Deciding where to take your next meeting is easy when you default to the popular names, such as Orlando, Las Vegas and Chicago, the first three cities on tech giant Cvent's 2019 ranking of the Top Meeting Destinations in the U.S. But a number of places are rising in planners' estimation and working their way up the list by adding more hotels, enhancing their convention centers, and strengthening their allure with revitalized downtowns and high-end restaurants.
The following 10 cities have all made jumps up Cvent's ladder or are appearing there for the first time this year. They're worth a look for your next event.
Up 10 places to No. 18 on Cvent's list
Set on the southeast coast of the Sunshine State, Fort Lauderdale is more than just a vacation spot, as it has been shoring up its offerings for meetings. The city's 34,000 guest rooms soon will be supplemented by an additional 4,500 that are expected to open throughout the county by 2024, and the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center is undergoing a massive, $900 million expansion.
Upgrades have also been made to the city's transportation system, including renovations to the Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport, and the addition of Brightline, a high-speed passenger rail connecting Fort Lauderdale to downtown Miami and West Palm Beach.
"It's a very exciting time in Greater Fort Lauderdale -- we're in an era of evolution," says Stacy Ritter, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. "We have world-class hotels breaking ground, a completely renovated convention center underway and more cultural experiences available than ever."
Up 9 places to No. 33 on Cvent's list
Aurora, Colo., which jumped 14 spots on the 2018 top destinations list, continued to rise this year. The Rocky Mountain city is only 15 minutes from Denver International Airport and features the state's largest resort, the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center. Opened in 2018, the 1,500-room property has more than 485,000 square feet of meeting space for welcoming groups of all sizes. The city itself offers 113 parks, 98 trails and 8,000 acres of open space.
"There is no doubt the meetings landscape is changing," says Visit Aurora president and CEO Bruce Dalton. "Aurora is proud to rise to the occasion while keeping our clients' needs at the forefront of all business decisions and strategies."
Up 6 places to No. 37 on Cvent's list
Columbus is more than just the capital of the Buckeye State -- it also has been named a winner of the 2018 Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge, has been recognized as a top destination for solo female travelers and is one of the most LGBTQ-friendly destinations in the world.
The city is particularly attractive to meeting planners, due to its newly renovated 1.8-million-square-foot convention center and its expanding hotel portfolio. Three major hotels under the Hilton, Graduate and Moxy brands have been added this year. By 2022, downtown Columbus is expected to house more than 5,000 hotel rooms -- almost half of which will be connected or adjacent to the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
"Our community truly understands the value of the tourism economy and the importance of meetings in Columbus, as evidenced through continued public and private investment into our infrastructure," says Dan Williams, vice president of convention sales and services at Experience Columbus. "It is clear based on feedback from hosting ASAE's Annual Meeting and Exposition that this outpouring of community support and service sets us apart from other destinations."
Up 5 places to No. 9 on Cvent's list
It's hard to resist the allure of Miami's beaches and year-round warm weather averaging 74 degrees. Luckily for meeting planners, the city is easily accessible, with more than 400 daily flights and ample meeting space to accommodate groups of all sizes. In fact, the Miami Beach Convention Center recently underwent a massive, three-year renovation. The state-of-the-art facility now offers nearly 500,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 60,000-square-foot ballroom and 84 breakout rooms.
Nearly a dozen new hotels have debuted in Miami over the past year, including the historical 91-room Greystone Hotel. More hotels, such as the boutique 96-room Kimpton Hotel Palomar South Beach, are expected in the new year. The city's various parks, museums and other attractions continue to lure travelers from all over. Visitors can head west to explore the 1.5-million-acre Everglades National Park, which is home to alligators, crocodiles and manatees, or step back in time at the Ancient Spanish Monastery, which dates to the 12th century.
