When the recession hit in late 2008, William Pate, president and chief executive officer of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, surveyed the meetings landscape for opportunities—and found them in Washington, D.C. “We decided to focus on the areas where the government was investing or paying attention—infrastructure, alternative energy, education, and healthcare,” he says. Now, that focus is beginning to pay off for Atlanta, particularly when it comes to medical meetings.

The thinking was that industries receiving the most federal investment were likely to have more meetings and higher attendance. The healthcare sector performed relatively well in 2009, according to the CEIR Index, published by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, down just 4 percent, while the overall exhibition industry was down 12.5 percent. Only the government/nonprofit sector, which was flat, did better.

The strategy seems to be paying off. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in medical meetings,” says Pate, who was previously the chief marketing officer for two major corporations—BellSouth and MCI. Among the recent medical groups that Atlanta has booked are the Centers for Disease and Control (2011), American Society for Colonoscopy and Cervical Pathology (2011), American Music Therapy Association (2011), Medtrade (2012), Obesity Society (2013), and the Southern Council of Optometrists (2013). In March, Atlanta hosted three mega shows—the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society, American College of Cardiology, and the Thomas P. Hinman Dental Meeting.

Also, medical meetings leads are up 46 percent over the last 12 months, so Pate hopes that will bring even more business in the coming months.

To win medical meetings, the Atlanta CVB has added more sales staff and focused more resources on the healthcare industry and other targeted markets. “We’ve identified more meetings and meeting planners that we haven’t spent time with in the last several years and put them on our target list to go out and talk to,” says Pate, who has sales staff in Washington, D.C., and Chicago. With the fourth largest convention center in the country, Atlanta is able to go after medical meetings of any size, adds Pate.

Atlanta has also gained from the climate surrounding medical meetings. “Resort” destinations have been targeted by government and industry regulators as inappropriate for some industry meetings. “This is a city that has a reputation for being a business city,” Pate says. “There is no doubt that we have benefited over the last couple of years from the climate that has been created.”