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best cities for conferences

Between trade group meetings and professional development confabs, the American workforce attends a whole lot of conferences. According to the most recent data from forecasting company Oxford Economics, there are 1.9 million conventions, trade shows and meetings in the U.S. each year with a total of 251 million attendees. All that economic activity is a boon for cities that can make themselves alluring spots to host conferences. In particular, attractive cities are those that offer attendees affordable accommodations and entertainment while not crushing their savings. Ideal locations also include those that allow easy transport from the airport so attendees can preserve their budgets and maximize their networking time. Below we combine these and other factors to rank the best cities for conferences.

In order to rank the best cities for conferences, we looked at data on nine metrics. Specifically, we looked at data on the number of hotels, the number of medium-sized hotels, the number of large hotels, hotel costs, dining costs, the concentration of dining and entertainment establishments, the distance from the airport to downtown, airport travel time and the violent crime rate. Check out our data and methodology below to see where we got our data and how we put it together to create our final ranks.

This is SmartAsset’s fourth annual study of the best cities for conferences. Read the 2017 version here.

Key Findings

  • San Antonio hangs on – Despite tough competition from San Diego and Orlando, San Antonio clung on as the top city for conferences. This means San Antonio has taken the top spot for four straight years.
  • Match your conference to the city – While San Antonio took the top spot, it does not mean every conference should be hosted there. If you are looking for a conference that is focused on business and the bottom line, Houston may be the best bet. If you are looking for a place for networking and having a good time and cost isn’t your primary concern, consider New York or Las Vegas.


1. San Antonio, TX

San Antonio tops the ranks once again as the best city in America for conferences. The Alamo City has it all: plenty of hotels, along with lots of dining and entertainment options. And all of that is located in a city that won’t break your savings account. This city ranks third for total hotels, 14th for dining and entertainment options and first for cost of a meal at a mid-tier restaurant.

2. San Diego, CA

Most conferences are not particularly long. That means any time spent in traffic getting to and from the airport can take up a significant portion of conference time, making cities that have an accessible airport especially enticing as locations for conferences. San Diego ranks well, because its airport is both close to downtown and easy to reach. This city ranks first for airport distance and fourth in travel time to airport. This city also has plenty of lodging options, including 18 large hotels making it a good location for larger conferences.

3. Orlando, FL

Orlando, of course, does not lack in hotels, especially large ones. Overall this city has 284 hotels, including 45 large hotels and 123 medium-sized hotels. Companies will appreciate the affordable hotels on offer here as well. This city ranks 11th for average cost of hotels. Conference attendees who enjoy going out after the main conference events are over will similarly appreciate the relatively low cost of restaurants. Our research shows a meal for two at a mid-tier restaurant costs $45, a top-five rate.

4. Austin, TX

Austin boasts strong scores in all metrics without blowing anyone away in any single metric. That makes Austin a good all-around option for conferences of all shapes and sizes. This city has 10 large hotels and 191 total hotels. Austin is also the sixth-safest city in our study, according to FBI violent crime data. Austin even ranks 10th for shortest distance from the airport to downtown. With all of those metrics in Austin’s favor, it’s not hard to see why it cracks the top 10.

5. Las Vegas, NV

If you’re looking for somewhere fun to have a conference, it’s probably hard to beat Las Vegas. This city, of course, is known for fun, and you can find evidence of that reputation in Census Bureau data. Dining and entertainment establishments make up nearly 7% of all establishments in the city. For that metric, Las Vegas ranks eighth. What’s more, once you land in Las Vegas you won’t have to wait long for the excitement and networking to start. Few cities have an easier airport to reach than Las Vegas. This city ranks in the top five for both airport distance and travel time to airport.

6. Atlanta, GA

Atlanta has plenty of hotels and would make a great city for conferences of just about any size. This city ranks ninth for total hotels and large hotels. The airport is also only about nine miles away.  Our research shows the trip to downtown only takes 15 minutes. Atlanta is also home to the AMA Conference Center and the Emory Conference Center Hotel. In terms of fun, Atlanta does not rank as high as other cities in the top 10. It ranks 20th for dining and entertainment establishments as a percent of all establishments. However, conference attendees in Atlanta won’t spend too much money on hanging out. The cost of a meal for two at a mid-tier restaurant in Atlanta costs $50, a fairly competitive price for this study.

7. New York, NY

The Big Apple comes in seventh. Blessed with plenty of hotels large and small, New York is home to some of the largest conferences in the world. In total, New York leads the way with 675 hotels, 53 of which meet the criteria for large. That means there is no shortage of places to stay or venues to host conferences in New York. As everyone knows, though, New York is expensive, including for hotels and meals out. New York ranks in the 40s for both cost of hotels and cost of a meal. Fortunately, though, New York does offer conference-goers plenty of ways to spend their money. More than 7% of establishments in New York are dedicated to entertainment or dining.

