Above all, Albuquerque offers meetings and conventions a sense of place, whether that space is Earth-bound in the shadow of the Sandia Mountains or in its highly walkable downtown convention district, or quite literally “above it all” hundreds of feet in the air aboard a hot-air balloon.

“When you think of San Francisco, you think of the Golden Gate Bridge. When you think of St. Louis, you think of the Arch. When you think of Albuquerque, you think of ballooning—that is our iconic symbol,” says Robert Enriquez, vice president of convention sales, services and sports for the Albuquerque CVB.

Weather permitting—and it usually is—groups can see anywhere from a few to hundreds of colorful balloons filling the air. Many groups rent out the Albuquerque Balloon Museum for receptions highlighted by the dramatic aerial show.

More down-to-earth Albuquerque happenings are highlighted by some $300 million in hospitality infrastructure development under way, including $20 million going to upgrade the Albuquerque Convention Center; the first phase is scheduled for completion in August and the second is set for summer 2014.

Enriquez notes that the CVB has made the booking process for citywides easier by teaming with the three major convention hotels—the Hyatt Regency Albuquerque, the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Albuquerque and the boutique Hotel Andaluz —to create one contract for meeting planners, facilitated by the bureau. All of the properties agree to adhere to common contract terms, and none can see the rate details of the other hotels.

“We have kicked off what we refer to as the downtown corridor,” Enriquez says. “We’ve blown the roof off of your typical big box hotel. Our room is our blue skies, and your big box is these three hotels.”

Groups coming to Albuquerque will also enjoy a price point on the value side, along with a diverse culture, with Spanish and Native American influences from the 19 nearly pueblos touching everything from the arts and culture to cuisine.