Use Universities

University towns throughout the country are teeming with talent. Contact the schools' music departments to inquire about hiring a student or instructor to perform at your fellowship gatherings and other functions.

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 for free. Entertainment venues such as aquariums, planetariums, city tours, sporting events, and theaters may have generous bulk-rate packages.

Let Attendees Entertain Themselves

It's not hard to figure out why downtowns are popular meeting destinations — there's so much to do. So let attendees have an evening or two to themselves.

Catering to Your Needs

The sidewalks may roll up early in some smaller cities, but shops, services, restaurants, and attractions are often willing to be flexible to accommodate a group.

Find Out Who's in Town

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

Go Straight to the Source

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

All Under One Roof

Some downtown convention centers encompass more than one venue. The Oncenter Complex in Syracuse, N.Y., for example, combines a convention center, a conference center, a theater, and an arena, so along with lots of meeting space, it's home to the local symphony and opera, as well as a minor league hockey team. Meeting groups that book the complex can get discounts on games or concerts.

Food and Beverage

Piggyback on Another Event

If another group is meeting at the same time and place, find out what they're eating. You may be able to negotiate an F&B discount by asking the chef to make more of what he's already preparing.

Let's Do Lunch

For a group function, consider 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.

Walk to Dinner

For your dining and entertainment pleasure, a mix of clubs and restaurants is usually within walking distance of many downtown venues.

Other Cost-Cutters

Go During the Off-Season or on Weekends

Planning a winter meeting in Milwaukee or a summer event in Miami is a good way to find great deals on hotels and meeting space.

Use Local Speakers

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

Use Fewer Buses

Instead of booking multiple mini-coaches, reserve fewer large buses to transport attendees to events around town. Or look for compact cities where the major venues are within easy walking distance.

Find Free Shuttles

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

Ask the CVB

Start with the CVB Web site: Most provide a wealth of destination information — and even some insider deals — and can get you just about anything you need: meeting planning guides; restaurant, hotel, and attraction info; and marketing assistance. The best part: It's all free!

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