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Beyond the Border: Meetings in Music City

By M+E Staff

“We don’t have the attributes that some destinations do, like beaches, gambling and theme parks,” admits Butch Spyridon, the long-standing president and CEO of Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp.

Despite that lack, Nashville is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, as well as one of those “it” cities, like Portland or Austin in years past, that draws visitors from destinations that do, in fact, have the attributes of beaches, gambling and theme parks.

In 2018, Nashville, or Music City as it’s known for its rich and continuing musical heritage, hosted 15.2 million visitors, an increase of more than 3 million visitors annually from just five years earlier.

As the CVB likes to boast, people come to Nashville because you won’t find a city anywhere else that’s as accommodating, authentic and accessible. “We have plenty of rooms,” the Visit Music City website says, “state-ofthe-art convention center, music scene that is second to none, rockstar chefs, and so much more to offer the perfect collaboration of business and pleasure.”

Tourism is a key part of the Nashville economy, with some 31,500 hotel rooms in the city. “The meetings and leisure markets feed each other,” notes Spyridon. “People come for leisure and decide they want to host meetings here. Or they come for a meeting and say, ‘I want to come back for a vacation. I had no idea what Nashville has to offer.’”

In 2018, Nashville hosted more than 1,000 meetings and conventions, for a total of nearly 1 million hotel nights. “California is a big meetings market for us,” says Heather Middleton, vice president of public relations for Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. “There are more direct flights than ever before, and our city has a new profile among planners with the opening of the Music City Center, our convention center, in 2013.” Located in the heart of downtown, the 2.1-million-square-foot facility was built so that Nashville could host large, citywide conventions.

Supporting the convention center is a wide array of hotels. Larger nearby properties include the Omni Nashville (800 rooms), Renaissance Nashville (659 rooms), Westin Nashville (454 rooms), JW Marriott Nashville (533 rooms), Sheraton Music City (410 rooms) and Sheraton Grand Nashville Downtown (482 rooms). There are also a slew of new boutique hotels downtown, including Kimpton Aertson, 21C, Noelle, Holston House, Fairlane and The Bobby, each with a singular personality

In a category all its own is Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. With more than 750,000 square feet of meeting space, it’s the largest nongaming, in-hotel exhibition space in the world. Located just 10 minutes from the airport, the 9-acre property has nearly 3,000 guest rooms and more than 15 restaurants and lounges.

When attendees aren’t in meetings, there’s an embarrassment of riches to enjoy. The Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp can help plan itineraries focused around art, civil rights history, Nashville’s emerging neighborhood and maker culture, craft distilleries, cuisine (no trip to Nashville would be complete without at least one meal of hot chicken), and, of course, music, with a stop at Honky Tonk Row and a visit to legendary music venues like the Ryman Auditorium, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and the Grand Ole Opry. Wherever you are in Nashville, there’s always a spot nearby to enjoy good music and a cold beer with no cover charge and no attitude. If you spill some suds while busting a few moves, no one bats an eye. As Spyridon says, “Here in Nashville, we’re fans of feet sticking to the floor.”