Can a Meeting Pro Get a Break Around Here?

How do you define “value”? Is it a new room under $100? Or a $100 dinner that’s worth every penny in terms of the experience. Either way, DMOs are going out of their way to show you where and how to find the highest ROI/ROO for your next event.

If you haven’t been to Seattle in a while, be prepared for a shock—reverse sticker shock, that is.

“We’ve had a 25% growth in hotel rooms over the past five years, which has added an insurance factor,” says Tom Norwalk, President/CEO of Seattle CVB. “A lot of our hotels have been aggressive with each other year over year. We have felt the economic pain just like everyone else, and this has resulted in planners finding tremendous values regardless of the time of year.”

Outside its hotels, Seattle offers a bevy of alluring attractions at attractive prices. “We are not a cookie cutter kind of city that has a lot of national chain venues and attractions,” says Norwalk. “Some of our top attractions are relatively inexpensive and sometimes even free.” Case and point: Pike Place Market.

“The market just celebrated its 100-year anniversary and it’s one of the country’s most unique open air markets. It’s a free experience and we often set up group events there.”

Drive one mile north and you’ll find yourself another great attraction for just $15 a head: the Experience Music Project.

“The Experience Music Project is uniquely Seattle,” Norwalk says. “It offers all hands-on exhibits, and groups absolutely love it. Many of them book private events there and the venue can accommodate up to 3,000 guests.”

The Seattle Art Museum, or SAM, is another one of the city’s prized cultural centers, which opened in 2007.

“SAM is a well-kept secret. It is a phenomenal venue and a hot place for small meetings,” says Norwalk. Adding to the value, a healthy dose of new venues include the expansion of the Washington State Convention & Trade Center. “In July, we opened a new conference center across the street from the convention center,” says Norwalk. “The new center has 71,000 sf of group space and can be used as a stand-alone facility or a group add-on to a convention center meeting.”

While Indianapolis has always been considered an affordable destination with good access for groups, the city’s exponential growth in meetings infrastructure is now making it affordable for significantly bigger groups. Don Welsh, President/CEO of Visit Indy, arrived on the scene in 2008 to lead the surge.

“I was blown away,” says Welsh, about his first impressions in town. “Indianapolis was right at the beginning of a $3 billion investment, which included a new airport, Lucas Oil Stadium and plans for a convention center expansion.”

This year, everything is coming to fruition.

“We’re getting ready for the Super Bowl in 2012, we’ve opened a new airport, the Colts are in their third season at Lucas Oil Stadium, and the Indianapolis Convention Center expansion opens in January. The idea that we are a small Midwest town just couldn’t be further from the truth.”

According to Welsh, the expansion will give the city a significant boost in meetings city rankings. “With our convention center pre-expansion, we were the 32nd largest convention destination in the country,” he says. “Now, doubling the size of the space with the expansion, it moves us to the 16th largest destination in the country.”

As a followup in February, Indianapolis will debut five Marriott Hotels properties, all connected to the convention center. Dubbed Marriott Place, the project will include 2,200 rooms and 145,000 sf of prime meeting and function space.

“After the complex opens in February, we’ll have 4,700 hotel rooms directly connected to the convention center; far more than any city in the US,” says Welsh. “This means we’ll have 7,000 hotel rooms within three blocks of the convention, all which makes Indianapolis a tremendous value.”

Officials in Boston are determined to redefine value. While the East Coast city ranks up there in terms of room/restaurant rates, Pat Moscaritolo, President/CEO of Greater Boston CVB, insists that planners think in terms of Return on Experience.

“Value is about much more than dollars and cents. If you look at the value of what you get for your money, meaning the experience and attractiveness of Boston, it is a great deal,” he says.

Regardless of where you stay in Beantown, be it near Copley Plaza, Boston Common or in the Back Bay, there are plenty of things to see and do right outside your door. Many of Boston’s most coveted attractions are accessible on foot, and they offer one of the nation’s greatest cultural backdrops.

“You can really get a sense of American history with a walk around Boston,” says Moscaritolo. “Make sure to check out the first public library, first transit system and first college…. Although we have a lot of firsts, we’re not always looking backwards. We’re a historical destination, but we’re also very cosmopolitan and have the ability to blend old and new.”

Just take a look at the city’s hotels.

“Over the past 10 years, we’ve added 5,000 new hotel rooms to the city. Our city is constantly evolving. In just the past six years, more than $750 million in renovations have been invested into Boston’s existing hotels.”

For offsites, Moscaritolo recommends the recent expansion at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. “They just opened their new Art of the Americas Wing in November,” he says. “It was a $500 million project and triples the size of the museum. Going forward, I see the museum on more and more planners’ lists.”

When it comes to food, Boston’s creative lineup of cuisine needs scant introduction. We like Scampo, the signature restaurant at the eclectic Liberty Boston Hotel, which served as the Charles Street Jail from 1851-1973. Scampo, Italian for escape, is always a popular place for networking with its exposed brick walls and private dining space inside for 43 pax; outside for 60.

For large groups, there’s Boston Convention Center by the Seaport and Hynes Convention Center in the Back Bay neighborhood. The new 400-seat Towne Stove & Spirits adjacent to Hynes opened in July, serving 11 varieties of New England lobster, and it’s close to a wide range of late night hotspots.

“The common denominator of Boston’s neighborhoods is that they have an eclectic mix of people, commerce and educational institutions,” says Moscaritolo. “There are always people on the street—Boston is a very young and vibrant city.”