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SMM Conference: Splendid time in Sioux Falls

Photos by David Malhalab, MNS Photo/M News Service

A warm welcome awaited Small Market Meetings Conference (SMMC) attendees early on Oct. 7, the first full day of the Oct. 6-8 conference in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Staff from the Sheraton Sioux Falls, the host hotel, and the Sioux Falls Convention Center gathered in the long corridor that connects the convention center and hotel to greet conference goers, hand them a warm cup of coffee and give them the chance to win gift cards from the Sheraton’s Starbucks by playing a quick game of “beans,” also known as corn hole.

Cheers and laughter, not to mention the caffeine, perked up the crowd of meeting planners from 32 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas as they headed to a day of appointments, education sessions and networking.

It wasn’t the first example of Midwestern hospitality and it wouldn’t be the last in South Dakota’s largest city.

From receptions for early-arriving meeting planners on Saturday night to a closing reception at the city’s Falls Park on Monday night, Sioux Falls was the textbook example of a perfect host.

Appreciation for the city’s hospitality was reflected in a post-conference survey of delegates. Some 94 percent of meeting planners who responded to the survey rated Sioux Falls as good, very good or excellent as a meeting destination; 91 percent said they would consider it as a site for future meetings. The Sheraton and the convention center were also rated good, very good or excellent by more than 95 percent of meeting planners.

At a conference that is all about making connections, meeting planners had an average of 45 six-minute appointments with travel industry representatives over the course of two days.

Just an hour into the first session of appointments, a number of attendees had expressed satisfaction with their appointments and with the conference.

“All five of my appointments have been great,” said Wes Perry, with the Lake Lanier (Ga.) CVB. “This is the most appointments I have ever had.”

Deborah Gates, meeting planner for the South Dakota Bankers Association, was pleased with her appointments as well, saying that she felt at least half of the appointments that were labeled as “networking,” which means that they were not appointments she had requested, had potential for future business.

Reg Forder, meeting planner for American Christian Writers in Nashville, a returning delegate, said he appreciated that the SMMC offers “a lot of ways to get to know people better.”

Patricia Byrd, with the Spartanburg, S.C. CVB and a returning delegate, described the conference as “A great community for sharing knowledge.”

The conference had its share of lighthearted moments, including a series of elevator pitches given by fast-talking CVB representatives who conveyed memorable messages about their destinations.

Elissa English and Kerrie Tripp, representing Maine destinations, donned plaid shirts and moose
antlers to poke a little fun at their state in a Jeff Foxworthy style “You must be in Maine” routine; Jennifer Lynch with Visit Norfolk told of her city’s leading role in the hit movie Captain Phillips; Peoria representatives Kaci Osborne and Bobbi Robison stole the show and won a prize for their musical number. Kaci sang an original song about Peoria while Bobbi accompanied her by drumming a soft drink cup.

The conference concluded with a pitch, Saturday Night Live style, by the staff of the Mesa, Ariz., CVB for their city, site of next year’s SMMC. Their clever routine apparently piqued planners’ interest.

Almost 90 percent of attendees responding to the post-conference survey said they planned to be in Mesa for the Sept. 28-30 conference.