When thinking about meeting destinations, there is just about every type and size: from major convention hubs to smaller, boutique style cities. The key for meeting planners, is finding the right fit for their specific meeting. Often times, you might hear a planner say that their annual meetings are only held in 1st tier destinations. Or that a specific destination is a 2nd tier city. What specifications determine whether a city is a 1st, 2nd or 3rd tier destination?
Defining tiers in the meetings industry has been a topic often discussed, yet not a lot of substantial research has been conducted to help define and clarify them. We do know that tiers are descriptions, not designations and descriptions are subject to perception. Unfortunately, some of the perceptions or assumptions planners make could keep them from a great destination find.
Whereas hotels have a rating system that awards 3, 4, or 5 stars to properties based on their quality, size, services and amenities, no such system exists for rating meeting destinations. While there are some common tier realities, there is a lot of gray area when defining tiers. And in that gray, there are many advantages planners can explore.
There are many distinct attributes of each tier that you can get a pretty clear understanding of as well as advantages each tier holds when looking at which destination to hold your meetings, and hopefully you will consider a few destinations not previously on your radar!
What We Currently Know About Destination Tiers
- An official list with specific tier qualifications doesn’t exist
- There are general characteristics or attributes that apply to each tier
- A first tier destination to one planner may be a second tier to another planner
- Tiers do not denote quality or services
Christine ‘Shimo’ Shimasaki, CDME, CMP and managing director of empowerMINT.com advises,
“Don’t let tier designations define what destinations you consider. While 2 and 3 tier cities might be known for being more affordable, there are still plenty of affordable options in 1 tier destinations, especially if you are flexible with dates. Additionally, 2 and 3 tier destinations, depending on the meeting size, can offer just about everything a 1 tier destination has. The key is keeping your own meeting objectives in mind first and then understanding how destinations, regardless of tier, will be the perfect compliment.”
Convene Magazine recently conducted a survey of meeting planners and one of the questions asked was, “What attributes must be present for you to consider a destination a first-, second-, or third-tier meeting destination?” Based upon the responses, there are general attributes that can be applied to each tier.
Essential Attributes of a 1st Tier Destination
First tier destinations might be the easiest to define. They are typically the biggest convention cities in the country. Choose Chicago, Las Vegas, Orlando, etc. While each of these cities are very different in terms of size and location, there are certain characteristics they all have in common such as:
- Airport with ample nonstop national and international access (69%)
- Hotel inventory that includes major hotel brands (60%)
- Abundant dining, entertainment, and attraction options for attendees (57%)
- 10,000 minimum committable sleeping rooms (47%)
- Convention center with a minimum of 500,000 gross square feet of exhibit space (44%)
- Considered one of the top 25 destinations for group business (43%)
- Distinctive leisure-travel appeal (37%)
Other measurable 1st Tier Attributes include:
- Major metropolitan hub
- Strong destination travel infrastructure in place (rail, public transportation, taxis)
- Reputation for world-class services and amenities
Essential Attributes of a 2nd Tier Destination
We know 1st tier destinations are pretty easy to identify based upon certain measurable attributes (size, airport airlift, etc.). But how do you measure and/or perceive what is a 2nd or 3rd tier destination? This is where it gets a little more complicated. Often times, a destination is categorized to be a tier 2 destination simply because of its size, and thus may also be perceived as being more affordable.
- Affordable, better value (59%)
- Attracts a regional drive market (49%)
- Convention facilities with less than 500,000 gross square feet (36%)
- Regional airport with less nonstop or direct airlift (36%)
- Largest convention venue generally a single hotel or conference center (32%)
- Productive local industries and business climate (32%)
“While a second tier destination may not have a lot of international airlift, 10,000 committable hotel rooms, or large meeting/exhibit space, it doesn’t mean that these destinations don’t have world-class meeting facilities and amenities.”
Essential Attributes of a 3rd Tier Destination
The key is to not consider a 3rd tier destination as being third class. Third tier is really just based on the size of the city and its convention offerings, not quality or even cost. For example, some of the most luxurious resorts are located in destinations considered third tier, simply because of the destination size.
- Regional airport with less nonstop or direct airlift (37%)
- Largest convention venue generally a single hotel or conference center (20%)
- Convention facilities less than 500,000 gross square feet (16%)
- Attracts a regional drive market (13%)
- Distinctive leisure travel appeal
“Often times, third tier destinations are the choice for incentive travel and find themselves competing for the business along with first and second tier destinations.”
Advantages of Holding Your Meeting in a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Tier Destination
The key is understanding the strengths and attributes each tier represents. Do you want your medium-sized convention to feel like the “big fish” in a destination? If yes, go with a 2nd or 3rd tier destination. Or, what if you have a small meeting but need the convenience of a large international airlift? A first-tier destination might be the best fit. The key is to look at each destination with fresh eyes and determine how it can work for you.
Where You Can Research 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Tier Destinations
Whether you need to create a list of first, second, or third tier destinations, empowerMINT.com’s Destination Finder is an invaluable tool. empowerMINT.com, is a one-stop-shop for planners. At empowerMINT.com, you can easily search and compare meeting needs across multiple destinations. Additionally, planners can easily search destinations that include the minimum number of committable rooms required, total exhibit space required, and much more.
Curating Meeting Experiences
No matter the size of the destination, there are destination experts to help you.
Suppose your meeting requires the flexible travel options of a 1st tier destination, but the accommodations of maybe a 2nd tier destination? Or you are looking for a high-end meeting experience but in a smaller, more intimate destination? That’s where the experts at the convention and visitors bureau (CVB) can help.
The CVB sales professionals are the best first point of contact to help planners FIND the right fit for any size meeting. They offer:
- A comprehensive view of the destination
- Local expertise
- Extensive in-market relationships
- Free to planners
To research destinations, find out what’s new, and connect to CVB experts at more than 150 top meeting destinations, visit empowermint.com.