Meeting planners, is the bottom line hanging over your head when you search for a destination?

You might find more budget-friendly options by skipping the popular, first-tier locations and looking at midsized cities like Grand Rapids, Michigan, instead.

The Rise of Midsized Cities in the Meetings Industry,” released by Skift and IMEX earlier this year, finds that budget-conscious groups are branching out from the major convention meccas.

“Many groups are getting priced out of the larger metropolitan areas as rates for hotel rooms, meeting venues, food and beverage, and other ancillary spend increases incrementally every year,” the report reads.

“The future of the meetings and events industry is going to be driven by midsize cities and secondary markets, especially in North America and Europe.”

What’s helping that trend along? The report points to the fact that many midsize cities have been investing in their infrastructure, enabling them to compete with larger cities to meet convention needs, including airlift, hotel rooms, and attractions outside the convention centers.

The future of the meetings and events industry is going to be driven by midsize cities and secondary markets, especially in North America and Europe.

For some planners, the fact that service and negotiations are more personal and flexible is key, too.

Joyce Peterson found both when working with Experience Grand Rapids to bring the National Auctioneers Association’s 67th annual International Auctioneers Conference & Show to the city in July 2016.

“We really enjoyed the city of Grand Rapids,” Peterson said. “A couple of the main reasons: the room rates were very reasonable and the food and beverage costs were very reasonable, especially compared to first-tier cities.”

She also enjoyed that they could hold an event outside in the middle of July without wilting under the summer heat.

“Typically, to get good rates, you have to go to the more southern parts of the country in the summer,” she said. “It felt so refreshing to be able to be outside and not stuck in the four walls of the facility.”

“People were able to get out and walk downtown, walk to dinner, walk along the river. It was just a very good experience.”

We really enjoyed the city of Grand Rapids. A couple of the main reasons: the room rates were very reasonable and the food and beverage costs were very reasonable, especially compared to first-tier cities.

Steve Tolman, convention director for the Fraternal Order of Eagles (FOE), rarely looks at tier-one cities unless a deal can be made.

“I have to find a location that has a need for my group,” he said, “because it’s a very budget-conscious organization and my attendees pay out of their own pocket for the their trip.”

He also wants his group to feel special. “I don’t want them to be just another number in a city that they go to. I want to go somewhere where they’ll be appreciated.”

Tolman found that in Grand Rapids, where the FOE has held its annual Grand Convention twice, most recently in 2017. Tolman said when he first came for a site visit, he was sure it would be a wasted trip. “I never expected to return,” he said.

But after seeing the accommodations and facilities and meeting with not only people key to planning an event but also members of the Grand Rapids community who shared why it was a great place to meet, he said he was blown away.

“I was so impressed that I didn’t want to bring my site team back, I wanted to hold a board meeting there and they could show the whole board what they wanted to show them.”

Tolman noted how clean the city was, how friendly the people were, and how eager they were to have his business.

I found that the city and the hotels were anxious to work with me and to put together a package that would work for my client.

“I found that the city and the hotels were anxious to work with me and to put together a package that would work for my client,” he said. “The other thing that I really loved – I could deal with one hotel sales person for the three downtown hotels I was using. That was a great convenience.”

Tim Nelson, director of convention services for Experience Grand Rapids, said the value of that can be had in Grand Rapids is definitely a selling point for the city.

“I think clients expect a certain extra value coming into a midsize city and they expect higher pricing in the big, first-tier convention cities,” he said. “That’s fine, because for us, that’s an expectation we can meet.”

And Nelson said the value goes beyond what the hotels and convention center can offer to include the area bars and restaurants, too.

“You can go have a fantastic dinner at any number of different restaurants and your cost is very fair,” he said. “Especially with the number of restaurants we have within walking distance – you can hit almost any price point and any want that people have.”

There’s also a good chance you will be welcomed to the city by the staff, too.

“With larger groups, they actually ‘own’ the city for a while,” Nelson said. “Everybody downtown knows that they’re [in town] and restaurants will have signs welcoming the groups.”

“It helps create a higher level of service across the board,” he continued. “It’s all part of the value for the attendee.”

For for more information on fun things to do in Grand Rapids for conference attendees, amenities and attractions within walking distance of the city’s downtown, and some of the top reasons to host your meeting in Grand Rapids, visit the Meeting Minds blog page