Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: June/July 2009
Cost Conscious Cities
By: Sonya Stinson

When the economy is in a recession, every consumer becomes cost-conscious. Before they spend money on anything, they want evidence that it's good value.

For meeting and tourism destinations, the pressure is on to prove that travel can still be a bargain. Many corporations and organizations have scaled back plans for meetings and other events - or in some cases eliminated them altogether - because of tighter budgets and greater scrutiny over their spending habits.

"The recession and the so-called 'AIG affect' [remember the outrage over that lavish party the company held after receiving a federal bailout?] have been hard on the visitors industry," says Douglas MacKenzie at the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau.

At Visit Florida, Dia Kuykendall concurs, noting that the controversy over bailouts and concerns about overspending "really put a hold on corporate travel." To make the case that corporate getaways are still good for both businesses and state tourism economies, Visit Florida started a Web site called Meetings Mean Business.

Tourism officials elsewhere are using a variety of tactics to reach out to potential travelers with a similar message: that they offer visitors affordability and added value with no cutbacks on quality. In an effort to lure vacationers, conventions, reunion groups, incentive travelers and others, many have put out special offers to "sweeten the deal," as Sally Durkin of the Natchez Convention & Visitors Bureau puts it.

The "Cost Conscious Cities" profiled here (along with a couple of affordable states featured as a bonus) exemplify the qualities that appeal to budget-wise travelers. Those selling points include accessibility - a location near major airports and highways that makes getting there easy and affordable; a wide range of choices for meeting venues and lodging to fit every budget; a varied menu of attractions that includes at least some free and low-cost sites; and complimentary and low-cost convention services designed to save time and money.

BIRMINGHAM, AL

Largest meeting venue: Jefferson Convention Complex - 220,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 60 meeting rooms, 10-story Medical Forum

Number of area guestrooms: 14,000

"As we all know, affordability is a great attraction, and that's a big factor that continues to help Birmingham prosper as a convention host," says Michael Gunn, vice president of convention sales for the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The CVB is running a Free Day regional marketing campaign through the end of 2009. Visitors who stay Friday and Saturday nights in the city get Sunday night free at 35 participating hotels. Dozens of area attractions have joined the cost-cutting effort by offering Sunday discounts and other specials. Those who book their free-day weekends online receive a free copy of the new "IN" guide, which features attractions that locals nominated as their own favorites. For more information, visit www.freedayinbirmingham.com.

Gunn says predominantly African-American conventions connect well with Birmingham, in part because of its civil rights history. "After all," he says, "We're the city that changed the world. I can't think of many places that can make that claim."

A tour of the renowned Birmingham Civil Rights District tells the story. Among the sites in the district are the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, site of the deadly 1963 KKK bombing; Kelly Ingram Park, where outdoor sculptures depict civil rights demonstrations and violent attacks by police; and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute with its poignant multi-media exhibits.

Oak Mountain State Park, which offers golfing, tennis, hiking, and swimming facilities, might be a great location for a corporate retreat, off-site convention event or family reunion picnic.

The CVB provides four hours of free on-site registration assistance for every 100 room nights booked. Other services include providing contacts for lodging and meeting venues, organizing site inspections, distributing sales leads and planning activities.

For more information call (800) 458-8085.

CHARLOTTE, NC

Largest meeting venue: Charlotte Convention Center--280,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, more than 90,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space, a 35,000-sq. ft. ballroom

Number of area guestrooms: 30,000

"Charlotte is one of the most accessible destinations, thanks to Charlotte Douglas International Airport, and is a major hub of US Airways. Over 60% of the U.S. population lives within a two-hour flight," says Molly Hedrick, senior director of communications for the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, who notes that the city's easy accessibility translates into cost savings for visitors.

Travelers to Charlotte can also take advantage of free attractions like the Billy Graham Library, and several new attractions opening in 2010 - including the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts, the Mint Museum and the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art - will offer affordable admission as well as a convenient location near the Charlotte Convention Center.

As a special promotion, the CRVA is offering complimentary meeting spaces for public companies holding annual board meetings or recognition events in the city through the end of 2009. At a time when many corporations are cutting back on travel because of the economy, Charlotte officials hope such incentives will encourage more meeting business.


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