by Lisa Grimaldi | May 01, 2010

While many major U.S. destinations are still trying to recoup meetings business lost over the past two years, a group of second-tier cities has weathered the downturn better than most and is seeing an increase in bookings in 2010 and beyond. Here's a closer look at some of these growing meetings markets.

Helping to drive this city's spike in meetings are a host of new venues and hotels, including the $720 million Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts, and the new Conseco Fieldhouse sports/exhibition facility. To open next year is the 34-story, 1,005-room JW Marriott Indianapolis, which will connect via sky bridge to the Indiana Convention Center and offer 104,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 40,500-square-foot ballroom.

But the main draw for groups is the $275 million addition to the Indiana Convention Center, to debut in January 2011 and which includes 254,000 square feet of exhibit space that, when combined with Lucas Oil Stadium next door, brings total space to 749,100 square feet.

All of this "has given us the chance to go after mega-conventions that need 1,000-plus rooms per night," says Don Welsh, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Convention & Visitor Association. Indeed, the number of citywide conventions will jump from 40 this year to 50 in 2011, says Welsh, and the bulk of new business is large citywides that will take place in 2012 and 2013.

Indianapolis also benefits from its glamour-free image and an average daily room rate of $135, with 4,700 guest rooms and 200 restaurants within walking distance of the convention center.

According to 2009 Metropoll, a biennial survey of meeting planners by Gerard Murphy & Associates, the Mile High City ranked 11th (out of 80 U.S. cities) as the most popular destination for corporate meetings, up from 20th in 2007.

Denver also is reaping the benefits of the expansion of the Colorado Convention Center (to 792,000 square feet for exhibits) and addition of the adjacent 100-room Hyatt Regency Denver. As a result, says Richard Scharf, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, convention business has increased since 2005 by 62 percent.

"We're also seen as a good place to get work done; our amenities are not a distraction," says Scharf. Other factors include 8,300 downtown hotel rooms (43,000 overall) and an average daily room rate of $140.88, per the CVB.

Fort Lauderdale
This ocean-fronted Florida city had very little fall-off in its occupancy rates last year -- 3.4 percent, according to Smith Travel Research, and this in a year when many cities saw double-digit decreases.

The destination is seeing a rise in domestic incentive business due to its recent focus on attracting motivational events, says Nicki E. Grossman, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, which has made a concerted effort to shed the city's "spring break" party image in favor of meetings and higher-end tourists.

Fort Lauderdale also has enjoyed increased international incentive business and medical conferences due, says Grossman, to the value these events get for the U.S. dollar. With an average daily room rate of $150.88, she notes, "we're a luxury destination, but an affordable one."