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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

South Bend Scores with 
Small Market Meetings Conference

Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame. Wake up the echoes cheering her name.”

The 300 meeting planners and travel industry delegates to the 2017 Small Market Meetings Conference in South Bend, Indiana, might have left town humming those lyrics to the University of Notre Dame fight song. The city and the university expertly hosted the delegates over three days in late September.

“It was our time to showcase what we have in our city, like the Century Center convention facility and downtown hotels,” said Lindsay Ference of Visit South Bend Mishawaka. “Most people have heard of the University of Notre Dame. The event we staged at the football stadium we think was a one-of-kind experience for everyone.”

To open the conference, Small Market Meetings magazine publisher Mac Lacy revealed emerging trends in the meetings and travel industries. “Reservation lead times for your conferences or meetings are shrinking. Everybody is busy and waits longer,” said Lacy. “Hotels are having a strong run, and room rates reflect that. So negotiate hard with the hotels. And remember, today’s meetings must be experiences for the delegates. They’re coming for experiences that are unique to that particular city.”

Planners Search for Sites

In two busy marketplace sessions, meeting planners and travel industry representatives held thousands of appointments. These quick get-to-know-you encounters form the foundation for future business.

One planner’s scheduled event recently took on a sense of urgency. “We’re in damage control,” said Rodney Young of Young Hearts Event Planners in Union City, Georgia. “We had a 25-couple marriage retreat scheduled for Puerto Rico for 2018. Now we must relocate. I came here specifically to find another destination.”

All the meeting planners had specific agendas. “We want to hold qualified softball tournaments on good playing fields,” said Sara VanHook of the International Senior Softball Association in Manassas, Virginia. “We need 28 sites each year and meeting space for our managers. We just want to have fun. It’s about new cities and partnerships.”

The American Bar Association in Chicago sent planner Adrienne Tucker to the conference. “We have 400,000 members,” she said. “We hold many meetings, and I’m responsible for 30 a year. I want to connect with smaller cities and markets and, hopefully, have meetings in them.”

Brokers like Maria Giuriato of Giuriato and Associates in Salinas, California, were busy. “I work primarily with government and state organizations, Hispanic chambers of commerce, women’s business groups and the health care industry,” said Giuriato. “I set up conferences and events all over the country and world. I just returned from an event in India.”

Chris Morse of the Travel Center in Merritt Island, Florida, had clear intentions. “I want new corporate vendors,” he said. “My clients are small to mid-size companies like in the medical field, convention bureau or Rotary Club meetings, even destination weddings. I’ll do anything to help them.”

Destinations Seek Meetings

More than 200 destinations across the country were represented at the Small Market Meetings Conference. Planners, numbering about 100, had their choice of places to hold gatherings. The marketplace was where seeds were planted for potential bookings.

Many cities sent representatives to lock in new conference and meeting dates for 2018 and beyond. One was Bob Foncannon of Visit Wichita.

“My goal is to meet as many people as I can and to tell them about Wichita [Kansas],” he said. “It’s a great destination. If they don’t come, they’re missing out on a lot of things.”

The Fredericksburg [Virginia] Regional Tourism Partnership sent Victoria Matthews to the conference.

“We are looking for meeting planners who want a smaller market, which is indeed what we are,” said Matthews. “We looked at profiles of the planners coming here and got appointments with those who seemed most appropriate for meetings in Fredericksburg.”

Other destinations tried to promote their uniqueness. Toby Reed of Hotel Elegante Conference and Event Center in Colorado Springs wanted exposure. “Elegante is a newer brand,” he said. “We want to expand knowledge of it. We have four-star elegance. It all starts with the guest rooms. Also, Colorado Springs is just an awesome place to visit for meetings.”

Catalina Express, a luxury destination in San Pedro, California, had Kristen McCauley at the marketplace. “I’m highlighting our unique meeting space on Catalina Island as a second- or third-tier destination. We’re enticing planners to our paradise so they can enjoy an afternoon or evening on the beach after a day of meetings.”

The Q Center in St. Charles, Illinois, highlighted its collection of professional services for meetings and events. “We’re unique in that we’re not open to the public for transient business or leisure travel,” said the Q’s Karen Vavra. “It is a retreatlike, corporate environment. We work with groups and focus on their meetings and training.”

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.