10 Considerations to Make the Right Choice
Choosing a small boutique city has traditionally offered groups an intimate, specialized experience for meeting and attendees, complete with personal service not often found in larger cities. Your group receives all the attention and, with smaller hotels, is often the only group in-house. Additionally, smaller cities tend to be more affordable and boost attendance by enticing attendees to a new destination.
But as attendees begin to travel again and the industry trends toward scaled-down, regional meetings (and away from larger cities), it’s even more beneficial to meet in a smaller destination. However, there are specific questions a planner should consider (and ask CBVs) to ensure a well-attended and successful event.
Here’s what to ask when selecting a boutique destination for your smaller scale program:
1. Is the Destination Easily Accessible?
Today, “drivable accessibility” is more essential than ever for many attendees, combined with convenient air and rail access for those participants that feel comfortable with public transportation. A city such as Alexandria not only boasts easy access for drivers via major interstate highways but is located minutes from Reagan National Airport, with four Metrorail stations, Amtrak and water taxi service.
2. Is the City a Draw for Attendees?
To build attendance, be sure to choose a destination that sparks your attendees’ curiosity. A new, smaller destination will often generate interest for attendees that have already been to the major top-tier cities. If you are going to meet in a small city, why not visit one with national recognition? Named a Top 3 Best Small City in the U.S. 2019 by the Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards, the #1 Best Value U.S. Travel Destination 2018 by Money magazine, and one of the South’s Best Cities 2020 by Southern Living, Alexandria has earned widespread recognition while maintaining the enticing charm of a well-kept secret.
3. Can Attendees Walk to Venues and After-Hour Activities?
Cities that offer hotels, restaurants and attractions in a safe, walkable location provide an organization with the peace of mind that attendees will be able to properly physically distance, whether as a group or on their own. In Alexandria, selected by AAA as one of the “Ten Most Walkable Cities” in the country, attendees can walk out of their hotel and stroll the King Street Mile, dotted with independent shops, restaurants and more.
4. Does the City Offer Outdoor Spaces, Activities and Attractions?
Outdoor opportunities and options are more important than ever for planners and attendees. Outdoor dining options, reception venues and after-hour activities play a key role in ensuring attendance. Choose a city with ample al fresco activities, from parks to biking to outdoor dining—bonus points for a vibrant waterfront.
5. Are the City and Hospitality Industry Unified in Prioritizing Meetings and Tourism?
When evaluating a destination, community unity and partnerships between destination marketers and municipalities, businesses, and the community are essential. Prime examples include cooperative programs such as the ALX Promise program, a joint venture with the City’s health department and Visit Alexandria, and Visit Alexandria’s ALX at Home web hub supporting local businesses, in addition to business grants from the city’s economic development organization.
6. Can the Hotels and Venues Support Today’s Technological Demands?
As hybrid and virtual meetings become more prevalent, hotels and meeting facilities must be equipped with state-of-the art streaming and audio-visual capabilities sin order to accommodate all attendees, increase attendance and provide a security backup plan for last minute cancellations. Look for a city with modern facilities equipped with a turnkey products such as Alexandria’s Mary M. Gates Learning Center. If the city has technology-based companies, ask your CVB for referrals and possible discounts. Here in Alexandria, our ALX Insider Perks program can connect you with a full-service, experienced vendor to produce and deliver your hybrid meeting at a significant discount. Or, take advantage of virtual meeting packages being offered by several hotels.
7. How are Properties Offering Above-and-Beyond Safety and Hygiene Practices?
While hotels are following updated brand and government guidelines, seek out properties that are going the extra mile to provide guests and groups with added reassurance of their safety. In addition to enhanced cleaning procedures and physical distancing, look for hotels continually reconfiguring meeting design and room layouts and food and beverage practices as we enter new phases. In a boutique city, your CVB is in constant communication with each property and can provide the best guidance as to which properties would best meet your needs and expectations.
8. What Unique Venues and Programs Can the City Offer to Enhance Your Meeting?
Boutique destinations often offer non-traditional meeting and event spaces that are unique to the destination and provide intimate, authentic and educational experiences. As with small hotels, these venues offer groups one-of-a kind experiences with an added sense of security. Reach out to your CVB to help you find a venue to achieve your meeting objectives. For example, The Leadership Collection at Alexandria™ offers leadership meeting opportunities unique to Alexandria. Where else can you have a leadership meeting on the estate of our first president?
9. What Resources Can the CVB Supply?
Consider what resources your destination can provide. CVBs of smaller destinations can assist with all aspects of meeting planning, as well as up-to-date marketing assets, from imagery to video to promotional copy, as well as personalize social media support. Take, for instance, Visit Alexandria’s fun but functional physical distancing guide, shareable across platforms offering planners a whimsical way to promote safety. Look for resources to engage virtual attendees with the destination, such as signature cocktail mixes from local restaurants that virtual attendees receive on an “off” night.
10. How Transparent and Flexible is the City?
As guidelines continue to change, it is essential to maintain ongoing communications, transparency and flexibility with your destination partners, hotel contacts and supporting vendors. Be sure to choose a location that will work with you from start to finish to create a memorable event for your delegates.
Insider Tip: Learn more about Alexandria, VA, and discover how boutique cities are rising to the occasion to address the questions above, poised to host smaller-scale meetings to remember.
Header Image Credit: Sam Kittner for Visit Alexandria