Indianapolis is nicknamed the Crossroads of America because of its central location, proximity to interstate highways, and accessibility by car — the city is within a day's drive from about 50 percent of the U.S. population. “These are challenging times, but one advantage we have right now is that we are a very drivable market,” says Don Welsh, president and chief executive officer of the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association.
Welsh credits the city's accessibility by car for its relative success in these tough times: While most cities are facing double-digit-percent hotel occupancy declines, convention attendance rates are off by only 5 percent to 8 percent in Indianapolis this year. This is great — for now, at least. With the recent $1.2 billion expansion of the Indianapolis airport, city officials hope to see a higher percentage of attendees arriving by air in the near future.
Drivability has “always been our top talking point,” says Scott Phelps, president, Great Hartford Convention and Visitors Bureau, adding that 23 million people are within a two-hour drive of Hartford. “People are listening more than they were in the past.”
And it's paying off: The International Association of Campus Law Enforce-ment Administrators had record attendance for its 2008 annual meeting last June in Hartford largely because of the drivability factor, says Peter Berry, executive director at IACLEA. Overall, more than 60 percent of the 500-plus attendees drove to the meeting, which is higher than normal. The meeting actually had more attendees than the previous year's meeting in Las Vegas, Berry says. It helped that high concentrations of members live in the Northeast, making Hartford easily accessible to more members.
This year nearly 10 conventions of more than 1,000 attendees held in Cincinnati have had drive-in rates of more than 50 percent, says Ross Czarnik,coordinator, Cincinnati CVB.
Barbara Ellen Lucas, public relations and marketing manager with the Syracuse, N.Y.-based U.S. Institute of Theater Technology saw a 10 percent attendance increase for the institute's annual meeting in Cincinnati in March. More than 50 percent of USITT's 4,400 attendees drove to the meeting, which is a record for the association.