Second-tier cities aren't the only ones that fared well on the meetings front; in fact, experts cite several third-tier spots for their increased appeal to meeting groups. Among them are California's capital city of Sacramento and Lexington, Ky.
Lexington stands out for its relatively high occupancy rates. While most U.S. cities, large and small, saw double-digit declines in occupancy for 2009, according to Smith Travel Research, the Kentucky city was down by less than 3 percent last year.
Dennis Johnston, vice president, destination sales, for the Lexington Convention Bureau, attributes the impressive numbers to a bump in regional meetings and a diversified meetings base. "We are a player in military, fraternal and religious markets, though our biggest market is sports," he notes, citing as an example the 32 international equestrian associations based in the city.
One new area of growth has been in small corporate meetings from clients who want to meet closer to home. "Though we don't have a corporate base here, we're within driving distance of Cincinnati, Louisville (Ky.) and Indianapolis," Johnston says, adding that October 2009 was the strongest month in the bureau's history, due in part to the corporate sector.
In Sacramento, bookings are up nearly 20 percent this year, according to Steve Hammond, president and CEO of the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau. While the city draws regional and state groups, Hammond says the increase is coming from national associations, in large part due to the city's affordability (the average daily room rate is approximately $94). He adds that interest is now coming from corporate groups and research institutions who focus on issues such as land management, alternative energy, urban development, education and health care. -- L.G.