A booming economy and the vitality of expanding cities; easy access; new hotels, conference sites, amenities, and entertainment facilities; plus the charm of old-fashioned Southern hospitality-these are among the factors that are bringing meetings and conventions to Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

Atlanta captured the limelight this summer with the Olympics, but Kentucky and Tennessee are also investing in their infrastructure and amenities needed to attract groups. Plus, they offer more reasonable rates than some larger, better-known cities.

There is so much to see and do in the Mid-South states. Tennessee, for example, is a music lover's delight-Memphis is the home of the blues and the birthplace of rock 'n' roll, while Nashville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg, are meccas for country music fans. Nashville's downtown has experienced a true renaissance, where The District is now home to a Planet Hollywood, a Hard Rock Cafe, and the Wildhorse Saloon, a two-story music hall and nightclub owned by Opryland USA.

Also in Nashville, the Delta expansion at the Opryland Hotel Convention Center has opened. Built under a massive glass-domed roof, the hotel addition offers 988 new guest rooms. It is a 4.5-acre "interiorscape," designed to give a sense of being outdoors, rising 15 stories. It has a flowing river, more than a quarter-mile in length, complete with five 25-passenger flatboats. An 85-foot fountain can be covered and used as special function space, and the expansion is surrounded by lush foliage.

Atlanta, and much of the rest of the state, is regrouping after the Centennial Olympic Games that took place in that city and many surrounding areas in July. Centennial Park, although the site of the bomb tragedy that shook the entire games, stands as a testament to all that the city did right. The Park now serves as the centerpiece of downtown Atlanta, located between the Georgia World Congress Center and the hotel district, for all visitors to see and enjoy.

Charming Macon, GA, 90 minutes south of Atlanta, has been called the Cherry Blossom Capital of the World (yes, it has even more than Washington, DC!). It holds its annual Cherry Blossom Festival in March, but the city can be a treat year round. Groups can now enjoy a nighttime walking tour of the city's historic Intown, with its more than 30 homes and buildings, all dramatically illuminated. The nightly tour is a nice complement to a visit to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame or the Tubman African American Museum.

Kentucky is synonymous with horses and basketball, both pastimes that offer interesting venues for meeting events. All three states also offer beautiful countryside and mountain regions.

Convention and exhibition Centers Atlanta is home to the second largest convention center in the world, the Georgia World Congress Center, with 950,000 square feet of exhibit space and 70 meeting rooms. Booked at more than 83 percent capacity through the year 2000, the center is the most occupied convention facility in the world. Other major facilities include the Georgia Dome, with a seating capacity of 71,500 and 102,000 square feet of exhibit space, and the Georgia International Convention and Trade Center in College Park, with 339,000 square feet of exhibit space and 35 meeting rooms.

The Atlanta Market Center in downtown has four contiguous buildings that offer a total of 366,000 square feet. The Cobb Galleria Centre, which opened in 1994, is 15 minutes from downtown and features 280,000 square feet of space.

The Macon Centreplex, where the Coliseum underwent a recent $15 million renovation and expansion, has a total of 140,000 square feet of meeting space and is located six blocks away from the historic downtown area.

Hotel News Georgia Atlanta * The new Westin Hotel, Atlanta Airport, has completed an $8 million renovation, formally reopening on September 20 (it was formerly the Renaissance Atlanta Hotel). The entire hotel, including the lobby and exterior, restaurant, 6,500-square-foot ballroom, meeting rooms, and all 495 guest rooms, was completely redone. All rooms have been equipped for business travelers. Twenty-seven rooms are designated Westin Guest Offices and feature such amenities as in-room printers, fax machines, copiers, and office supplies.

* Two new connected properties opened in Atlanta in the first half of 1996: the 242-room Fairfield Inn, with multiuse suites and conference rooms, and the 217-room Courtyard by Marriott.

* Hyatt Regency Atlanta completed in February a $35 million expansion and renovation of its meeting and public spaces. The 1,279-room downtown property added the 30,000-square-foot Centennial Ballroom, a 40,000-square-foot exhibit hall, and 19 meeting rooms of various sizes.

Macon * The Crowne Plaza Macon has 298 guest rooms. Its Preservation Hall Ballroom can accommodate 950 persons, theater style.

Savannah * The Hyatt Regency Hotel has added 11,000 square feet of meeting space, bringing its total to 28,000.