Up 3 places to No. 36 on Cvent's list
Home to more than just the Kentucky Derby, Louisville has risen six spots on Cvent's list over the past two years. Nearly 130 meetings hotels can be found in the Bourbon City, along with two convention centers. The Kentucky Exposition Center, with 1.3 million square feet of meeting space, is conveniently located near the Louisville International Airport.
Close to the waterfront in downtown, the Kentucky International Convention Center reopened in 2018 following a massive renovation and expansion. It now offers 300,000 square feet of meeting space, and more than 100 restaurants are within walking distance of the facility. While in Louisville, attendees can enjoy horse racing at Churchill Downs, visit the Muhammad Ali Center and tour the various Bourbon distilleries.
"Our upward momentum has continued in 2019," says Karen Williams, president and CEO of Louisville Tourism. "While celebrating the first anniversary of the Kentucky International Convention Center renovation, we can reflect on the tangible results coming off a record number of room nights booked in a year."
Up 3 places to No. 29 on Cvent's list
National Harbor climbed two spots on last year's list and continued its ascent this year, landing among the top 30. This waterfront destination, just down the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., is home to more than 1 million square feet of meeting space and eight hotels with more than 3,400 guest rooms. In fact, the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, which holds close to 2,000 rooms and 600,000 square feet of meeting space, is the largest non-gaming hotel and convention center on the East Coast.
Guests interested in gambling can test their luck at the luxurious 308-room MGM National Harbor. Visitors also can take advantage of the destination’s waterfront activities, ride the Capital Wheel for breathtaking views of the surrounding area and visit the recently opened Topgolf driving range.
Up 2 places to No. 44 on Cvent's list
In the heart of Silicon Valley, San Jose is a meetings hub that gets nearly 300 days of good weather each year. Planners have access to 520,000 square feet of meeting space and more than 4,000 committable hotel rooms. The Tech Interactive science museum, the San Jose Museum of Art and the Winchester Mystery House are some of the city’s top attractions, along with 193 parks and gardens.
The downtown San Jose McEnery Convention Center was renovated and expanded in 2013, and is less than 4 miles from San Jose International Airport. The 805-room Fairmont San Jose hotel, which sits just down the street from the convention center, is currently undergoing an 18-month makeover of its lobby and ground floor.
New to Cvent's list this year at No. 41
Another California city to consider is Coronado, an island retreat with white sand beaches across the bay from San Diego. New to the list this year, Coronado offers 14 meeting hotels with a total of 1,800 guest rooms. The crown jewel, Hotel del Coronado, dates back to 1888 and has been designated as a National Historic Landmark. It features 65,000 square feet of meeting space, 679 guest rooms and 78 ocean-view cottages and villas. Another popular property is the 439-room Loews Coronado Bay Resort, which offers 70,000 square feet of event space. During downtime, visitors can relax on the beach, go sailing or head out on the bay-front Coronado Golf Course.
New to Cvent's list this year at No. 46
Sweeping landscapes, endless wine tastings, and high-end resorts and spas are turning Wine Country into a top 50 meetings destination. Napa Valley is home to nearly 500,000 square feet of meeting space and 5,000 guest rooms. The two largest group properties in the area are the 340-room Silverado Resort and Spa, and the 322-room Meritage Resort and Spa. Planners can take advantage of the more than 150 restaurants and 400 wineries in the region for grape-stomping, tastings and tours; adventurous participants will love biking on the Vine Trail or watching the sunrise from a hot-air balloon.
New to Cvent's list this year at No. 50
Coming in at number 50 on this year's list of top meeting destinations, Cleveland has more 23,000 hotel rooms -- 5,000 of which are within walking distance of the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland. The facility provides 410,000 square feet of meeting space, which can accommodate small executive meetings and large trade shows alike.
The group-friendly city is easily accessible, welcoming nonstop flights from 50 airports. Free trolleys run throughout downtown seven days a week. The extensive music scene and free attractions, such as the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland and Cuyahoga Valley National Park, provide plenty of fun for attendees on off hours.