As a growing number of corporations opt for regional meetings over large national conferences, second- and third-tier destinations are reaping the benefits of the shift.

“Some companies that used to do a couple of national meetings might be breaking into three or four regional meetings, and these locations obviously benefit from that,” says Tim Brown, president, Meeting Sites Resource, Newport Beach, Calif.

The trend, which began after September 11, 2001, has taken off this year, according to Michael Schron, manager of new business development at Robert P. Schron Associates Ltd., New York, a meeting and incentive services company. Because many employees were uneasy about flying, some companies moved events to destinations within driving distance of attendees. “That trend has stuck, to some degree, because companies also found it cost-effective in the sense that it eliminates airfare from the equation.”

As a result, places that were never before on planners' radar screens are popping up with new convention centers and hotels. “They're hungry. They're building facilities and infrastructure, and they're becoming players,” says Brown. Take the new Gaylord Texan, located about half an hour outside Dallas. The 1,500-room hotel, with 450,000 square feet of meeting space, has made a splash, attracting 120 groups in advance of its April opening. According to Brown, large facilities such as the Gaylord properties are changing the meeting landscape. “They don't have to be in the heart of the action because they're creating a destination resort that has just about everything under their umbrella.”

In the Northeast, areas such as Southeastern Connecticut and the Adirondack region of New York have seen huge growth in regional meetings. And in the West, the resort town of Park City, Utah, experienced a marked increase in corporate meetings — some 70 percent of which was regional business, compared to 60 percent last year, according to Courtney Stern, meeting and convention sales and marketing manager for the Park City Convention & Visitors Bureau.

While the regional meetings trend has taken hold, Kapila Anand, national industry director, hospitality practice, at KPMG LLP, Chicago, is not sold on its staying power. “I think it was anticipated that this would be a cost savings,” she says. However, she's not sure that regional meetings are much cheaper, considering that amenities and entertainment need to be acquired for several meetings as opposed to one larger event.

“I think it's something that is being tried out this year,” says Anand. “Time will tell whether it's really going to be the wave of the future.”