From the lights of Las Vegas to the hustle and bustle of New York, downtown America is as popular as ever for association meetings. Downtown meetings can be expensive, but there are ways for budget-conscious planners to save money. Here are 20 tips.

Entertainment

  1. Rockin' good deals

    Planners may be able to find savings through the local CVB via coupons or discounts on area attractions that can be passed on to attendees. In Cleveland, for example, the CVB of Greater Cleveland is offering free passes to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum to groups that book meetings in downtown Cleveland in 2004 to 2005.

  2. Use universities

    Cities such as Boston are teeming with universities and college students. Contact the music department to inquire about hiring a student or instructor to perform at cocktail parties or functions.

  3. Find local discounts

    Not-for-profit organizations such as museums, art institutes, or historical societies often offer reduced rates for groups. And in Washington, D.C., the museums on the Mall are open to the public, free of charge. Entertainment venues like aquariums, planetariums, city tours, sporting events, and theaters may have generous bulk rate packages.

  4. Let attendees entertain themselves

    It's not hard to figure out why Las Vegas and San Francisco are two of the most popular meeting destinations — there's so much to do, all within walking distance of hotels! So let attendees have an evening or two to themselves.

  5. Catering to your needs

    Sidewalks may roll up earlier in some smaller cities, but shops, services, restaurants, and attractions are often willing to be flexible to accommodate a group's specific needs.

  6. Find out who's in town

    Look for entertainers who are scheduled to perform in the city the week you arrive and see if they're available for your function. You can save money on travel costs, hotel, and meals.

  7. Go straight to the source

    Book acts and entertainers through local nightclubs, casinos, or CVBs and avoid the fees of booking through an agency.

  8. All under one roof

    Some downtown convention centers may encompass more than one venue under its roof, like the Oncenter Complex in Syracuse, N.Y. The Oncenter combines a convention center, conference center, theater, and arena, so, along with lots of meeting and exhibit space, it's also home to the local symphony, opera, and a minor league hockey team. Groups that book meetings at the complex can get discounts on games or concerts.

    Food and Beverage
  9. Eat out

    Downtown areas have an abundance of restaurants — often within walking distance of hotels — so let attendees sample the local flavor. By skipping the catered meals, the association saves money and attendees can eat on their own — and on their own budget.

  10. Pass the hors d'oeuvres

    Have waiters serve appetizers as opposed to offering them buffet-style. People tend to grab fewer samples when the food is passed around on a plate.

  11. Piggyback onto another event

    If there's another group meeting at the same time and place, find out what they're eating. You may be able to negotiate a discount on food and beverage by simply asking the chef to make more of what they're already preparing.

  12. Let's do lunch

    Lunch is always less expensive than dinner. For a group function, consider having a major presentation in the middle of the day with a plated lunch, which is usually about half the price per person of a lunch buffet. Dinner is usually twice the cost of lunch.

  13. Walk to dinner or drinks

    For your dining and entertainment pleasure, a mix of clubs and restaurants are within walking distance of many downtown venues in most cities.

    Deals, Coupons, and More
  14. Get sponsors

    Well in advance of the meeting, seek out local organizations as sponsors. There may be businesses headquartered in the city you're headed to that may benefit from an association with your group.

  15. Save on housing costs

    Check with the local CVB. Some CVBs assist planners with housing services.

  16. Go off-season or on weekends

    Planning a winter meeting in Boston or a summer event in Miami might be a good time to find great deals on hotels and meeting space.

  17. Book in bulk

    Groups that book multiple meetings with one hotel chain or at one facility will have more leverage for a better deal.

  18. Use local speakers

    They may be less expensive than big-name presenters, and you'll save on travel costs.

  19. Use fewer buses

    Instead of booking multiple mini-coaches, reserve fewer large buses to cart attendees to events around town.

  20. Find free shuttles

    In cities where the airport is not too far from downtown, many hotels offer complimentary bus service.