Tuesday, March 12, 2013

5 Cities You Didn't Know Were Great for Meetings and Conventions

Are you looking for a different feel for your next event? We don't blame you.

We have locations in Orlando, Chicago and Las Vegas for a reason - they're America's convention capitals and world-class locations. We love 'em, but sometimes you can make your convention more attractive by picking a lesser-known, more obscure city.

When you want to make the destination part of the draw for your event, don't just think sunshine and bright lights - think culture, ease of travel, and new experiences. Your guests will thank you (Indianapolis stunned many when it earned fantastic reviews as a Super Bowl host in 2012).

We're seeing Cincinnati gain popularity, especially for music festivals and medical conferences. Why? People simply want to check out a new city, and with two relatively new downtown stadiums, the city offers great attractions (and the chili doesn't hurt!).

Here are five other great cities worth a second look:

St. Louis, Missouri

Event planning and budgeting are easy in St. Louis with average hotel pricing at about $80 per night. Domestic round-trip flights to this centrally-located city are reasonable so you can afford to splurge on other things.

Enjoy unique dining experiences and cuisine from Vietnam, Italy, Germany, Bosnia and more in a city where it’s easy, economical and enjoyable to feed your cravings. Eating sliders and fish tacos takes on a unique view when you're 400 ft. above downtown at 360 Restaurant, atop the Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark.

Fill your free hours with culture – visit the Muny, America’s oldest and largest outdoor musical theater, or see a Broadway show at the {indoor) Fabulous Fox Theatre.

Nashville, Tennessee

This capital of Tennessee and country music is alive with galleries and restaurants. Visit galleries anchored by the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, showing everything from blockbuster traveling exhibits to local student work.

You've got the Country Music Hall of Fame, in its futuristic-looking building off Broadway. Take an interactive tour through its rare memorabilia from classic and modern superstars, then take  a short walk to the Ryman Auditorium. The Grand Ole Opry’s first home still offers excellent acoustics and performances.

Hungry? Head to the former warehouse district  for high-end Southern cuisine (like stone-ground grits soufflĂ©) at the Watermark’s patio overlooking the city’s skyline.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

“The city is a less expensive, more laid back, and more manageable version of the Windy City,“ says Dave Seminara at Gadling.com.

It’s also home to what VitualTourist calls the Sexiest Building on the Planet and a major cultural center, the Museum of Modern Art at Quadracci Pavilion. The building, perhaps the most famous creation from architect Santiago Calatrave, features “wings” that dramatically open and close at the beginning and end of the day. For contrast, you might visit the Harley Davidson Museum, situated on the riverfront with views of the city skyline.

Many forget that Milwaukee is a lakefront city offering a chance take a moonlight group cruise. If it's summer time, it's Brewers time in a city gone mad for baseball beneath the retractable roof of Miller Park.

Little Rock, Arkansas

The home of Wal-Mart, the convention bureau here is on an event planning mission to make your meeting a success, offering excellent guidance and attractive rates. It's a conveniently central spot too, where attendees can avoid jet lag.

Enjoy diversions like a stroll through Riverfront Park. There you'll see artwork displayed along the path to the Clinton Presidential Center, or visit the Inland Maritime Museum, home of the USS Razorback, the world’s longest-serving sub.

On a free afternoon or evening, take in a play at The Arkansas Repertory Theatre.

Austin, Texas

If you're on Twitter or Facebook this week, you're probably sick of hearing about Austin and its famed South X Southwest Festival. But Austin isn't just a one-week-a-year destination.

The convention center is located between the shores of Lady Bird Lake and historic Sixth Street, putting you in the middle of a bevy of post-conference entertainment. The music scene is as good as any in the country, a must-stop for any musician worth her guitar strings.

A walk down Sixth Street reveals cultural venues from galleries to tattoo shops and the elegant Driskill Hotel, and you're within striking distance of some incredible hiking and biking as well.