What Makes a City First-Tier?

It's often more a matter of perception than a rigid set of criteria.

Cityscape, by Brian Whelan
“Cityscape,” illustrated by Brian Whelan.

There is probably no other question that we’ve been asked more often at Convene than what’s the methodology behind the first-, second-, and third-tier city designations.”It’s a topic,” agreed Terri Roberts, DMAI empowerMINT’s director of training and communications, “that fascinates and confuses many planners.”

Over the years, we’ve asked meeting industry leaders about the classifications (in a cover story from four years ago, for example), and all agree that it’s more a matter of perception than a rigid set of criteria. So late last year, we asked meeting professionals to share those perceptions and tell us how they size up cities for their meetings.

The top attribute necessary for planners to consider a city a first-tier destination is air access, according to our 300 or so survey respondents — almost 70 percent said this is a first-tier city’s calling card. Nineteen percent said ample air access was necessary for a destination to be considered a second-tier city.

The attribute that came in second for first-tier destinations is hotel inventory — including major hotel brands. It was more important that second-tier cities, however, offer abundant dining, entertainment, and local attractions than hotel stock.

Surprisingly, a quarter of planners said it made no difference if they held their largest annual meeting in a first-, second-, or third-tier destination. Thirty-two percent consider only first-tier destinations, 6 percent will go only to second-tier destinations, and for 34 percent, third-tier destinations are off the table.

To see the full list of attributes and rankings for first-, second-, and third-tier cities, take a look at this blog post from DMAI’s empowerMINT, which sponsors our quarterly surveys.

Hungry for more? Email me at for more detailed results. Better yet, listen to one of the smartest minds in the business, Christine “Shimo” Shimasaki, CDME, CMP, present a complimentary webinar on the topic on June 18. She’ll be drawing from the results of the survey — and no doubt asking you to join in the conversation.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.