Nashville's rise in popularity as a meeting destination wasn't a fluke. It was driven by a strategic plan 20 years in the making.
Nashville ranks number two on Cvent’s 2023 Top Meeting Destinations in North America list, beating out the likes of Las Vegas and Chicago and trailing only Orlando. The city made the top 10 of the listing every year since 2014, but it had never placed higher than 6th.
How does this city set smack in the middle of Tennessee beat out a city like Las Vegas?
“We’ve always strived to be a top-tier destination that plays with the A list,” said Deana Ivey, president and CEO of Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp (NCVC). “We may not be as big as those other destinations, but we’re fierce and scrappy. We’ve always worked really hard to over-deliver. That’s our strategy, and it’s worked for us.”
For Ivey, the key is that the city understands and capitalizes on its strengths. The NCVC has done a stellar job at marketing the destination as Music City, and conventions, conferences, and business events have taken note.
Nashville’s tourism industry and conventions generated record economic activity for the city. In 2022, it set a new record of 9.5 million room nights sold, with demand at 108% of 2019 levels. The city has 272 hotels, with 38,841 rooms within Davidson County, and will add 2,500+ hotel rooms by 2024.
A game changer was the opening of the Music City Center in 2013. Strategically built to enable Nashville to attract large, city-wide conventions in the downtown area. The location works well, with almost 14,000 hotel rooms within one mile of the venue. To date, it has hosted more than 2,335 events with 4.4 million attendees who contributed $3.3 billion in direct economic impact for the city.
The Music City Brand
About 20 years ago, Nashville went through a strategic planning process and put a stake in the ground regarding the Music City brand. “Although we had been known by that name for many years, it took a lot of citywide marketing and PR efforts to get everyone on board to embrace it and then start telling the rest of the world that we are the Music City,” said Ivey.
This was no simple undertaking. It was a citywide process that involved more than 150 community leaders. Collaboration is at the core of it all. “In Nashville, we also benefit from being a close community. We have strong partnerships with our hotels, attractions, and restaurants, as well as city organizations like Metro Police, Fire and OEM. In this way, being a smaller city is an advantage,” said Ivey.
Part of the strategic planning process involved working with a music historian to delve deep into the city’s musical roots. The findings are fascinating, going all the way back to the 1870s. when the Fisk Jubilee Singers, an African-American a cappella ensemble, consisting of students at Fisk University toured the world. Their efforts helped fund the school’s mission of educating people formerly enslaved after the Civil War. It also put Nashville on the map as a global music center.
Ivey has been in the trenches with the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. for 26 years. She replaced Butch Spyridon as CEO in July. Both were instrumental in overseeing and coordinating the NCVC’s marketing and sales efforts to make Nashville a global destination.
Influencers Can Help
Ivey says influencers help Nashville reach a wider audience and increase visibility. The many celebrities, songwriters, and musicians who live in the city and have great social media reach. It helps that they love the city and share their sentiments on their feeds.
At a recent Nashville Soccer Club match, Reese Witherspoon, a minority owner, and Nicole Kidman were in the audience, posting about it. “Talk about great PR,” said Ivey.