* The DeSoto Hilton, recently acquired by MHI Hotels, is undergoing a $5 million renovation, including refurbishing of the lobby, all guest rooms, and the ballroom.

* A 144-room Hampton Inn opens downtown in December.

* In fall 1998, the Savannah Harbor Resort, a 384-room luxury hotel across from the Georgia Maritime and International Trade Center (now under construction), will open. Operated by the Greenbrier Resort Management Company, it will feature meeting space, 27 holes of championship golf, a spa, tennis courts, lap pool, fitness center, and a full-service marina.

Kentucky Lexington * This past year, the Hyatt Regency Lexington renovated its lobby, restaurants and mezzanine corridor.

* The Radisson Plaza Lexington, also part of the Triple Crown Convention Center complex, is currently undergoing a $3 million renovation of the guest rooms, lobby, restaurants, and meeting rooms.

* On October 1, the 177-room Ramada on Stanton Way will be converted to a Wyndham Garden Hotel. A $5.5 million upgrade of guest rooms, public space, and meeting rooms has already begun.

* The French Quarter Suites Hotel became the Doubletree Guest Suites/Lexington in April, and spent $1 million on upgrades.

* The four-diamond Marriott's Griffin Gate Resort has renovated its 409 guest rooms, refurbished public spaces, and reseeded its Griffin Gate Golf Club, a former stop on the PGA Senior Tour and rated by Golf Digest as one of the top 75 resort golf courses in the U.S.

Louisville * The Seelbach Hotel has recently added 32,000 square feet of new meeting space.

* The Camberly Brown Hotel has added a 2,200-square-foot ballroom and an 800-square-foot boardroom.

* In September, the Hurstbourne Hotel & Conference Center will become a Doubletree Club Hotel with the completion of a $4 million renovation, including the refurbishment of guest rooms and the adjoining 50,000-square-foot conference center.

Tennessee Chattanooga * Downtown Chattanooga saw the construction of its first new hotel in a decade when the $6 million Residence Inn by Marriott opened this summer in time for the Olympic canoe and kayak competitions, held on the city's Ocoee River. The 76-suite property, part of the Ross's Landing District, is located between two of the city's newest attractions, the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3-D Theater and the Creative Discovery Museum.

Knoxville * The 317 rooms at the Knoxville Hilton were totally renovated earlier this year, and an updated voice mail system for all guests was added.

* The Holiday Inn World's Fair has been renamed the Holiday Inn Select Downtown. Guest rooms have been updated, its restaurant renovated, and a new room for private groups opened.

* The Hyatt Regency, the largest hotel in Knoxville with 386 rooms, has renovated its front desk and 11th-floor reception area, opened a new bar, and has begun updating its suites, lobby, and meeting rooms.

Memphis * Memphis has seen a number of changes in facility affiliations: the Best Western has become the Four Point by Sheraton; the Ramada Plaza has become the Holiday Inn Select; the Comfort Hotel Airport has become the Radisson Airport; and the Wilson Inn east has become the Holiday Inn express east.

Nashville * The big news on the hotel front is the opening of the much-anticipated Delta expansion at the Opryland Hotel Convention Center, making the hotel the 21st-largest convention center in the country with 2,879 guest rooms and 600,000 square feet of exhibit and meeting space. Now able to handle meetings from 800 to 1,500 room nights, the Opryland Hotel Convention Center offers more guest rooms than many cities' downtown areas.

Getting There Georgia Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport, the second-busiest airport in the country, is approximately nine miles south of downtown Atlanta, a 20- to 30-minute ride. The $1.25 trip aboard MARTA takes only 20 minutes. Taxi fare from the airport to downtown is about $15. Atlanta is served by Delta Air Lines, American, Continental, Northwest, United, USAir, and others.

Hartsfield is 90 miles north of Macon, but Macon is also served by Lewis B. Wilson Airport, with daily connecting flights to Atlanta and Charlotte, NC aboard Atlantic Southeast Airlines.

Kentucky The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is actually located in Kentucky, and the new convention center is just ten minutes away, in Covington. The airport is the nation's fastest-growing hub and just completed a $375 million expansion. In addition, three major interstates, I-75, I-71, and I-74, converge in Northern Kentucky.

