When old man winter rears his ugly head, the best thing you can do to boost your conference attendance is to head to Florida—right? If cities like Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Indianapolis have anything to say about it, the answer is: not necessarily.
Historically, the Midwest has been beloved for its summers (if you’ve ever taken a river boat tour in Chicago in June, you’ll understand why), and utterly feared in the winters. Yet that’s only a thought of the uneducated, say tourism leaders in this region. They’ll let you in on a little secret that experienced meeting planners know: Midwest destinations continue to mean business all year long, and events held there during winter are typically a raging success—even in sub-zero temperatures seen this week.
Milwaukee Digs In
“People think we’re like the tundra and that nothing can be done here in the winter months,” says Marco Bloemendaal, senior vice president of sales for Visit Milwaukee. “We actually have to fight that stereotype a lot, when people think they’re going to be knee deep in snow and fight the weather at the airports.”
In reality, Milwaukee has an average winter temperature of 28 degrees and an average snowfall of 45 inches, says Bloemendaal. It’s not that bad compared to other destinations, and it doesn’t affect business at all.
“We recently had our regular business—conventions, meetings and overall leisure—analyzed, and surprisingly even to us, business is basically at the same percentage for each of the four quarters,” says Bloemendaal.
For Milwaukee, annual repeat business and state association meetings provide the warm thoughts. They CVS has even seen increased demand for fourth-quarter business over the last few years.
Bloemendaal says the number of national conventions they’ve been able to bid on or book for November and December has increased dramatically, in part from customers saying October has gotten too expensive due to high demand.
Regular weeks in winter might see room rates $30-$40 less than other times of year. Meetings held between Christmas and New Year’s, when hotel occupancy drops, can often score great incentives, Bloemendaal says.
One creative incentive from a local hotel recently centered on a morning essential: Whatever the high temperature is that day is the price you’ll pay for a gallon of coffee.
Another boon for winter meetings in Milwaukee is a heated skywalk that connects 1,700 hotel rooms to the Wisconsin Center, which has more than 188,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space. Yet even Bloemendaal admits they’ve got nothing on a certain Minnesota city in this area.