Budget-Friendly Ideas for Meetings & Events
By Beth Buehler
With costs going up due to inflation, labor shortages, high oil and gas prices, and supply chain issues, planners are looking at ways to stretch budgets more than ever. It can be a conundrum, but the meetings and events industry and Colorado as a destination have demonstrated how to make nearly any situation work, especially during the challenges of COVID-19.
With many people eager to connect in person again, let’s look at seven budget-friendly ideas for meetings and events to help combat the trials of price increases.
Utilize Colorado’s incentive program – The $10 million Meeting & Events Incentive Cash Rebate Program was introduced by the State of Colorado and the Colorado Tourism Office in 2021 to encourage face-to-face gatherings. The program provides pre-approved applicants with a 10% cash rebate of up to $100,000 against the eligible hard costs of hosting meetings and events. Things like venue/event rentals, food/beverage (excluding alcoholic beverages), audiovisual support, entertainment, transportation, and registration and event management technology are among costs that qualify.
It’s a fairly straight forward process to claim the rebate, with representatives from Destination Colorado Meetings available to help applicants get started. The deadline for eligible events is June 30, 2024 or until the money runs out. Be aware that applications must be approved at least 45 days in advance of the event start date with no exceptions.
Steer clear of destinations’ busy times – Every destination has more hectic times than others with leisure travelers, weddings and festivals competing for lodging, venues and other local resources like restaurants, attractions and outfitters. Holidays, three-day weekends and spring break during winters in Colorado ski towns can be expensive, but there are opportunities for lower costs from the end of November through mid-December, much of January and early April. In a city like Denver, downtown also has a variety of busy times like when professional sports teams host home games or there is a citywide convention or event like the Great American Beer Festival happening.
Ask local destination marketing organizations (DMOs) and destination management companies (DMCs) for guidance in terms of best times of year and days of the week to gather in the communities they serve and for budget-friendly ideas for meetings and events. Working with DMOs and DMCs that have relationships with local suppliers can result in discounted negotiated rates. These relationships also are important during times like now when there is a pent-up demand for meeting and event space and services.
Select activities and off-site venues accessible by walking or free transportation – Free bus systems in Crested Butte, Vail and downtown Denver along the 16th Street Mall make it easy for attendees to get around to off-site venues booked for dining and fun. When staying in or near downtowns in Aspen, Boulder, Glenwood Springs and Golden, it’s simple to walk many places, enjoy the vibrant central business districts, and soak in Colorado’s abundant fresh air and sunshine.
Consider less-expensive options – Places like YMCA of the Rockies’ Estes Park Center and Snow Mountain Ranch near Granby offer spacious properties in the mountains, a variety of lodging options, and activities that are free or reasonably priced. Some hotel brands, independent properties and destinations are just naturally less costly, so do your research and ask sales teams about any special deals that might be happening. Small mountain communities like Leadville, Georgetown and Black Hawk typically won’t cost the same as a ski town for example but vary in the size of groups that can be hosted. Cities such as Aurora and Colorado Springs offer a wide range of lodging and venue price points, and venues in most places will give discounts for multiyear contracts.
Get creative with meals and activities – Food halls provide a fun way to get out for lunch or dinner and to rein in food costs by providing each attendee with set amount to spend on food and drink. For example, Stanley Marketplace in Aurora has a Market Coin app for that very purpose. Boulder, Golden, Silverthorne, Denver and Colorado Springs also have terrific food halls to utilize. Local festivals, farmers’ markets and free outdoor concert series also can provide memorable outings without breaking the bank.
Provide a helping hand – Instead of booking expensive activities for team building, consider a community service project that is more hands-on than costly. For example, there are trail maintenance organizations, food banks, animal shelters and Habitat for Humanity that may need assistance or a local park that needs sprucing up. Talk to DMOs, DMCs and property sales teams for ideas, as they can often connect you to possibilities.
Look for local talent – See if there are entertainers, visual artists and speakers in the area that suit your group’s needs, instead of paying for travel and lodging to bring in people from the outside. DMOs and DMCs will have good suggestions, and university towns like Fort Collins, Boulder, Greeley, Gunnison, Durango, Denver and Grand Junction tend to be flush with options. Also, many communities have impressive arts venues bringing in talent, so check into attending these performances or seeing if performers or artists can stay a day longer.
Instead of getting discouraged about rising costs and delaying your group’s next gathering, consider these budget-friendly ideas for meetings and events. Your boss, clients and attendees will be glad you did!
Top Photo: YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center
Beth Buehler has been editor of Colorado Meetings + Events magazine for 17 years and helped launch Mountain Meetings magazine in 2013. She has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.