Louisville International Airport, served by 16 airlines (ten of them jet carriers), is in the midst of a $530 million expansion that will add two runways by 1998. It's seven minutes from downtown.

In Lexington, the Blue Grass Airport is home to nearly a dozen carriers and is ten minutes from downtown.

Tennessee Nashville's International Airport, while no longer a major hub for American Airlines, is still served by American and 16 other carriers, including Air Canada, Continental, Delta, Northwest, Southwest, TWA, United, and USAir. The Gray Line Downtown Airport express offers transportation to major downtown hotels for $9 one way or $15 round-trip. The Opryland Hotel's shuttle service costs $11 one way, $15 round-trip.

Knoxville's McGhee Tyson Airport is served by six carriers with more than 120 daily flights. Downtown Knoxville is about a 15-minute ride, and the airport shuttle costs $12.

Memphis International Airport is served by six major national carriers, as well as by 25 regional/commuter lines. It's less than 30 minutes away from the major hotels. A cab ride to the downtown area takes about 15 minutes and averages $15. Once in the city, there's a downtown trolley system connecting the convention center, hotels, and attractions. When expanded by late next year, it will include a ride along the riverfront.

Venue Menu Georgia In metro Atlanta, you can hold an event at the Vines Botanical Gardens, with 25 acres of developed gardens and the elegant 18,000-square-foot Manor House.

In nearby Cobb County, groups can participate in country line dancing at Miss Kitty's or be part of a picnic for 7,000 at Sun Valley Beach.

The amusement park Six Flags Over Georgia provides a one-of-a-kind setting where groups from 100 to 10,000 can hold parties that range from a Batman Gotham City Gala to a Looney Luau.

Although there is no real Tara (Scarlet O'Hara's fabled home in Gone With the Wind), your group can enjoy a distinctive event at an old-time stately mansion. Among them are two located in Jonesboro in Clayton County: Ashley Oaks Mansion was constructed in 1880 with more than one million handmade bricks and today is filled with antiques from around the world. Stately Oaks Plantation, with its main house, schoolhouse, country store, and log kitchen, dates back to 1839.

In Macon, how about a group dinner on the stage of the Grand Opera House, where Bob Hope, Count Basie, and Joan Fontaine performed? Or an event can be arranged in the historic Hay House. The 24 elegant rooms of this 1860 mansion-an Italian Renaissance Revival structure listed as a National Historic Landmark-are available for special events, receptions, and banquets, where hosts dress in antebellum costumes.

Kentucky The Belle of Louisville, the oldest operating Mississippi-style sternwheeler in existence, plies the waters of Louisville, which is also the home of the Kentucky Derby Museum and Churchill Downs, where the world-famous Kentucky Derby takes place each May. Convention attendees can visit these sites on their own, but both facilities are also available for special events.

Lexington is in the heart of horse country, and many of the world's most famous private farms are located in the rolling countryside surrounding the city and have group facilities available for upscale special events. Keeneland Race Course, ten minutes from downtown, has an exclusive clubhouse for off-site functions.

In Covington, the convention center is located across the street from Covington Landing, which claims to be the world's largest floating entertainment complex, with restaurant facilities, riverboat rides, and group venues available.

Tennessee A favorite destination for corporate groups is the Wildhorse Saloon in downtown Nashville, a must-visit dance hall on newly revitalized Second Avenue, part of The District, 16 square blocks of new restaurants, music houses, clubs, and shops. Renovations to Ryman Auditorium, the "Mother Church of Country Music," have been completed. It has become a popular venue for groups who need to rent a large theater in the downtown area. The Wildhorse and Ryman are both owned by Opryland USA. Groups staying at the Opryland can take a water taxi from the hotel for the 35-minute trip downtown and be dropped off right at the back of the Wildhorse.

In Knoxville, favorite spots for after-hours functions include the Star of Knoxville Riverboat, the Knoxville Zoo, the Museum of Appalachia, and the Knoxville Museum of Art.

Memphis's Beale Street is known as the "Home of the Blues," but lovers of all kinds of music will enjoy a visit here. The National Civil Rights Museum, another popular area attraction, is available to groups for off-site events.

Located a few miles north of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge is home to Dollywood, the musical theme park created by country music star Dolly Parton. It features 40 music shows daily, as well as crafts, rides, and attractions, plus the $6 million Music Mansion, a lavish concert hall with 2,000 seats. A number of venues within the park can be rented for off-site functions, as can several other sites throughout the town.

