Why select "that" destination?

When I moved to DC in ’78,  Union Station, our historical rail station,was the DC Visitor’s Center and not at all attractive.  It was functional but the beautiful internal architecture had been covered over;  there were few reasons to go there unless you had to take a train.


Ten years later, with great fanfare, the Station reopened after extensive renovation.  I remember my first jaw-dropping visit after the renovation: the magnificence of the uncovered architecture, the additions of restaurants, a food court with local, ethnic businesses, a multi-screen movie theatre, shops and a real train station, all designed to draw the local and traveling community.


It was a place recommended to “locals” and visitors alike as a destination. To learn the history and to experience the beauty of the space was truly learning about DC and the country. Its location was (and is) a good starting point for visiting museums and the Capitol and Supreme Court.


On “Black Friday” we went to Union Station for the first time in months. Although I had been increasingly disappointed in the management company’s choices of businesses occupying space in the Station, I still loved the architecture and the food court still held a few local gems like the Indian food and the sushi. I was even more disappointed this time with the businesses that had been pushed out, the addition of more chain fast-food stands in the food court and on the main floor, kiosks filled with tchotchkes, and nothing that made one want to visit.


What’s this got to do with our profession and selecting a meeting destination?  




If we select a destination that is like “any convention city”, what’s the point of going? Often groups market the destination with a meeting's content and speakers as part of the reason to attend. If one has never experienced a particular city, a meeting provides an opportunity to expand one's horizons. Do we have a checklist that includes what we want in a destination beyond good (and reasonably priced) air access? How do we consider the character of a city before determining if it is a good match to support our meetings and "feeding" our audiences?


Today recalled my first trip to Seattle in 1984.  I fell in love with the city, Pike Place Market, and the small businesses around town. In particular, I loved, when I stayed at the Sheraton, going to Abruzzi’s,the pizza joint across the street.


As the city became more popular as a tourist and meeting destination, Abruzzi’s and other local businesses were torn down, replaced with in-city malls with all the usual stores. It was the homogenization of Seattle, making it less attractive. Even the Market has become much more commercial and “clean” (like DC’s Eastern Market), losing some of its original character.  I guess people who’ve never been to Seattle (or DC) still love it; for those of us who knew it before (and my memory only goes back to ’84), it just isn’t the same. [I still love Seattle but confess to loving Portland, Oregon more. Portland hasn’t lost all it’s local character and small businesses…yet.]


Sure, progress is great but does that mean all cities must look and feel the same? Do all cities have to include malls that all have the same stores and food outlets? That feel alike the way Union Station has become with the kiosks hiding the character and the available food all from chains? Do we not want people to experience the character of a meeting destination? Is the meetings/hospitality industry standing up and saying, to developers and governments, that we want to retain something that is unique about where our meetings are held?


If meetings are to become more experiential, as many of us desire, then too should we not try to make the destination for those meetings an experience as well?



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