Southern city.

About 100 meeting planners and 175 travel industry representatives will find out why Huntsville is a smart choice when they gather at the downtown Von Braun Center, October 2-4, for the annual Small Market Meetings Conference.

“Small Market Meetings will use the South Hall ballroom for most of its activities,” said Marie Arighi, director of sales and marketing at the Von Braun Center. “It is at the end of the skywalk that connects it to the official conference hotel, which is the Embassy Suites by Hilton.”

Huntsville bills itself as Rocket City because of its close association with the U.S. Space program, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command at the Redstone Arsenal. In the 1950s and 1960s, famed German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun and his team developed the Redstone, Jupiter and Pershing rockets here, which played a key role in getting Americans to the moon.

Special Dinners

The dinners on the opening night of the Small Market Meetings Conference and the night after are always fun, interesting and wonderful opportunities for attendees to network with fellow professionals. The opening night event for this year’s conference will be staged at the spectacular U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Imagine dining in a space museum dominated by a massive Saturn V rocket, the kind that propelled U.S. astronauts toward the moon. Talk about acknowledging the elephant in the room. The rocket, by the way, is a National Historic Landmark.

“The Saturn V Hall can handle 1,000 people for receptions, 800 for buffets, and we have a traveling exhibit area that is good for cocktail receptions,” said Claudia Jones, director of special events at the Space and Rocket Center.

In addition to the music and delicious food they will get to enjoy, attendees will also be able to walk around the center and check out the spectacular historic exhibits that detail the U.S. space program from its earliest days right up to America’s involvement in the International Space Station. There’s also a glimpse into the future, when the United States launches a manned mission to Mars sometime in the 2030s.

The second night of the conference takes attendees to an unusual open-air dining and entertainment complex known as A.M. Booth’s Lumberyard.

“Our history goes back to the 1800s, when this site was a lumberyard that supplied many building materials for the first settlers in Huntsville,” said Jessica Bolling, the event manager at the Lumberyard.

Today, the Lumberyard is a prime destination for visitors and has a cool restaurant, five bars and multiple stages for live music. There are patios and verandas and other spaces for groups to use. There is always something going on at the ever-changing Lumberyard, such as organized games and a wide array of activities including arts classes and festivals.

Bob Rogers, the CVB’s vice president of conventions, is no TV meteorologist, but he promises some pleasant evenings when conference attendees come to Huntsville. “The weather should be wonderful when they are all here because it is just the beginning of the fall season,” he said.

FAMs for Fun

A handful of FAM tours are always booked when a group comes to the Small Market Meetings Conference, and the Huntsville gathering will be no different.

“We just had a FAM tour in town last week, and after it, the people said, ‘I had no idea how much there is to do,’” said Rogers. So far, more than a dozen people have arranged to go on tours in Huntsville either before or after the conference.

“There are four things that people seem to be most interested in,” said Rogers. “One is space, which is why we are called the Rocket City. We’ll have some behind-the-scenes looks inside the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. For those people who love history and old architecture, we’ll offer a look at our historic district.”

That will include the largest group of antebellum houses in Alabama. Two neighborhoods will be featured — the Twickenham Historic District and the Old Town Historic District — both located a few blocks from downtown Huntsville.

Another tour stop will be at the city’s restored Constitution Village, which is where the Alabama Constitution was signed and where Alabama essentially became a state. Huntsville was the site of Alabama’s first general assembly. Today, Montgomery claims the title of state capital.

A third FAM tour option for delegates will be a visit to the fascinating Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment. This was an abandoned industrial site, an old cotton mill, until recent years. A clever investor had a vision and helped convert the space into an artist enclave and an entertainment center for the community.

The facility now houses 130 studios with 200 working artists in them. There are six fine-art galleries to visit, a multipurpose theater and other performance venues. One of them is the factory’s old loading dock, now a bandstand overlooking an open area where audiences can gather to listen to live music. Concert on the Dock is a popular musical series, as is the annual Cigar Box Guitar Festival.

Art fans among the conference attendees will also enjoy strolling through the 13 galleries and the collection of 2,500 pieces at the Huntsville Museum of Art, located in Big Spring International Park.

The last FAM tour option will be Campus 805. The site is a former city high school and middle school. Now, it is a fast-emerging restaurant, entertainment and retail district par excellence. Developers worked hard to preserve the legacy of the old school campus, and signs of it show up everywhere. In addition to the two craft breweries, the bandstand is a busy place with music and other performances that entertain crowds by the thousands.

Pep Talks

A highlight of the annual Small Market Meetings Conference is the presentation of industry speakers whose messages are insightful and helpful.

The keynote address on Sunday evening will be delivered via Skype by Jonah Berger, an expert on how some people, products, phrases and behaviors catch on and why others don’t. Berger is a college professor in marketing and a lecturer and a best-selling author on the above subject.

“This fall, I’ll be talking about the power of word-of-mouth to grow our businesses and organizations,” he said in a recent interview. Berger believes that word-of-mouth ideas, often shared through social media, can be 10 times more effective than traditional advertising methods. He will explain why and offer tips to conference attendees who are wondering how best to get their messages across.

We all know how quickly something can go viral in this internet age, “but it’s really about understanding the psychology of sharing,” Berger said.

Jonathan Howe is a Chicago attorney who is an expert on the travel, hospitality and meetings industries. He will be making a return visit to the conference to discuss a wide range of issues. They will include the constant changes taking place in those industries and how planners must stay current on developments to help their companies and organizations adapt.

Howe will also talk about “lift” and how planners must ensure that their meeting attendees have smooth travels into and out of cities. He’ll address the motivation it takes to convince a potential delegate to attend a meeting in a certain market rather than simply stay home. Some cities need to better sell themselves as meeting destinations, he believes.

Cybersecurity seems to be on everyone’s mind. But if it isn’t, it should be, says Howe. With so many planners handling online reservations and payments, he encourages meeting planners to examine how safe and secure their internet connections and payment systems are.

Also on the roster of speakers for the Small Market Meetings Conference is another familiar face: James Spellos, founder of Meetings U, a tech training center. He plans to bring an overview of new technologies that attendees can use in their work.

Spellos said many people are intimidated or confused by rapidly changing technology, so he will demystify some of it with hands-on components for everyone to try. “The tech conversation we will have will have a wow factor, a fun approach,” he said. Spellos will emphasize that no one knows it all and that learners don’t have to master a new technology the first time they use it.

For more information on the upcoming conference go to