The time is fast approaching when meeting planners from around the nation will descend on Wichita, Kansas, for the annual Small Market Meetings Conference. The local convention and visitors bureau, Visit Wichita, will host the conference, scheduled for October 2-4.
This year’s conference will be held at Century II Performing Arts and Convention Center, which boasts more than 200,000 square feet of exhibition space. All attendees will be staying, enjoying meals and doing their work at the connected Hyatt Regency Wichita, which is a 300-plus-room hotel with meeting space. Delegates can meet, eat and sleep all in one convenient venue.
“We are excited to host this group of peers and planners,” said Brandy Evans, vice president of marketing for Visit Wichita. “While we are looking forward to seeing familiar faces, it is important for Visit Wichita to host dozens of professional meeting planners in our city, as we build back our meetings segment, which is part of our post-COVID recovery.”
In their continual search for fresh places to hold meetings, conferences, retreats and conventions, the planners will have up to 50 appointments with destination providers during two marketplace sessions. Dozens of destinations will be pitching their properties and services in hopes of winning new business from the meeting planners. That is the main reason both sides have come to Wichita.
At last year’s conference, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, planners had dozens of options to choose from among the destination providers. They came with agendas and worked hard sorting out the details.
Amy Preher of the Kentucky Justice Association in Louisville loved the convenience.
“I want to make connections,” she said. “It is great we are all in one place to hear about destinations and venues to see if they are a good fit. It would take me years to see all these sites in person. Now I don’t have to.”
Wichita is the largest city in Kansas and conveniently located right in the heart of the country. Leaders feel confident they can win its share of the meeting business.
“Our experience has been when planners get to visit our city, meet our locals, visit our attractions, dine at our restaurants, and experience our meeting and hotel venues, they are more likely to host their next conference in Wichita,” Evans said.
A ‘Wild’ Welcome
The opening night’s dinner and entertainment are always a highlight of the Small Market Meetings Conference. Visit Wichita will not disappoint and will host the first evening’s activities at Tanganyika Wildlife Park, famous for its behind-the-scenes tours and up-close experiences between rare animals and humans.
“It is one of the only places in the country where you can hand-feed lemurs,” said Evans. If delegates have ever wanted to hang out with a sloth, pet a kangaroo or hold hands with an otter for a wildly different kind of experience,
Tanganyika Wildlife Park is the place to be.
Tanganyika offers more firsthand opportunities than typical wildlife parks, Evans said. “Their foremost mission is to support exotic and endangered animals and conservation. They educate the public and help fund their mission by providing people a connection to the natural and wild world.”
Visit Wichita will provide transportation to the park. Once there, attendees will interact with the animals, led by animal ambassadors. And then everyone will also be able to enjoy drinks and dinner.
Meetings and Sightseeing
The first full day of the conference promises to be a busy one. Breakfast will be sponsored by Visit Williamsburg, which also includes historic sites like Jamestown and Yorktown. The CVB will tell delegates about its potential meeting facilities.
After the first marketplace session concludes in the main ballroom, lunch will be served. It will be presented by the Greater Zion Convention and Tourism Office and Wittwer Hospitality, which will show a video and inform attendees about their beautiful corner of southern Utah and its vast meeting and tourism opportunities.
Then it will be time for local sightseeing tours, a highlight of any Small Market Meetings Conference. Visit Wichita is planning an afternoon of adventures. Delegates can look forward to exploring local breweries, tasting the delights in sweet shops, seeing some of Wichita’s beautiful architecture and more.
That evening, Visit Wichita will sponsor a progressive dinner showcasing various restaurants in the Old Town
entertainment district, located in the heart of the city. It is a busy shopping and entertainment area with more than 100 businesses and nightlife venues. It features repurposed 19th century warehouses that have been turned into modern and cool places to visit.
That evening’s event will give Wichita an opportunity to show planners what it can do for them should they decide to bring a meeting to the city. “When we conduct site visits, planners are always surprised by all that Wichita has to offer,” explained Evans. “To be able to show this many planners all at one time exactly what Wichita can provide their attendees is a priceless opportunity for us.”
The last day of the conference will feature a breakfast sponsored by another CVB located in a historic place — Valley Forge (Pennsylvania) Tourism and Convention Board. After the second and last marketplace session, lunch will be sponsored by the host city for the 2023 Small Market Meetings Conference — Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Tourism. Cedar Rapids, located in eastern Iowa, is an arts and cultural hub with theater, museums, live music, professional sports, and a growing dining and craft brewery scene.
Some notable destinations represented at the conference will buy sponsorships, which gives them added visibility. These come in several forms and often include name badges, signs, the registration desk, meal functions or educational modules.
But one of the prize sponsorships is a podium appearance, where a destination spokesperson delivers a carefully crafted message and shows a beautiful video that could entice planners to take a closer look. Of course, agreeing to be the host city for the Small Market Meetings Conference is the ultimate honor, and Wichita stepped up to do that this year.
Charlie Presley, a founder, and organizer of the conference, likes to see sponsors use their influence whenever they can.
“Sponsors step up and say they want to host these planners and to get to know them and to try to get them to come to their places,” he said. “It is good for both sides.”
Speakers often come to the conference to present the latest strategies that meeting planners can put to work to be more productive in organizing meetings. A guest speaker for Small Market Meetings Conference will be Bud Geissler, an industry professional who will offer a few new tools for meeting planners to use in their work.
Geissler will highlight different technologies that event organizers and travel providers can use to simplify multiple aspects of the meeting or travel experience.
“We will discuss using technology for reservations, payments, travel protection, building lists, offering additional purchase opportunities and communication with travelers prior to and during the travel experience,” said Geissler. “My presentation highlights multiple options and trends we are seeing in the event and travel marketplace and the ideal ways to embrace those trends.”
Planners participating in the Small Market Meetings Conference will be exposed to a handful of professional meeting services offered to groups that want to do business there.
“The Visit Wichita team is prepared to assist planners with all aspects of hosting a successful event,” said Evans. “We have a variety of complimentary services during all phases of meeting planning.”
Evans said that includes recommending and sourcing properties, hosting city site tours, providing attendance-building services like videos, custom e-blasts or brochures, and providing event collateral like registration bags, visitor guides, dining and shopping discounts, a cell phone charging station and more.
Planners who choose Wichita should be impressed by the amenities a city that size (390,000) offers. They include “the Q Line,” which provides their meeting attendees with free transportation every 15 minutes over 3.3 miles to some of the more popular entertainment districts such as Delano, Old Town, Douglas Design District and Clifton Square. These includes after-hours entertainment spots, popular restaurants and the area known as Museums on the River.
“It is opportunities like hosting meeting planners at Small Market Meetings Conference that solidify Wichita as a genuinely great city to host their next meeting,” said Evans.