Small Market Meetings: Where Your Group Can Be The Big Dog In Town

Small Markets make your event, and attendees, the big dogs in town.
Small Markets make your event, and attendees, the big dogs in town.

By Ashley Wright

The South is known for its small-town appeal. Walkable downtowns, preserved history and a slower pace are all part of the charm. Meetings held at smaller sites allow groups to gather in towns where Southern hospitality is at its finest, where guests are welcomed with a friendly demeanor and offered one-of-a-kind experiences for attendees to remember during their meetings and off-site events.
Just ask Joey Pierce, communications manager for the Houma (La.) Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), who says locals make planners and attendees as much at home as venue and sales team managers.
Friendly Places, Where No One Is A Stranger
“A great benefit to holding your meeting in a small market, especially in the Houma area, is the small-town charm that comes with our community. We often say that the people of Houma know no strangers, only friends they haven’t met yet,” Pierce said. “When you eat in our restaurants, you will feel as if you’ve stopped in to visit your Cajun grandmother. Locals will be more than happy to teach you how to do the Cajun two-step at one of our festive dance halls or help you pronounce the local lingo, such as laissez les bons temps roulez, or ‘Let the good times roll.’”
According to Robin North, vice president of sales and services for the Macon-Bibb County CVB,
another plus of small markets is that a group can be the “big dog” in town. “You are recognized
as a very important customer of the hotels, restaurants and other businesses,” she said. “Groups

meeting in Macon, in particular, are especially welcomed and recognized by our local businesses through the ‘Show Your Badge’ program, which allows them to receive discounts when they show their convention attendee badge at participating businesses.”

