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Planners Will Gather in October at Small Market Meetings Conference

It’s called the Small Market Meetings Conference for good reason. Its annual meeting sites are purposely selected because they are located in smaller, second-tier locations around the country. But the 2020 conference will take place in an even smaller community — a highly unusual and fascinating place — the historic French Lick Resort, which encompasses parts of the southern Indiana towns of French Lick and West Baden. The conference is scheduled for October 4-6, and attendees will no doubt enjoy being pampered.

This annual gathering of meeting planners and destination providers is always a jam-packed affair, with thousands of professional marketplace meetings, numerous destination pitches, fun mealtime functions and local sightseeing.

“We hope everyone travels here safely and enjoys their stay at the resort,” said Joe Vezzoso, vice president of resort operations and sales at French Lick Resort. “The resort and its spas and a long list of activities are fully open and running. The fall is a beautiful time of the year with the changing of the colors in southern Indiana, so we should have a great event.”

History surrounds the beautiful resort compounds. For well over a century, the towns of French Lick and West Baden have drawn visitors to their mineral-rich spring waters, which are both relaxing and medicinal.

French Lick Resort consists of two historic hotels just a mile apart. The French Lick Springs Hotel opened in 1901 and today presents 443 guest rooms and suites. The West Baden Springs Hotel opened a year later, offers 243 guest rooms and suites, and is known for its stunning lobby and atrium. The resort also operates a new 71-room hotel called Valley Tower.

By the 1970s, the old hotels began to fall into disrepair. But a massive 10-year resort restoration project led by Indiana-based Cook Medical brought them back better than ever. The worldwide medical device manufacturing company based in nearby Bloomington invested a staggering $600 million in the project.

Delegates to the Small Market Meetings Conference will get to see the gorgeous renewal of French Lick Resort for themselves. Resort operators believe they won’t be disappointed.

Reasons To Attend

The main purpose of the Small Market Meetings Conference is for meeting planners from all types of industries and associations to sit down with destination providers to see if they can do business together. Having so many planners and providers at one conference makes it easy for professionals to meet and seek common ground.

The format is fast-paced and fun yet can be productive as well. Marketplace meetings are set up in advance, and each one lasts just six minutes. But that’s enough time for the two parties to exchange contact information and hear each other’s straight-to-the-point elevator pitch. If the two sides want to further discuss business opportunities, they can seek each other out during a meal function or on a sightseeing tour or enjoy a drink together in a lounge. Follow-up contacts after the conference are also important to clinching the deal.

The communities of French Lick and West Baden may be small, but the resort meeting facilities are of a quality you usually find only in much larger cities.

“The benefit of folks coming to the conference is that they will be in a self-contained hotel and conference center, which mean everything in one building,” said Charlie Presley, president of the Group Travel Family, which operates the conference. “French Lick Resort has an exhibit hall with more than 32,000 square feet of floor space. The amount of space they have in all of their ballrooms is just incredible. There are multiple options for any planner thinking of going to a small market destination like this.”

The upcoming Small Market Meetings gathering is the fifth conference the Group Travel Family has booked at French Lick Resort, and there must be a good reason. “French Lick is a top-flight resort with unbelievable restaurants that range from pizza and a bowling alley all the way up to a four-and-a-half-star dining experience,” said Presley. “They have more than a hundred things you can do just on the resort property alone. There is something for everybody. It’s multigenerational.”

Presley said the on-site audiovisual team can be helpful to meeting planners who need advice. He said they will be pleased with all the resort’s service people. “They are easy to work with, and the resort has backup people to their backup people, so you can rest assured that they’ll take care of you.”

Above All: Safety

The pandemic has necessitated dozens of safety requirements, and French Lick Resort’s Vezzoso and Presley are committed to protecting everyone who attends the conference.

“The safety, health and well-being of our members, travel industry partners and of our staff are our No. 1 concern,” Presley said. “We don’t want to put anyone in harm’s way. We are working with the city, county, state and federal governments, including the Centers for Disease Control and their guidelines. We have a safety plan that we are using right now and will incorporate into all of our future conferences as well.”

Social distancing will be required at general sessions, meetings and meals and on tours. The policy applies to anyone who goes anywhere within the confines of the conference. Staff will be monitoring entrances and exits to help people maneuver safely.

Masks will also be mandatory for all delegates and staff. Plexiglas barriers will be set on each marketplace meeting table to keep planners and providers safely apart yet able to effectively communicate. Plexiglas will also be installed at the registration desk for safe separation. A sanitation system will be in place with hand washing and sanitizer stations. Snack and mealtimes will be safely handled by resort staff.

Vezzoso hopes the meetings and hospitality industries can return to a semblance of normalcy in the not too distant future. It’s been a tough year for everyone.

“Those industries are huge economic drivers for our state, but we want to reopen in a safe manner,” he said. “There is a real buildup, a true desire of the American people to get out of their homes and do something leisurely and fun. We are taking all the precautions necessary, but we feel we also need to try and move things forward.”

Juggling Motivational Speaker

Guest speakers are always a welcome change of pace from the hard work delegates put forth in the marketplace meetings. This year’s conference presents Jeff Koziatek, who blends motivational messages, comedy and amazing feats of juggling into one memorable performance. Koziatek has been doing all this for 20 years and loves to meet new audiences.

“As Juggling Jeff, I do juggling comedy shows, about 300 a year all across the country,” said Koziatek in one of his online videos. “There’s a lot of audience interaction. A few years ago, in order to help people more, I also became a certified life coach.”

Koziatek also believes that in order to be most effective in the workplace, leaders need to remember one key thing.

“All business is built on people,” he said. “If you want to provide good customer service, if you want teams that work well together, if you want vision so that you are all going in the same direction, then it all comes down to how you value people.”

In addition to keynote speaker Koziatek, delegates will enjoy hearing from several destinations that welcome meetings. Speakers will come with lots of information and enticing videos to help planners reach their decisions.

Around Town

For many delegates, this visit to French Lick Resort will be a first. Exploring the local attractions and going to places of interest are always a highlight of the Small Market Meetings Conference. The local convention and visitors bureau, Visit French Lick West Baden, is arranging sightseeing trips on the second afternoon of the meeting. The staff are still working on specifics based on what sites are likely to be open at this time. “We are going to do our very best for everyone,” said Vezzoso.

Everything on the resort property is operating. So, too, are local history tours and visits to the French Lick West Baden Museum. Another attraction that is popular and wide open is Wilstem Wildlife Park. It is a 1,100-acre attraction that features close-up animal encounters with elephants, kangaroos, giraffes, grizzly bears and more. There is an exciting zip line to try, and ATV tours and horseback trails to entertain guests.

If the health situation improves sufficiently, meeting planners and destination providers will be able to see and do even more in the area during the fall conference.

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.