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Top 5 Convention Cities

Where Conventioneers are Getting Down to Business and Why


From the bright lights of Vegas to a place that’s definitely my kind of town, these five cities bring new meaning to the phrase “business as usual” by hosting the most conventions nationwide according to TradeShow Week 200.

1. Las Vegas

© MGM Resorts Intl.

While the catchy tagline “What happens in Vegas…” is probably being said somewhere at this very moment (even after all these years), the city’s top tourism officials are successfully getting convention travelers to remember something else, “Vegas means business.” Little does the average visitor know that beyond the glitz of the world-famous Strip lays more than 10.5 million of square feet of exhibition space, much of it state-of-the-art.

Las Vegas’ mega-resorts provide a one-stop, all-under-one-roof environment pairing the excitement of the city’s spectacular tourist experiences with top-notch meeting venues and services to offer a combination few savvy planners can resist – the best of both work and play.

During the day, meeting-goers enjoy the convenience of high-tech venues filled with touch screen, pre-wired audio/visual capabilities and more as well as the attention of dedicated on-site staff. At night, restaurants by celebrity chefs (Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse and Bobby Flay to name a few) and captivating shows (from Broadway smash Jersey Boys to the rollicking fun of Viva ELVIS by Cirque du Soleil) are not only just steps away, but available for group bookings, too.

Add to that the ease of traversing the densely packed 4.2 mile Strip (buses, cabs, limos, shuttles, monorails and even scooters abound) along with a major international airport just three miles away and it’s no wonder meeting planners are saying “Viva Las Vegas.”

2. Chicago

©City of Chicago

Home to more than 400 corporate headquarters, Chicago seems to be a CEOs kind of town. The thriving business city also boasts the nation’s largest convention center, McCormick Place (a sprawling 2.6 million square feet of exhibition space), which by itself welcomes almost a third of the city’s 11 million business travelers yearly.

Offering a walkable downtown that encourages exploration, Chicago is packed with distinctive neighborhoods featuring delectable ethnic restaurants, expressive art galleries and trendy boutique shopping that can be enjoyed on breaks or after a long day on the convention floor.

The big draws, of course, are Wrigley Field (home to the Chicago Cubs) and the United Center (Chicago Bulls); Lincoln Park Zoo, a surprisingly free animal attraction; and Navy Pier, a carnival-like outdoor entertainment experience (think Ferris Wheel, carousel and funhouse) that can be rented for a playfully memorable business occasion.

Nearby O’Hare International Airport, a major airline hub and the second busiest airport in the world, ensures ease of access for business travelers coming from either coast. For those who prefer to travel by land, Greyhound and Amtrak offer service as well.

3. Orlando

©Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Inc.®

The city’s tourism motto is “Orlando makes me smile,” but for more and more exhibition planners Orlando just makes good business sense. Boasting the nation’s second largest amount of exhibition space at 2.1 million square feet, Orlando also offers an abundance of value-focused accommodations.

Hotel and convention operators have been inspired to be just as creative in serving their business clientele as their imaginative neighbors – Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld. From green and medical meetings (did you know Orlando is home to more than 150 bio-technology and life science companies?) to high-level corporate and government gatherings, planners can find just about any venue to suit their needs.

Throughout the city, incredible dining choices (Paris Bistro, Four Rivers Smokehouse), flourishing music scenes (House of Blues), live sports action (Orlando Magic), and an almost mind-boggling 50 million square feet of retail can be found. A must-see is The Florida Mall with more than 260 shops to explore.

Getting there is easy with more than 40 airlines flying non-stop through Orlando International Airport. Public transportation is limited to cabs and bus service so rental cars are usually the preferred mode of travel.

4. New York City

©NYC & Company

As the song goes “there’s nothing you can’t do” in New York and planners have been enjoying this for years. Serving as the nation’s financial, retail, cultural, media, dining and entertainment mecca (whew!), some 47 million visitors walk beneath its towering skyscrapers each year.

Keeping in line with its melting pot image, there’s no shortage of activities and venues to be enjoyed by convention-goers. Answer the call of Broadway with a group visit to Times Square, tour world-famous exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, cheer on the New York Yankees (or Mets, or Knicks, or Rangers) or simply serve up the city’s world-famous bagels, pizza or cheesecake at an outdoor event hosted at one of its scenic gardens, parks or landmarks. For the traditionalist, Javits Convention Center is the city’s premier space providing more than 814,000 square feet.

When it comes to getting around, do as more than 50% of the locals do – commute. From rapid transit (New York City Subway System) and rail (Grand Central Terminal, Pennsylvania Station) to bus (Port Authority) and water service (Staten Island Ferry), the Big Apple has public transportation down to a science. Three major airports including JFK keep NYC a top international destination.

5. Anaheim

©Steve Francis for Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau

One of the happiest places on earth is also one of the busiest when it comes to meetings. Known as home to Disneyland, Anaheim also hosts major exhibitions within its Convention Center, one of the largest on the West Coast at 1.14 million square feet. Hotel operators reap both rewards by successfully keeping smiles on the faces of leisure and business travelers alike through attention to detail and genuine service.

Outside of the endless hours of fun offered by Disney, convention visitors can also hit the links on nearby golf courses; test their balance at Anaheim Ice, a public rink; or stroll through (and through) Anaheim GardenWalk, an impressively massive shopping, dining and entertainment experience billed as the OC’s “hot spot for fashion, food and fun.” (The ‘fun’ being bowling and a state-of-the-art movie complex.)

Meeting-goers can ditch the rental car thanks to regular bus, taxi, Amtrak and Metrolink service. Affordable transport can be found through ART, the Anaheim Resort Transit system which shuttles guests between the Anaheim Convention Center, Disneyland and area resorts. A one-day pass for adults costs just four bucks.

Four airports are in close proximity, with John Wayne Airport providing the shortest commute.

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