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SmartAsset: Best Cities for Conferences in 2021

Over the past year and a half, in-person conferences have been put on pause. However, as vaccination rates increase and businesses reopen, many conferences across a variety of industries are returning to in-person formats in fall 2021. Within the financial advisory industry more specifically, Orion Advisor Services’ Ascent conference, Riskalyze’s Fearless conference and the T3 Advisor/Enterprise Conference are all scheduled to take place in person over the next few months.

Given the reemergence of in-person conferences, SmartAsset took a closer look at the cities most conducive to professional gatherings. We compared 32 of the largest cities with at least 100 hotels across a total of 10 metrics, divided into four categories: hotels & dining, affordability, travel accessibility and safety & COVID-19 impact. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

This is the sixth edition of our study on the best cities for conferences. Check out our 2020 edition here.

Key Findings

  •  San Diego, California takes the top spot for the second year in a row. Despite taking additional timely metrics into account this year – including the COVID-19 infection rate and employment levels relative to pre-pandemic figures – San Diego ranks No. 1 again. It ranks second-best for the category of travel accessibility and seventh-best for the category of hotels and dining.
  • There are no Northeast cities in our top 10. New York, New York is the top-ranking Northeast city for conferences, at No. 13. In fact, only one additional Northeast city – Washington, D.C., at No. 14 – makes it into our top 20.

Image is a map by SmartAsset titled "Top 10 Cities for Conferences."

1. San Diego, CA

San Diego, California ranks in the top third of cities for three out of the four categories we considered:

  • Hotels and dining
  • Travel accessibility
  • Safety and COVID-19 impact

The city ranks particularly well for travel accessibility (second overall), with the shortest distance between downtown and the airport (less than four miles) and ties for the third-lowest average travel time between the two (about 11 minutes). In the category of hotels and dining, San Diego ranks in the top 15 cities for all three underlying metrics: number of hotels (239), number of large hotels (15) and concentration of dining and entertainment establishments (9.97%).

2. Atlanta, GA

Atlanta, Georgia ranks in the top third of cities for all four categories and additionally ranks in the top 10 for five underlying metrics. The five top-ranking metrics include:

  • Number of hotels (242)
  • Hotel room rate ($114)
  • Restaurant meal cost ($50)
  • Average travel time from downtown to the airport (15 minutes)
  • Change in employment from February 2020 to May 2021 (-2.61%)

To note, the hotel room rate is an average price per night for a double room among three-star hotels while the restaurant meal cost is the average cost of a three-course meal for two people at a mid-range restaurant.

3. Austin, TX

With many hotel and dining offerings, Austin, Texas is a great city for conferences. According to 2019 data from the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns Survey, there are 202 hotels in the city and seven of those are large hotels with at least 250 employees. Additionally, more than 9% of city establishments are dedicated to dining and entertainment.

Austin also ranks best for our safety and COVID-19 impact category, with the second-lowest violent crime rate (about 400 per 100,000 residents) and eighth-most recovered employment (only about 2% lower than it was in February 2020).

4. Tucson, AZ

Tucson, Arizona ranks best overall in our affordability category and seventh-best in our safety and COVID-19 impact category. The city has the third-lowest average hotel room rate ($99) and ties for the lowest average restaurant meal cost ($45 for two people).

Tucson ranks in approximately the top 40% of cities for all three metrics in our safety and COVID-19 impact category: It has the 13th-lowest violent crime rate (688 per 100,000 residents), 11th-lowest COVID-19 infection rate (five cases per 100,000 residents, as of July 13, 2021) and 14th-best employment change from February 2020 to May 2021 (-3.23%).

5. San Antonio, TX

One of the largest cities in the Lone Star State, San Antonio ranks particularly well for its number of hotels and hotel room rate. Across the 32 cities in our study, it has the third-highest number of hotels (351) and second-lowest average hotel room rate ($84). San Antonio also ranks in the top 10 cities for two other metrics: it has six large hotels and the average travel time from its downtown to the airport is only 15 minutes.

6. Oklahoma City, OK

While Oklahoma City, Oklahoma falls farthest behind when it comes to its concentration of restaurants and entertainment establishments (with less than 9%, it ranks in the bottom third of the study for that metric), the cost of dining out is relatively low. Numbeo data shows that the average cost of a three-course dinner for two in the city is $45, which is tied for the lowest in the study with Tucson, Arizona.

Beyond relatively low dining costs, hotel room rates are also relatively low. There are a total of 183 hotels in Oklahoma City and the average room rate is about $139 per night.

