by Ann Shepphird | May 01, 2018

From planes, trains and automobiles to ferries, buses and smart bikes, not to mention scooters, pedicabs and pedestrian walkways, the methods available to move people from point a to point b just keep growing. For meeting planners, this opens up a whole new world of transportation options that can not only help cut costs but also attract Millennial members, who generally are more multi-modal in their use of transportation than previous generations.

Even better, new transportation hubs are opening that not only make it more convenient to use these multiple modes of mobility but also offer state-of-the-art designs (by the likes of Santiago Calatrava and Pelli Clarke Pelli) plus restaurants, shops, parks and other new developments -- in some cases creating whole new neighborhoods. Cities that have added (or are in the process of adding) new and upgraded transportation hubs include New York City, Denver, Anaheim and San Francisco.

Easing the Logistics of Travel
The idea of a transportation hub isn't new -- people have been saying "I'll meet you at the clock in Grand Central Station" for over a century -- but these new hubs are bringing in new elements, new types of passengers (the aforementioned Millennials) and increasingly effective ways to get groups of people where they need to go.

And meeting planners are noticing. "If the transportation seems too difficult or expensive, planners will look to other cities that are logistically easier to get around," said Andrea Kinney, a manager of global accounts for HelmsBriscoe based in St. Augustine, Fla.

The American Public Transportation Association, which holds four large and 11 smaller meetings each year and adds a large expo to its annual conclave every three years, is particularly savvy when it comes to transportation issues. So what do they look for in a host site?

"The number-one item on our RFP is location to transit," says Lenay Gore, senior director of meetings and trade shows for the American Public Transportation Association. "The hotels and our main facility need to be on or near a transit station."

Gore points out that using public transportation instead of having to hire a fleet of buses and shuttles is a great way for groups to save costs, and that a number of cities make it easy to get from the airport to the hotel and convention center. This includes Atlanta, which hosted APTA's annual meeting and expo this past October and attracted 12,000 attendees from 75 countries.

"Atlanta has fabulous transit," says Gore. "You basically walk from the baggage claim to the train, which takes you downtown, where our block of hotels was located."

Other cities Gore lists as having easy access from the airport to hotels and convention centers include Boston, Chicago, D.C. and Philadelphia. She also says that Denver's recent addition of a train from the airport to its renovated Union Station is considered a huge improvement. "We're taking our rail conference there next year," Gore notes. "Everybody is talking about how their new rail line is a game changer in the meetings industry."

Adding New Lines and Hubs
Denver's Regional Transportation District launched its A Line, which connects Denver International Airport to downtown, in April 2016. The electric commuter rail deposits passengers at historic Union Station, which in 2014 completed a restoration that featured the addition of a boutique hotel, locally owned restaurants and bars, and shops like the Tattered Covered Bookstore. "We love the reinvigorated Union Station," says Mark Holland, associate director of the Westminster, Colo.-based Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation, who notes that the rail line "is much less expensive to utilize than taxis, and even substantially less expensive than Uber and Lyft. It makes for easier access to downtown hotels."

The new A Line connects the Westin
Denver International Airport with
the city's downtown.
The addition of the rail into the station also helped allay concerns by planners. "We hosted a conference in Denver and did get some complaints about the cost of the taxi ride and that folks had to leave early due to the transfer time to the airport," says Laura Scheller, founder and president of Phoenix-based Solmonte Hospitality. "By offering the train, it is both more time- and cost-effective, and Denver will remain as one of our city rotations."

"For many years, clients expressed concerns about the limited number of reliable, low-cost transportation options to and from Denver International Airport, and the A Line has solved this problem for us," says Rachel Benedick, vice-president of sales and services for Visit Denver, the Convention & Visitors Bureau. "We are now able to use the commuter rail -- and both its time and cost savings -- as a competitive advantage when selling the city."

In Anaheim, Calif., the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center opened in 2014 and helped the city attract APTA's next annual meeting and expo, set for 2020. Like the revitalized Union Station and other new hubs, ARTIC doesn't just offer a central point for transportation (including trains, buses, shuttles, taxes and bikes), it also features dining and retail options.

Creating a New Neighborhood
Taking the idea of offering food, beverages and retail in a transit center to a whole new level is the new World Trade Center Transportation Hub, which opened in 2016 in downtown Manhattan. Connecting 11 different subway lines, the PATH rail system and the Battery Park City Ferry Terminal, the WTC hub also provides an integrated network of underground pedestrian connections to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, the four World Trade Center Towers and Brookfield Place, which houses the Winter Garden. But it's perhaps best known for its design by Santiago Calatrava, which includes the stunning "Oculus," offering 78,000 square feet of multi-level state-of-the-art retail and dining options.

"The new hub in New York City is just drop-dead gorgeous," says Gore, who adds that APTA's members are eager to check it out.

New York City's new 34th Street
Hudson Yards station lets passengers
out in a burgeoning Midtown
East neighborhood.
In addition to the World Trade Center hub, new transit options in Manhattan include the MTA's 7 line extension to the new 34th Street Hudson Yards station. The station is in the heart of Manhattan's newest neighborhood and adjacent to the Javits Convention Center, which is undergoing a massive expansion that is expected to add 1.2 million square feet of space.

"Options for groups meeting in New York City have moved beyond the expected," says Fred Dixon, president and CEO of NYC & Company. "The city's ongoing infrastructure evolution will benefit planners and delegates who visit now and in the years to come."

San Francisco's Sales force
Transit Center opens in June
and will eventually connect
11 transit systems, while the
Anaheim (Calif.) Regional
Transportation Intermodel
Center has helped draw meetings
to the area since 2014.
Another new hub fueling neighborhood development is San Francisco's Salesforce Transit Center, near the Embarcadero and Yerba Buena districts, which will open its first phase this June and ultimately is expected to connect 11 transit systems and offer 100,000 square feet of retail and a 5.4-acre park.

"We were able to transform an entire neighborhood from an undervalued, underutilized and dilapidated area into a pedestrian-friendly, transit-oriented development with new homes, offices, hotel and parks serving not only the city but the entire San Francisco Bay Area," says Mark Zabaneh, executive director of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, which manages the new Salesforce Transit Center.

Meeting-goers and other visitors to the city also will be able to enjoy the new development. "Using public transportation is part of the San Francisco experience," notes Joe D'Alessandro, president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association. "And the Salesforce Transit Center  itself will become an attraction with its elevated parks, shops and restaurants."

The idea of shops and restaurants -- and whole new neighborhoods -- clustering around transit hubs is something that APTA's Gore has noticed developing. "We've definitely seen an increase in transit-oriented development," she says. "You see farmers markets setting up in train stations, and condominiums, bars and restaurants popping up around the transit."

"New and improved transportation hubs are more than a secret ingredient to a city's successes in courting meetings," says Brett Sterenson, president of Washington, D.C.-based Hotel Lobbyists. "They accomplish two main objectives for meeting planners. For one, there is an enhanced perception of safety and security, foremost on planners' minds today. And, nearly as important, expanded transportation hubs typically lead to other key infrastructure enhancements, like pedestrian walkways and increased dining and entertainment options.

"When I learn that cities have made improvements to transportation," Sterenson adds, "I know they are serious about taking care of their travelers and, as a result, I prioritize those locations."