Individual Attention, Easy Accessibility and Ample Space
Smaller markets also mean individualized attention for the meeting planner. “All conferences are
important to our community,” said Charles Winters, executive vice president of the Huntsville/Madison County CVB. “We work closely with every group to provide the very best experience for attendees. We offer lots of complimentary services including brochures, name badges, welcome bags and even on-site registration assistance if there are enough attendees expected. We will send your info out to local and regional media, and we even have a new blog site with a section dedicated entirely to meetings (”
Small markets are also easily accessible, especially for regional meetings. For instance, Winters said Huntsville/Madison County is located in the center of the southeast and offers non-stop service to nine major airports. “Once you’re here, many hotels offer complimentary airport shuttle service, an added value that everyone appreciates,” he said.
But, for those driving, smaller markets also mean less commute time. “Your time is precious. You’ll spend less of it in a vehicle and more of it enjoying the attractions and events,” said Winters.
And, just because a market is small, it doesn’t mean that some small towns don’t offer large-
scale venues that can host larger events and meetings. For instance, the Houma-Terrebonne Civic
Center offers a 36,000-square-foot Grand Hall and several spacious meeting rooms, said Pierce.
“This facility can accommodate your attendees for formal or casual dining, breakout sessions and
general assemblies,” he said. Another large venue in a smaller market is the Northern Kentucky Convention Center (NKYCC), located on the south bank of the Ohio River. Directly across from downtown Cincinnati, the facility is part of a rapidly expanding entertainment district and offers 110,000 square feet of meeting and exhibition space for up to 3,000 people. For more s
pace, the NKYCC connects to the Cincinnati Marriott at RiverCenter, providing 56,000 square feet of contiguous meeting space on one level and up to 119,000 feet of meeting space under one roof, according to destination officials.
Unique Venues For One-Of-A-Kind Events
What really stands out in second- and third-tier markets are the unique venues they showcase. From raceways to plantation homes to museums, unique venues run the gamut in these markets and can provide one-of-a-kind events. In Houma, three plantations welcome meetings and events. The Southdown Plantation and Museum, an antebellum beauty built in 1859, with porches on all sides and a large, covered pavilion, is perfect for a summer picnic. Ardoyne Plantation is the largest example of rural Victorian Gothic architecture in the South with ornate details. Twelve Oaks Plantation is a grand estate nestled among large oak trees in the heart of Cajun Country. The home sits on a 750-acre working sugar cane plantation and overlooks the ever-flowing Big Bayou Black.
Howard County, Md., is home to the B&O Railroad Museum, which offers the oldest, most historic and comprehensive American railroad collection in the U.S. and can accommodate groups of 2,800 indoors and 5,000 outdoors. Its 1884 Baldwin Roundhouse offers a breathtaking sky-high ceiling and historical ambience for up to 2,800.
At Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, Ark., groups can not only enjoy Northwest Arkansas Naturals baseball games but also use the Sam’s Club Community Room for a kick-off event. Oversize luxury suites overlooking the baseball field, and the stadium concourse, indoor batting cages and party areas are also suited for groups.
Lowe Mill ARTS and Entertainment in Huntsville is one of America’s largest independent centers for the arts, with working artists, restaurants and live-performance venues in what was once a historic textile mill. For groups, the first-floor connector room, approximately 4,000 square feet, has industrial appeal while the Railroad Room offers an outdoor event venue with power and water, and easy access to parking.
The Rutherford County (Tenn.) CVB offers numerous historic sites that planners can incorporate
into their meetings, said Wendy Bryant, director of communications. “Past attendees have enjoyed an elegant dinner in Maney Hall at the historic Oaklands Mansion, or dinner and swing dancing at the Carriage Lane Inn,” she said.
In Macon, Ga., the Museum of Arts and Sciences offers not only exhibits, galleries and classrooms, but also a planetarium and Satellite Conference Room that allows attendees a sneak peek into space and exploration.
The Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort and Spa offers many activities for team building, destination immersion or family plans, according to Richard Ross, vice president of sales and marketing. “With expansive beach and deck space, the Hilton can plan everything from waterside fireworks to beach volleyball tournaments for groups,” he said. “You can add a food- and-beverage spin with a sunrise brunch or sunset bonfire with s’mores.”
With three centuries of service, Pinehurst Resort in Pinehurst, N.C., offers groups a variety of meeting spaces and amenities. The resort features 55,000 square feet of indoor space and more than 2,000 acres outdoors. A popular golfing destination since 1898 with nine courses, it’s an especially popular option for groups with golf enthusiasts.

The South is also home to its own set of adventures and fun events to explore, especially in smaller markets. Here are a few hidden gems for groups to explore and take advantage of: In the Houma area, according to Pierce, guests can have adventures all year long by cruising through the scenic bayous on a swamp tour or holding alligators at the Greenwood Gator Farm.
Bootfest honors Victoria, Texas’s rich ranching heritage and all things boots each year. Enjoy
free live music on two stages featuring Texas Country and Tejano music as well as rock and roll,
blues and more. Boot makers display their craft and offer custom-made boots for attendees.
Amarillo is home to Palo Duro Canyon State Park, home of “The Grand Canyon of Texas.” The
park opened in 1934 and occupies nearly 30,000 acres of the scenic, northernmost portion of the
Palo Duro Canyon. You’ll enjoy rugged beauty and outdoor adventures.
Explore Arkansas’s wine country just outside Fort Smith in the town of Altus. Visitors can partake in free tastings and tours at vineyards such as Chateau Aux Arc, Mount Bethel Winery, Post Familie Vineyards and Wiederkehr Wine Cellars.
Grandview Nature Preserve in Hampton, Va., covers more than 475 acres of salt marsh, tidal creeks and Chesapeake Bay beachfront. Visitors can beach comb, view a variety of birds and explore wetlands. Groups can also canoe and hike through Buckroe Beach Park.
Fire and Feast MBN Sanctioned BBQ Competition in Yazoo City, Miss., brings together BBQ teams from across the United States to create delicious barbecue of all kinds. More than $20,000 is given away in prizes in numerous categories from Hot Wings to Sauce.

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