8. Houston, TX

Houston takes eighth. This city has a large number of hotels, but medium-sized hotels dominate the hotel industry here. Overall, Houston has just more than 550 hotels but only nine large ones. In those metrics, Houston ranks second and 13th respectively. Access to hotels alone is not enough to crack the top of this list. Houston also has affordable hotels – an average night at a hotel here costs $123.

9. Portland, OR

The Pacific Northwest’s lone representative on this list is Portland. This city somewhat lacks in conference venues. Portland only has one large hotel and 79 medium sized hotels. In both of those metrics, Portland ranks among the bottom three for this list. Where Portland does shine is in the quality of the conference experience available to visitors. This city is one of the safest in the study, as well as one of the most fun. Portland is known as a great beer town and ranks sixth for dining and entertainment establishments as a percent of all establishments.

10. (tie) Phoenix, AZ

Tied for the final spot is the city in the desert, Phoenix. Like Portland ranked above and Columbus ranked below, Phoenix leaves a bit to be desired in the hotel department. In all three hotel metrics, Phoenix ranks no worse than 15th but no better than 20th. Where Phoenix beats the competition is in affordability and convenience. The airport is less than seven miles from downtown, a top-10 rate, and the average hotel room costs only $115 per night, another top-10 score.

10. (tie) Columbus, OH

Our list of the best cities for conferences wraps up in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus is probably not the best destination for the largest conferences, as it only has two large hotels. But it makes up for it with high scores in other metrics. In fact, outside of the lack of large hotels there is plenty to like about Columbus. This city ranks in the top 25 for seven out of the nine metrics we analyzed.


Data and Methodology

In order to find the best cities for conferences, we looked at data for the largest cities in the country, filtering out any which did not have at least 100 hotels. From there, we looked at the following nine metrics:

  • Number of hotels. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2016 County Business Patterns Survey.
  • Number of medium-sized hotels. This is the number of hotels that have between 20 and 250 employees. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2016 County Business Patterns Survey.
  • Number of large hotels. This is the number of hotels that have more than 250 employees. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2016 County Business Patterns Survey.
  • Hotel room rate. This is the average price per night for a hotel room in 2017. Data comes from® Hotel Price Index™ (HPI™)
  • Restaurant meal cost. This is the average cost of a three-course meal for two people at a mid-range restaurant. We used’s September 2018 data.
  • Distance between downtown and airport. This is the distance in miles between each city’s downtown area and the closest major airport. Data comes from Google Maps and
  • Travel time to airport. This is how long it takes to drive from downtown to the closest major airport. Data comes from Google Maps and
  • Violent crime rate. This is the number of violent crimes per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Database for 2015 and 2016.
  • Concentration of dining and entertainment establishments. This is the number of restaurants, bars and other entertainment establishments as a percentage of all establishments in each city. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2016 County Business Patterns Survey.

First, we ranked each city in each metric. Then we found each city’s average ranking, giving full weighting to all metrics except airport distance and airport travel time. Those two metrics received a half weighting. We used these average rankings to create our final score. The city with the best average ranking received a score of 100. The city with the worst average ranking received a 0.

Tips for managing your savings

  • Make a budget – Whether you are away at a conference or just at the grocery store, a budget can help you focus on what you really want to spend your money on. Creating a budget you can stick to helps you not only save money, but also relieve stress. By creating and sticking to a budget, there is no mystery about where your money is going. And if you want to save money you will have an easy-to-use resource to decide where you can make some cuts.
  • Use the right savings account – Most Americans use savings accounts, but many are leaving a lot of money on the table by not using high-yield savings accounts. By switching to an online-only account at Synchrony or Ally, you can increase your savings account yield by more than 1%.
  • Ask an expert – Managing your finances is both difficult and important. So instead of worrying if you’re handling your strategy correctly, why not get an expert’s opinion? A financial advisor can help you plan for your retirement or help you find a way to buy your next home. If you are not sure where to find a financial advisor, check out SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool. It will match you with up to three local financial advisors who fit your investing needs.

Questions about our study? Contact us at

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Derek Miller, CEPF® Derek Miller is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh where he studied economics. He is passionate about using data to help people make better financial decisions. Derek is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance® (CEPF®) and a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing. He is a data journalist whose expertise is in finding the stories within the numbers. Derek's writing has been featured on Yahoo, AOL, and Huffington Post. He believes the biggest financial mistake people make is waiting too late to save for retirement and missing out on the wonders of compounding interest. Derek lives in Brooklyn.
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