The Other Second Cities

Paul Nolan

Last spring, after checking out the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara, my daughter and I enjoyed a beautiful day rambling through the city’s downtown shopping district. It was the first time I’d visited the city, and as I walked past one restaurant after another that I wished I was hungry enough to try, I kept thinking to myself how much fun it would be to attend a meeting there and share that experience with coworkers.

In November, I plan to visit Nashville with a brother and a different daughter. I’m fully expecting the same kind of reaction I had in Santa Barbara.

Team meetings provide great bonding moments, and I have enjoyed business travel with colleagues in Chicago, Miami, Las Vegas and New York on numerous occasions. I have not been able to make recent industry events in San Antonio, Nashville and New Orleans, and that’s disappointing. These so-called second-tier cities offer unique experiences that can’t be had in the larger, more common meeting and convention destinations.

There is a lot of talk these days about “experiential meetings.” Everyone defines that differently, but essentially it means turning an offsite into more than a meeting. That can be done in Chicago or Orlando, of course, but if half or more of your group has been there before, it makes it increasingly challenging to create a new experience.

Peter Lombard is founder of Insouciance Abroad, a company that, among other things, plans corporate offsites that have lasting impact. Lombard steers his corporate clients to new destinations whenever possible. His theory: Why go to Manhattan for great steak when you can go to where the steak is — Omaha, Kansas City or San Antonio — and have a totally new experience around your team dinner?

Our cover feature explores that philosophy in depth. The added benefit of holding a more affordable event in a cheaper destination was mentioned by nearly everyone we spoke with. That can’t be underplayed, and it only makes it easier to pitch a new destination to management.

It may feel risky to select a new city for an important sales meeting or incentive event, but in an era in which you’re asking the sales and marketing professionals you count on to take a few risks in order to create some rewards, there may be no better time to practice what you preach.