Some cities are weathering the recession by promoting their accessibility by car.
Indianapolis is nicknamed the Crossroads of America because of its central location, proximity to several interstate highways, and accessibility by car. With corporate travel budgets slashed, Indianapolis' image has worked in its favor, says Don Welsh, president and chief executive officer of the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association.
“These are challenging times, but one advantage we have right now is we are a very drivable market,” says Welsh, adding that Indianapolis is within a day's drive of about 50 percent of the U.S. population. While most cities are facing hotel occupancy declines in the double digits, convention attendance rates, on average, are off by just 5 percent to 8 percent in Indianapolis this year, partly due to the city's accessibility by car.
“We have a disproportionate percent of our attendees driving to conventions,” Welsh explains. “In this economy, it's great.” Of course, with the recent $1.2 billion expansion of the Indianapolis International Airport, city officials hope to see a higher percentage of attendees arriving by air in the near future. But for now — with nearly 10 percent fewer people traveling by air in May 2009 compared to the previous May, according to the Air Transport Association of America — Indianapolis is fortunate to be a drive-in market.
Likewise, Hartford, Conn., promotes itself as a drivable destination, says Scott Phelps, president, Greater Hartford Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It's always been our top talking point,” says Phelps, adding that there are 23 million people within a two-hour drive of Hartford. “Now people are listening more than they were in the past.”
Cincinnati is another hot spot for drive-in meetings. This year alone, nearly 10 conventions with more than 1,000 attendees had drive-in rates of more than 50 percent, says Ross Czarnik,coordinator, Cincinnati CVB.
Regional Events Growing
Realizing the greater economic and time constraints on attendees these days, some organizations are looking to make meetings more accessible and affordable by offering regional events, says Tim Brown, partner at Meeting Sites Resource, Irvine, Calif. “The regional concept is viable because a lot of companies that have a national meeting might chop it up into four, six, or eight regional meetings where you get the majority of attendees to drive,” says Brown. “Even with hotel rooms involved, there are economies of scale [with regional meetings].” And they are often held in second- and third-tier cities, where companies can take advantage of lower room rates.