Tax and Money Matters Georgia The sales tax in both Fulton (of which Atlanta is a part) and Macon-Bibb counties is six percent; hotel tax is seven percent in Fulton County, six percent in Macon-Bibb County.

Kentucky The Kentucky state sales tax is 6.3 percent. The additional room tax in Lexington is five percent; in Louisville, six percent. Total sales/room tax in Covington is 10.24 percent.

Tennessee The combined sales/room tax rate in Knoxville and Memphis is 13.25 percent; 12.25 percent in Nashville; 12.25 percent in Chattanooga; and 13.5 percent in Kingsport.

For a complete guide to convention bureaus, centers, and hotels, visit Association Meetings' World Wide Web site at http://www.meetingsnet.com

Georgia Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau Bette Sammons, convention services (404) 521-6619; Fax (404) 584-6331 http://www.atlanta.com

Cobb County Convention & Visitors Bureau Marti Grant, vice president, marketing (770) 933-7228; Fax (770) 933-7220

DeKalb Convention & Visitors Bureau David Gleim, vice president, sales and marketing (800) 999-6055; Fax (404) 378-0941

Macon-Bibb Convention & Visitors Bureau Meg Lipper, convention marketing representative (800) 768-3401; Fax (912) 754-2022 http://www.travelfile.com/get?maconga

Savannah Area Convention & Visitors Bureau John e. Jackson, Jr., director, sales and marketing (912) 944-0456; Fax (912) 944-0468

Kentucky Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau Joe Fields, senior convention sales mgr. (800) 848-1224; Fax (606) 254-4555

Louisville and Jefferson County Convention & Visitors Bureau Mark Barnes, dir. of convention sales (502) 584-2121; Fax (502) 584-6697 http://www.louisville-visitors.com

Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau Barbara Dozier,vice president, marketing (800) 447-8489; Fax (606) 261-5135

Tennessee Chattanooga Area Convention And Visitors Bureau Jennie Miller, director of conventions (423) 756-8687; Fax (423) 265-1630 http://www.chattanooga.net/cvb

Knoxville Convention And Visitors Bureau Bill Housley, director of sales (800) 727-8045; Fax (423) 673-4400

Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau John Oros, senior vice president (901) 543-5300; Fax (901) 543-5350

Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau Joan Norton, sr. convention sales mgr. (615) 259-4730; Fax (615) 244-6278 http://nashville.musiccityusa.com/tour

Pigeon Forge Dept. of Tourism Maggie Caudill, senior group sales mgr. (423) 453-8574; (800) 285-7557 Fax: (423) 429-0474 http://www.pigeon-forge.tn.us

Meeting Planners Comment The emergency Nurses Association met at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville last September, attracting a bigger crowd and more vendors than usual. Some 4,600 people attended the meeting, and there were 390 companies at the trade show, according to Kathleen A. Rossell, CMP, director of marketing services for the association.

Rossell says the association wanted the convention east of the Mississippi and has a strong base of membership in the area. But other factors also led to the decision to hold the event at Opryland. "They had enough sleeping rooms and breakout rooms, enough room in the exhibit hall, and there were attractions on site," she explains. "It was a good price, and the staff was service-oriented. For example, they coordinated the transportation for our hospital site visits."

Although some attendees felt a bit isolated, most of them liked the fact everything was in one place. Those who wanted to go downtown enjoyed using the river taxis.

The association held a benefit for its foundation at the Grand Ole Opry and then bought out the General Jackson riverboat for its president's party.

About 400 members of the Golf Collectors Society met for their annual meeting in Louisville, KY in October 1995. The society chose the city and the facility, the Hurst Bourne Hotel and Conference Center, because that's where the group held its first annual meeting 25 years ago. But according to society administrator Karen Kuhl, it was an excellent choice for other reasons as well. "We enjoyed the Southern hospitality, plus the prices were very reasonable," she says. "The cost of the hotel and food was much less that we had anticipated.

"The facility was up-to-date, and Louisville was easy to get around in. It was a very positive experience," Kuhl says. Spouse events included a visit to the Kentucky Derby Museum, a tour of historic neighborhoods, a stop at the Kentucky Arts and Crafts Guild, and a riverboat tour that included lunch.