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Meet me in Mesa

When it comes to networking and learning new industry trends, attendees of the annual Small Market Meetings Conference (SMMC) are thinking small. That’s because they know the value in the hundreds of potential small to midsize markets out there that are experienced and eager to host meetings of all kinds.

The 2014 SMMC, the fifth annual gathering, is scheduled for September 28-30 in Mesa, Arizona. The two-and-a-half-day conference will be held at the Mesa Convention Center in the heart of downtown. The three designated guest hotels are the Marriott Phoenix Mesa, the Hyatt Place and the Hilton Phoenix East/Mesa.

Mesa is in south central Arizona and lies in what is called the East Valley, about 20 miles east of Phoenix. It is part of the sprawling Phoenix metropolitan area.

The conference will be another opportunity for meeting industry representatives to interact with peers who share many of the same business meeting goals. The conference, organized by The Group Travel Family and one of five annual industry shows it manages, is presented by Small Market Meetings magazine.

The highlight of the conference is what the industry calls a reverse trade show, where CVBs, hoteliers and suppliers from around the country fulfill their computer-generated appointments with more than 100 meeting planners, who sit in designated booths. The two sides discuss potential business and exchange contact information for about six minutes before a chime indicates their time is up. The suppliers rise and move on to their next appointments. Call it the speed dating of the meetings world.


Well-received Format

“It’s a popular format that has been well received,” said Michelle Heubner, national sales manager for Visit Mesa, who is helping to plan the conference. “You have meeting planners who work for associations and corporations or who are third-party meeting planners who coordinate site selection and help with logistics. Hotels and other suppliers and anyone who wants to get in front of these meeting planners will be attending as well.”

In their brief encounter, the two sides get to share information and learn a little about each other. As industry representatives know, it is relationship building that helps foster trust and confidence in business. The two sides will return home and hopefully their initial contact will ultimately lead to a meeting being booked or logistical plan being formulated.

The conference schedule proceeds as follows: Attendees may register beginning at noon on Sunday. Later on Sunday afternoon, the first of the conference’s three seminars takes place. That evening is the opening reception, the dinner and entertainment hosted by Visit Mesa, the local convention and visitors bureau. That event is always popular with travel industry attendees.

On Monday, colleagues get together for breakfast and interaction before the day’s activities. The second seminar of the conference begins soon after, as does Marketplace Kickoff, an upbeat program presented by a CVB that sets the tone for the upcoming appointments. Marketplace I then begins its two-and-a-half-hour session. Lunchtime features entertainment and a presentation from a new meeting destination.


Elevator Pitch Kickoff

The Monday afternoon session begins with the Elevator Pitch, fun, fast-paced, 60-second sales pitches presented by seven or eight CVBs hoping to make a great impression on meeting planners and suppliers. Midafternoon includes a sightseeing tour of Mesa where delegates can learn more about the host city, its meeting facilities and entertainment options. That evening, a dine-around introduces delegates to the wide range of eateries and fun venues available in the city.

Tuesday morning starts off with another breakfast for attendees. A third seminar on an interesting topic takes place, followed by Marketplace II, where delegates finish their one-on-one appointments.

The closing luncheon features entertainment and a presentation from the 2015 SMMC host city, Little Rock, Arkansas, which entices everyone to attend next year’s conference. A good reason to stay through the luncheon is the popular Diamond Drop giveaway. Every attendee receives a cubic zirconia, but one lucky attendee’s name is drawn, and that person will be presented with a diamond gemstone.

Mesa is excited to host the 2014 SMMC. The community is a perfect example of a small to midsize city looking to host meetings of every variety.


Demographically Suited

“Mesa is well set demographically for this conference group because the planners like to go to smaller destinations to get unique experiences that they would not necessarily get in a larger city,” said Heubner. “These representatives of smaller destinations will get right in front of meeting planners, who can actually book meetings and bring business to their cities.”

The 2013 SMMC was held in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Teri Schmidt, executive director of the Sioux Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau, knows that her CVB counterparts in Mesa are in for a treat in September.

“It [was] an opportunity for us to have a hundred meeting planners in our community for a few days. How often do you get that chance, especially in such a well-organized, professional process?” said Schmidt.

Mesa is pleased to be able to show off its unique city in the area known as the Valley of the Sun. Mesa is Arizona’s third-largest city, after Phoenix and Tucson, and ranks 38th nationally in size with a population of 440,000. Mesa offers plenty of educational, cultural and natural attractions. For variety, the area boasts museums, casinos, Old West towns and nearby major league sports. The gorgeous scenery, including parks, mountains, canyons and lakes, will inspire visitors.

Along with Mesa, a midsize city, visitors can also enjoy the advantages of one of the fastest-growing major cities in the country: Phoenix. “You get the best of all worlds,” said Heubner.

Meeting planner hotel registrations may be made through the SMMC office. Hotel room and tax are included in the registration fee. For more information, contact Teresa Burton at 800-628-0993 or Travel industry hotel reservations may be made directly with any of the three host hotels. Blocks of rooms have been made available to delegates.

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