Convention Cities Index: Proprietary Ranking System Reveals the Best Destinations for the World’s Largest Events

Our new research takes into account the myriad factors meeting planners evaluate for big conventions: event space, hotel rooms nearby, affordable rates, safe surroundings and a convenient airport.


Giant events like the Consumer Electronics Show, which draws 180,000 attendees, are limited to cities with ample convention space. But other needs are important too, including plenty of hotel rooms nearby, affordable rates, safe surroundings and a convenient airport.
To aid in the selection process for events of this magnitude, Northstar Meetings Group created the industry’s first Convention Cities Index, an extensive research project and weighted ranking system that identifies those destinations that are ideally suited for the world’s largest events. 

The inaugural CCi draws on an in-depth methodology, evaluating destinations in five categories: the amount of indoor exhibit space at the city’s largest convention center, number of hotel rooms within 15 minutes’ walking distance, average cost of a hotel room, travel time (without traffic) from the nearest international airport to the convention center, and the city’s level of risk for travelers. 

“This first-of-a-kind resource will be invaluable to planners who normally would have to manually research and put together comparative destination analyses for their events and ultimately justify selecting a destination,” says Kevin Iwamoto, chief strategy officer of Bizly, an events management platform. “It also removes bias barriers that sometimes confront planners when their managers or stakeholders question their destination decisions.”

The size of the city’s largest convention center was the benchmark for consideration. The minimum was set at 1 million square feet of exhibit space for global venues and 500,000 square feet in the United States. Total exhibit space was based on the most recent figures from the facilities themselves or their local convention and visitor bureaus.

To determine other key factors:

In some destinations, more than one convention center met the size criteria; their rankings were based on total exhibit space and nearby hotel rooms, and the average travel time from all qualifying facilities to the nearest international airport.

The Convention Cities Index calls attention to great places for large conventions based on the specific criteria outlined above. Following are highlights about the cities that ranked highest on the CCi. To see the full list download the full CCi report.

Domestic Cities

1. Las Vegas

A major expansion, seen here in a rendering, is underway at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Photo Credit: Design Las Vegas, Courtesy of Las Vegas News Bureau

No. 1 on both our domestic and international CCi rankings is this desert gaming oasis, home to three convention centers with more than 1 million square feet of exhibit space each, for a combined 4 million square feet of exhibit space. Those facilities are the Las Vegas Convention Center (2 million square feet of exhibit space), the Mandalay Bay Convention Center (1 million square feet of exhibit space), and the Sands Expo and Convention Center (1 million square feet of exhibit space). Each has at least 5,000 hotel rooms within walking distance, making Las Vegas the perfect destination for large events. Better yet, the convention centers are within a 7-minute drive of McCarran International Airport, with nonstop service to more than 130 national and international cities. A 1.4-million-square-foot expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center should wrap up in time to welcome the 2021 Consumer Electronics Show. A people-mover system being built by Elon Musk’s Boring Co. is set to debut in 2021.

2. Orlando

This Central Florida city has it all — the magic of Disney World and Universal Studios nearby and plenty of meeting space at the Orange County Convention Center. The OCCC is the nation’s second-largest convention facility, with more than 2 million square feet of exhibit space, and hosts roughly 230 events each year. A $605 million expansion, which should be completed by 2023, will add even more space, such as the Convention Way Grand Concourse with an 80,000-square-foot ballroom. Four hotels, offering more than 5,000 guest rooms in total, are directly connected to the facility: the 1,424-room Hilton Orlando, 1,639-room Hyatt Regency Orlando, 1,334-room Rosen Centre Hotel and 800-room Rosen Plaza Hotel. Orlando International Airport offers nonstop flights from more than 150 destinations.

3. Atlanta

Atlanta Midtown
Midtown Atlanta is chockful of rooms and houses the largest LEED-certified convention center in the world. Photo Credit: Gene Phillips, Courtesy of ACVB

The capital of the Peach State welcomes travelers with warm weather, Southern hospitality and finger-licking-good food. For planners of big conventions, Atlanta has 1.5 million square feet of exhibit space at the Georgia World Congress Center, along with more than 7,000 nearby hotel rooms, including the 1,067-room Omni Atlanta Hotel and the 1,260-room Hyatt Regency Atlanta. As the largest LEED-certified convention center in the world, holding Gold certification, the GWCC helps planners check the sustainability box for their events. The Georgia Aquarium and World of Coca-Cola Museum are nearby, and Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, just outside downtown, has nonstop service to 150 domestic cities and 70 international destinations.  

4. San Antonio

Deep in the heart of the Hill Country, San Antonio lures meeting planners to Texas with 300 days of sunshine each year and 514,000 square feet of exhibit space at the Henry B. González Convention Center. The facility, which underwent a $325 million refurbishment and expansion in 2016, is right downtown, where restaurants and shops are dotted along the famed River Walk. Nearby attractions include the Mexican Cultural Institute and the historic Alamo Mission, which is being restored and is adding a visitor center and museum. 

5. Indianapolis

Groups gathering in Indianapolis can host outdoor events at Monument Circle. Photo Credit: Chris Bucher, Courtesy of Visit Indy

Indianapolis attracts travelers with a top-rated airport, plentiful hotels and hard-to-resist Hoosier hospitality. The Indiana Convention Center and the connected Lucas Oil Stadium offer nearly 750,000 square feet of exhibit space. Skywalks lead to a dozen nearby hotels, including the 1,005-room JW Marriott Indianapolis. Named the best mid-size airport in North America by J.D. Power, Indianapolis International Airport provides a welcoming arrival experience. This is a good year to visit: Indy is celebrating its 200th anniversary, with a rich roster of festivals and cultural events.

International Cities

1. Las Vegas

Las Vegas also took the top spot on the domestic CCi.

2. Frankfurt, Germany

Messe Frankfurt offers nearly a dozen exhibition halls just outside the city center. Photo Credit: Messe Frankfurt

A key financial hub in Europe, Frankfurt is a mecca for large-scale meetings. Set in the heart of downtown is the Messe Frankfurt exhibition grounds, which has been dubbed “a city within a city.” Comprising nearly a dozen halls and two congress centers, the complex offers more than 4 million square feet of exhibit space. Also on-site are 26 restaurants, and 77 bars, cafés and food stands, plus train, subway and tram connections. Frankfurt Airport, serving 306 destinations, is 12 minutes away. Several museums line the city’s riverbanks, including the DialogMuseum, where visually impaired guides take visitors through pitch-black rooms designed to stimulate the other senses.

3. Shenzhen, China

Along the Pearl River Delta across from Hong Kong is Shenzhen, a Southeastern China city that is home to two massive convention centers. In the city center is the Shenzhen Convention and Exhibition Center, which opened in 2004 and offers more than 1 million square feet of exhibit space. This past November, Phase 1 of the waterfront Shenzhen World Exhibition & Convention Center opened, with 4.3 million square feet of exhibit space. The venue, close to Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport, will add another 1 million square feet of exhibit space in Phase 2, making it the largest venue in the world once completed.

4. Orlando

Orlando offers the nation’s second-largest convention facility and plenty of attractions, such as ICON Park, for attendees to explore off-site.
Orlando offers the nation’s second-largest convention facility and plenty of attractions, such as ICON Park, for attendees to explore off-site. Photo Credit: Visit Orlando

Orlando was No. 2 on the domestic CCi.

5. Atlanta 

Atlanta made the domestic CCi at No. 3

Download the full Convention Cities Index report for details about all 25 domestic and 25 international cities that are best suited to host large-scale meetings. The comprehensive digital reference guide includes findings by category and profiles of the each destination.

Jessi Minneci helped research this story.