by Jonathan Vatner | August 01, 2004
Major cities attract meetings for good reason. They’re hip and alluring, and they have loads of hotel inventory and meeting space.
    They also can be expensive. Hotel rooms, meal prices, and convention center rental and labor rates are sometimes budget busters in cities where cachet is king.
    Big conventions can’t avoid big-city prices, but midsize events have the power of choice. Some smaller towns across America are willing and able to host meetings of up to a few thousand attendees, at impressive prices. Those reasonable tabs not only buy a top-notch meeting, but also the intangible commodities of peacefulness and down-home charm.
    Following are some locales to consider.

Alexandria, Louisiana

Bayou beauty: Alexandria, La.’s
Riverfront Center on the Red River,
as blue as the night sky

Alexandria, La.
Population: 46,000
Hotel rooms: 2,000
Convention center: Alexandria Riverfront Center; exhibit space, 36,540 square feet; meeting rooms, none;

Smack-dab in the middle of the Bayou State, off Interstate 49 and an easy drive to its own international airport, Alexandria is a hidden gem for high-class, low-cost meetings with a generous helping of Southern hospitality.
    The Alexandria Riverfront Center is set on one bank of the Red River in a quaint downtown with boutique shopping, a children’s museum and the River Oaks Arts Center, which houses artists’ studios and galleries. Two renowned golf courses, Links on the Bayou and Oak Wings, provide an exotic natural setting for the sport. For outdoor enthusiasts without a great golf swing, the Kisatchi National Forest, which stretches across central Louisiana, is a 20-minute ride from downtown and offers horseback riding, canoeing, hiking and biking. The region also draws some of the country’s most loyal bass fisherman for tournaments.
    For indoor enthusiasts, the city has plenty of historic plantation homes and not-so-historic spas to visit, not to mention a rich culinary tradition, fueled by Cajun spice and peppered with a dose of Southern comfort.

Chateau on the Lake

Chateau on the Lake Resort and
Convention Center in Branson, Mo.

Branson, Mo.
Population: 6,000
Hotel rooms: 22,000
Convention center: Chateau on the Lake Resort & Convention Center; exhibit space, 32,000 square feet; meeting rooms, 19;

The stretch of Missouri Highway 76 in Branson is the Las Vegas Strip of the Midwest, minus the gambling and exposed skin. Thanks to its fun and wholesome image, Branson has long attracted families and groups to its numerous bargain-priced shows, theme parks and retail outlets. Now, thanks to a convention center currently under construction, the city is poised to draw larger meetings.
    Branson Landing, a mixed-use waterfront development on track for a 2006 opening, will feature a 220,000-square-foot convention center with a 55,000-square-foot exhibit hall and 32,000 square feet of meeting space, not to mention shops, restaurants and 360 hotel rooms.
    The fun extends beyond the Landing, too. Three lakes contribute the necessary ingredient for water sports and dinner cruises, and venues such as the Hollywood Wax Museum and the Roy RogersDale Evans Museum provide a heartwarming trip through time for the nostalgia-prone.