Parameters such as price and amenities exist to help us determine whether a hotel falls into the “affordable” or “deluxe” categories. It’s easy to see if a property is located on the beach or in suburbia via Google Maps, and an atlas will pinpoint whether the Freeport you’re considering for your board meeting is in the Bahamas or Maine. Determining whether a potential meeting destination qualifies as 1st, 2nd or 3rd tier – not always so easy! Why? Because tiers are descriptions not designations, and descriptions are subject to perception.
There are generalizations that loosely apply to each tier, the most obvious being size related: first tier = big, second tier = medium, third tier = small, but even those distinctions are blurred, and what is a second tier city to one planner may be a third tier to another.
Generally, first tier destinations are large metropolitan cities with strong air access, at least 10,000 committable sleeping rooms, a minimum of 500,000 square feet of exhibit space, abundant dining and entertainment options, and that mysterious cachet that makes it attractive to travelers. Surprisingly, there are only between fifteen and twenty U.S. cities that qualify. Why the inability to pinpoint the exact number? Perception!
As unfair as it seems, a large destination lacking any one of the above criteria becomes part of the catch-all second tier, often characterized by smaller population, smaller convention facilities, less direct airlift, potential for lower rates and, possibly, a less glamorous image. A destination with large convention capacities but lacking substantial direct airlift or a myriad of attractions could fall into tier two.
Third tier destinations are strictly a matter of size, not quality or even cost. Third tier does not mean third class. In fact, some of the most luxurious resorts, popular to the incentive travel market, are located in destinations labeled third tier simply because of overall destination size. Generally, third tiers have more limited airlift and a smaller conference center or meeting and exhibit space contained within a hotel rather than a dedicated facility; there may be distinctive leisure travel appeal, and perhaps a strong regional drive market.
Destinations that are not unequivocally major convention cities – and therefore “first tier” – pretty much hate the tier labels. They spend lots of marketing dollars and effort creating positive customer impressions and dispelling any negative connotations that might influence your choice of meeting destinations. Brilliant marketing has given us images that, in turn, create our perceptions.
In marketing, perception is everything, and once created is almost impossible to change.
To quote Friedrich Nietzche, “There is no truth. There is only perception.” Strong stuff. According to Henry David Thoreau, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see,” which explains why there are so many full page photo ads of gorgeous beaches in our trade publications. Are Disney parks really The Happiest Place on Earth? Is Las Vegas really all that naughty?
The next time you are beginning the site selection process, put aside your preconceived ideas of what a destination may or may not offer and go straight to the source: the local convention and visitors bureau. CVB sales professionals will give you the honest information you need to find the right fit, regardless of meeting size or “personality.” Find their contact information at empowerMINT.com, and don’t make the mistake of missing out on what could be a memorable meeting in a fresh location.