If you go to a lot of conferences for your job, you’ve probably noticed that you spend a lot of time walking the exhibition halls of specific cities. While every metropolitan area in the USA would love to have your meetings and conventions business, there are a few behemoths that win by pure capacity.
It costs a lot of money to build convention centers and they require an equal amount of infrastructure in hotel beds, flight capacity, parking, and transportation. All these factors have to work in tandem for a conference destination to make it to the top. Here’s who has won the arms race in modern times:
Vegas knows how to shock and awe in every category and just by the numbers, they come out on top in both space capacity and room capacity. There’s a staggering 10.8 million square feet of conference space here, partly in 3 of the 10 largest convention centers in the country. You’ll have plenty of choices on where to bed down: about 157,000 rooms across nearly 200 hotels. And Las Vegas hotels are often not very small affairs either: MGM Grand alone has more than 6,800 rooms. When you combine The Pallazo and The Venetian, they have more than 7,100 rooms.
Search hotel prices and point redemptions at Bonwi.com, where your conference stay could earn you enough points for a weekend vacation somewhere else.
Orlando’s hotels and resorts aren’t as massive as the biggest in Las Vegas, but the sprawling city has more places to stay overall, with 265 of them. There’s something here for all budgets and parents who want to extend a business trip clearly have lots of things to spend the family budget on with Disney, Universal Studios, Sea World, and other attractions.
Orlando has 4.64 million square feet of meeting space for conventions, but be advised some of that space is in self-contained resorts that can only be reached by car. Fortunately, rental cars are abundant and reasonably priced. You can earn Bonwi points for those and your Orlando hotel stay.
One of the USA’s largest cities attracts plenty of convention business to fill up its 50,000 rooms across 177 hotels. This is a tough city to walk around in during the winter, but many conference goers don’t spend a lot of time outside. The largest exhibition space here is massive: 2.1 million square feet. The largest ballroom is nearly 104,000 square feet–nearly two full football fields in size.
Cvent says, “More people travel to Chicago for overnight business than any other U.S. destination. Its accessibility certainly plays a role in its popularity, as about 46 million people are within one day’s drive of Chicago.” See hotel rates and get the highest points payback at Bonwi.com.
Fast-growing Atlanta has the world’s busiest airport, so getting to the city is easy from nearly anywhere. The city has 43,000 rooms across 195 hotels in all price ranges, with most major chains represented. A quarter of those are in the convention district.
The easy access and mild year-round temperatures bring in 51 million visitors a year to a walkable convention district in a city with a metro from the airport. The largest exhibit space is 2.6 million square feet and there is a total 3.9 million square feet of meeting space. Get the best rate on an Atlanta hotel here.
With some of the USA’s best year-round weather and easy access to the Pacific Ocean, San Diego is a popular sun-and-fun destination all year. The city boasts 70 miles of beaches and 92 golf courses. It has 2.6 million square feet of meeting space and 210 hotels to choose from.
See rates and point earnings on San Diego Hotels.
I once attended a convention lunch so large in D.C. that I couldn’t even see the person on stage speaking unless I looked at the big video monitor. The nation’s capital has a massive conference center in a convenient location not far from the government buildings and the Smithsonian. That ballroom I had lunch in is the size of 7 football fields and it’s part of 2.2 million square feet of meeting and exhibition space.
Be advised that D.C. hotel rates are the priciest of any city on this list, though they can drop when congress is in recess. Make sure you get something back from all that money spent by earning Bonwi points from your Washington DC hotel.
(Related post: Explore the Distilleries and Breweries of Washington, DC)
Cities Punching Above Their Weight Class
These top six cities aren’t all that surprising: they’re all large metro areas that have plenty to see and do, with easy air access. Some of the other top convention cities are much smaller, however.
Nashville, Tennessee ranks just below D.C. as a convention destination thanks to a downtown conference center near the honky-tonks plus the long-established Gaylord Opryland complex closer to the airport.
New Orleans, LA is America’s favorite party town, with to-go cups of alcohol, a casino near the bars, and a street car system to get you around town. It is also a major conference city, with a massive ballroom and a wide variety of interesting hotels that are clustered close together.
Austin, Texas is experiencing explosive growth and its long-running music scene (with 250+ live venues) has been joined by a thriving tech industry. Some 24 million people a year visit Austin and its highly ranked airport.
San Antonio, Texas may be the wildest wildcard on this list, but it outranks Los Angeles and Boston in attracting conferences. This city doesn’t attract the mega-conventions with its 742,000 square feet of meeting space, but that space is some of the most modern available after a $325 million expansion of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in 2006.
Article and photos by travel writer Tim Leffel, editor of Hotel Scoop.