“Our business has always been only association business,” says John Siciliano, executive director of the Wildwoods Convention Center in Wildwoods, N.J. According to Siciliano, associations tend to gravitate to second-tier cities for their meetings because “it's a little more expensive to go to an Atlantic City or New York.” What's changed, however, since September 11 and the worsening of the economy — with the double whammy of many new convention facilities having come on line in recent months — is that first-tier cities are now aggressively pursuing the association business as well. “We're feeling the pinch of Atlantic City and larger cities now going after the association business. So we're competing to keep the business that we've always had,” says Siciliano. (Wildwoods has 8,675 square feet of meeting space and a 75,000-square-foot exhibit hall.)

Jerry Keohane, vice president/director of sales and marketing at the Oncenter Complex, Syracuse, N.Y., says that the SMERF (social, military, educational, religious, and fraternal) market “has been a continuous market for us; we look to them to fill traditional ‘valley periods,’ especially the summer months. We are actively seeking out SMERF groups — but we always have. And we still look at ASAE and the national market.” He says there has been a trend toward smaller meetings, though the number of meetings has remained constant at the Oncenter, which has a total of 225,000 square feet of meeting space in three separate facilities.

But one thing that has made the Oncenter problematic for some groups is the lack of a headquarters hotel. Says Keohane: “We don't have a hotel across from the convention center. That's what we're currently working on with county government. It looks like we are getting that hotel across the street.… I'm very excited about it.” (Keohane was unwilling to comment specifically.) He did note that the Marx Hotel & Conference Center, with 280 guest rooms, opened recently three blocks away and has been very popular with groups.)

According to Linda Addaman, director of marketing and sales at The Indiana Convention Center & RCA Dome in Indianapolis, “Our largest market segment, associations, has not been affected as much as the corporate market, so our overall numbers for attendees and exhibitors continues to meet or exceed expectations. The religious market also continues to be one of our strongest markets.” Because Indianapolis is within a day's drive of more than half of the nation's population, “it is a strong drive-in market.… Air travel has not been an issue affecting bookings,” says Addaman.