Meetings in the Post-Pandemic Era
Money Smarts

Three Reasons to Host Your Next Meeting in a Smaller City

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Choosing a host city that isn’t shoulder to shoulder with residents means your attendees have a better chance of rubbing shoulders with one another.

You want your meetings to be big—in ideas, enthusiasm, and attendance. But you don’t have to go to a big city to achieve that.

Midsize cities don’t always have the “household name” attractions of major cosmopolitan destinations. What you and your attendees get in return, though, is worth it. Hospitality, ease of navigation, better price points, all without giving up access to airports, culture, and rich history? Maybe it’s time to think outside the big city box. Cities with populations under 500,000—such as Columbia, South Carolina, which serves as the state’s capital as well as home to nearly 140,000 residents—have a lot to offer meeting planners. Here are three reasons to host your next event in a midsize city:

1. Smaller cities are more cost-effective.

Money isn’t everything, but it’s an important thing—especially when you’re asking a large number of people from a cross section of economic situations to show up.

“You have such a broad range of people who are involved,” said Susan Marie Jones, president of the South Carolina Beekeepers Association, which hosted a recent meeting in Columbia, citing not only varying levels of education but also a wide financial demographic.

When deciding where your event is going to be, you’re also determining the cost to your organization and every would-be attendee. If you’re asking people to spend $400 per night for a hotel room in an expensive metropolis, you’ll be pricing a lot of people out.

When it comes to what would sway her toward or against an event location, Jones said, “top of the list is affordability.”

Midsize cities hit that mark. Even better, the lower price tags found in smaller cities don’t mean you’re in for a “cheap” event—they mean you’re able to maximize your funds and have more people share in the experience you’ve planned.

“We look for the most value for the money,” Jones said. “We want accommodations that are close, affordable hotels … we want to have parking. We’re bringing vendors in, so we need places to park box trucks, trucks, and trailers. [We also want] restaurants close and affordable.”

Renting out a Major League Baseball stadium may bankrupt your organization, but that doesn’t mean you can’t gather in a smaller city at a minor league stadium with meeting space overlooking the field, such as Segra Park in Columbia. That kind of bang for your buck—and the bucks of your attendees—is something you’ll be hard-pressed to find in large metropolitan meccas.

“We look for the most value for the money. We want accommodations that are close, affordable hotels … we want to have parking. We’re bringing vendors in, so we need places to park box trucks, trucks, and trailers. [We also want] restaurants close and affordable.” — Susan Marie Jones, South Carolina Beekeepers Association

2. Smaller cities offer a more relaxing travel experience.

Fun fact about airports in smaller cities? You actually have time and space to breathe. Even navigating the security lines can be a breeze—the standard TSA wait time at Columbia Metropolitan Airport is less than 10 minutes.

Travel by plane isn’t the only logistical issue that midsize cities make easier. Smaller cities tend to have a flexible range of event spaces that offer a premium experience without transportation hassles. Take two of Columbia’s event spaces, the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center and Central Energy. Both are downtown, making them accessible through car sharing, public transit or even walking, in the convention center’s case. Central Energy offers the sort of vibrant event space you might find in the downtown district of a larger city, with 8,000 square feet of space, while the larger convention center is centrally located and offers 142,500 square feet.

In contrast with larger cities, Jones said that smaller cities have an “easy walk, easy access to hotels and restaurants from the venue.”

3. Smaller cities thrive on homegrown hospitality.

“Hands down, hospitality,” said Jones when asked what the best events she’s been to have in common. “By that I mean social events or areas, great service, but it’s not in your face. It happens because it’s organic and that’s the way they’re wired.”

Big cities are known for their hustle and bustle. Smaller cities are often known—and recognized—for their interpersonal kindness and overall hospitality.

That sense of friendliness extends to your event, too. Knowing that they don’t always have the marquee attractions that draw visitors to places such as New York City, tourism bureaus in smaller hubs have a greater incentive to provide additional support to meeting planners, such as welcome signage, visitor swag, and a hearty hello from local officials.

That warmth isn’t a coincidence. Researchers have found that people who live in smaller towns and rural areas are happier than urbanites. In other words, when people in smaller cities smile at you, those smiles are genuine. When they tell you “thank you” or “you’re welcome,” they actually mean it.

Experience Columbia SC is the destination marketing organization for the heart of South Carolina. You can find our team inspiring travel to the region and helping meeting and convention planners pull together the perfect mix of hotels, facilities, and experiences for their groups.

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