7. Columbus, OH

Columbus, Ohio ranks fourth-best for its travel accessibility score and 14th for affordability. According to our data, there are about eight miles between downtown and the airport, and the average travel time for that distance is about 16 minutes. The average hotel room rate is 12th-lowest in our study, at $121 per night, and the average restaurant meal cost is 13th-lowest, at $58 for two people.

8. Las Vegas, NV

With a large leisure and hospitality industry, Las Vegas, Nevada was one of the cities hardest hit by the economic impacts of COVID-19. However, with employment mostly recovering, the city ranks as the No. 8 city for conferences. Across the four categories we considered, it ranks fourth-best for travel accessibility and 10th-best for affordability. Las Vegas also has the lowest overall average hotel room rate in our study ($69).

9. Portland, OR

Portland, Oregon ranks particularly well (second overall) for the category of safety and COVID-19 impact and towards the middle of the study (16th) for affordability. It ranks in the top half of the study for all individual metrics in those two categories.

For the category of safety and COVID-19 impact, the city ranks as follows:

  • Fifth-lowest violent crime rate (about 545 per 100,000 residents)
  • Seventh-lowest recent COVID-19 infection rate (four cases per 100,000 residents)
  • Fifth-best change in employment from February 2020 to May 2021 (-0.62%)

In terms of lodging and meal affordability in Portland, the average hotel room rate is 16th-lowest in the study ($142 per night) and average restaurant meal cost is 15th-lowest ($60 for two people).

10. Orlando, FL

Orlando, Florida rounds out our list of the top 10 cities for conferences. Orlando ranks fourth-best for its hotels and dining score. It has the fifth-highest total number of hotels (293) and highest overall number of large hotels (36). Additionally, dining and entertainment establishments make up almost 10% of all establishments in the city.

In terms of the other three categories, Orlando ranks 11th for affordability, 23rd for travel accessibility and 14th for safety and COVID-19 impact.

Image is a table by SmartAsset titled "2021 Edition: Best Cities for Conferences."

Data and Methodology

To find the best cities for conferences, SmartAsset compared data for the largest cities in the country, filtering out any which did not have at least 100 hotels or complete data. This left us with 32 cities, which we compared across four categories and 10 metrics:

  • Hotels and dining. For our hotels and dining score, we considered three metrics: number of hotels, number of large hotels and concentration of dining and entertainment establishments. Data for all three metrics comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 Zip Codes Business Patterns Survey.
  • Affordability. For this score, we looked at hotel room rate and restaurant meal cost. Hotel room rate is the average price per night for a double room while restaurant meal cost is the average cost of a three-course meal for two people at a mid-range restaurant. Data for the two metrics comes from CheapHotels.org and Numbeo, respectively.
  • Travel accessibility. This includes both the distance and average travel time from the city’s downtown to the closest major airport. Data comes from Google Maps and Citylab.com.
  • Safety and COVID-19 impact. This includes violent crime rate, COVID-19 infection rate and change in employment from February 2020 to May 2021. Violent crime rate data comes from the FBI and is for 2019. COVID-19 infection rate data comes from the New York Times and is at the county level. It is a rolling seven-day average as of July 13, 2021. Finally, employment data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is at the county level.

We ranked each city in every metric and found an average ranking and score for each category. We then found a final score, averaging the four category scores. The city with the highest cumulative score ranked at the top of our list.

Tips for Managing Your Money Like a Pro

  • Leave it to the experts. Whether you attend a conference in person or online, only the most trusted knowledge will do – so why not treat your finances the same way? A financial advisor can help you make smarter financial decisions such as moving or being in better control of your money. SmartAsset’s free tool can help you network faster – it matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Need to expand your conference travel budget? Let your money work for you. If you need to network but are tight on cash, exploring more passive income streams might give you some of the wiggle room you’re looking for. A great way to get the most out of your investments is to plan and save early so that you can take advantage of compound interest. SmartAsset’s free investment calculator will show how you much your investment can grow over time.

Questions about our study? Contact us at press@smartasset.com.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Wavebreakmedia

Stephanie Horan, CEPF® Stephanie Horan is a data journalist at SmartAsset. A Certified Educator of Personal Finance (CEPF®), she sources and analyzes data to write studies relating to a variety of topics including mortgage, retirement and budgeting. Before coming to SmartAsset, she worked as an analyst at an asset management firm. Stephanie graduated from Williams College with a degree in Mathematics. Originally from Philadelphia, she has always been a Yankees fan and currently lives in New York.
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