Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

October 13 2015

How One Huge Convention is Connecting with Its Host City

By David McMillin

Attendees want to do more than follow a convention agenda — they want to be part of the surrounding city. Find out how one organization is leveraging its host destination to create a more compelling experience.

When a record 61,423 attendees arrived in Indianapolis for Gen Con 2015, they brought more than their love of fantasy, science fiction and adventure games. They also brought a passion that many other convention attendees carry to cities around the world: a love for craft beer. As the microbrewery craze continues to sweep the nation, Gen Con organizers have capitalized on the thriving craft beer scene in Indianapolis. A unique partnership with the Circle City’s own Sun King Brewing, an award-winning brewery only available within state lines, gives the conference its own official beer.

Tapping Into The Pre-Conference Buzz

The Gen Con-Sun King partnership provides more than an on-site infusion of energy. Each year, the Gen Con community can submit their own options to name the beer before the convention kicks off in Indianapolis. Last year, attendees submitted more than 5,000 names for the beer. The eventual winner was named Froth of Khan. In 2015, attendees selected Drink On And Prosper. “Gen Con’s growing relationship with Sun King exemplifies how local Indy businesses continue to connect with the convention’s growing international fan base,” Scott Elliott, Vice President, Gen Con, says. “The common thread is artisan-level quality in production.”

Connecting Attendees To The City

As prospective attendees decide whether to click the register button, they’re looking for more than the booths in an exhibit hall, the education breakout sessions or the networking opportunities at a cocktail reception. They share one common thread with traditional leisure travelers: the desire to do, see and experience what isn’t offered back home. In fact, 75 percent of respondents in Phase One of the Decision To Attend Study indicated that they like to get “out and about” during a conference. In Indianapolis, the centrally-located downtown convention center, hotels and more than 250 restaurants and attractions make it easy for planners to appeal to this attendee desire.

Gen Con goers look forward to the opening night celebration along a three-block outdoor event promenade adjacent to the Indiana Convention Center, hotels, and restaurants. Indy’s best food trucks line the street, and local bands energize the crowd. The official Sun King beer is tapped, and proceeds from organized games are donated to a local charity. The opening celebration is just the beginning of some of the more than 15,000 official convention events held at only-in-Indy venues, from modern museums to historic theaters.

Throughout the city, restaurants display their Hoosier hospitality by offering Gen Con specific menus, drink specials, and signage. As sleep is considered optional during the four-day stretch, many bars and restaurants smartly offer Indy-centric coffee and energy drinks 24/7.

“We’re always thrilled to see convention leaders identify opportunities to give attendees the authentic Indy experience,” Daren Kingi, Senior VP of Sales, Visit Indy, says. “Whether it’s offering a taste of some of the city’s best restaurants, taking attendees on a bike tour of downtown or giving them a ride around the world-famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there are so many ways that meetings can use our city to create lasting memories for attendees.”

Leaving An Impact

Gen Con has also mastered how to turn the fun and games into a benefit to the local community. Conference organizers recognized that tens of thousands of attendees can make a big difference when they come together. That’s why, each year, Gen Con helps raise money for a local Indianapolis charity. In 2015, the conference raised more than $40,000 for The Julian Center, an organization that provides shelter and counseling for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Interested in learning more about some of the only-in-Indy places and businesses that can localize your convention and make it a success? Check out some of my top recommendations here.

Click here to check out a recent survey from Convene to see how Indy measures up to planners’ expectations. Hint: the city is doing very well.


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