Great Examples of In-Person Colorado Meeting and Events, Plus Hybrid Tips
By Beth Buehler
Destination Colorado brought together five pros from the Colorado meeting and events industry for a “Unique Times Unique Meetings” webinar on March 26, 2021. The panelists provided an example of one of their favorite gatherings held since the pandemic hit in mid-March 2020 and shared how creativity, partnerships and diligent communication with clients has made all the difference. Also find out what the five, including an A/V company CEO, have to say about hybrid meetings.
For more helpful insights, watch the online learning session for free!
Moving Networking Outdoors
The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs has hosted more than 300 Colorado meeting and events since the hotel reopened on June 29, 2020, after being closed for three months due to the pandemic. A gathering that sticks out in Director of Sales Pepper Dombroski’s mind included featured a networking session that was moved outside. “We set up more residential-style seating and were able to put those chairs six feet apart,” she says. “It was very productive from a business level, and with a little creativity in setup and meeting planners coming prepared with sunglasses and sunscreen, they were able to enjoy the beautiful sunshine that Colorado offers and have a successful event.”
Client Dinner on a Gondola
“It has been a wild and crazy year for us all,” emphasizes Justin Ball, founder/president of Denver-based Bespoke, an experiential marketing agency. “We’ve been lucky enough to have countless digital broadcasts, great hybrid programs and a handful of really phenomenal live events. We’ve had groups ranging from 50 to close to 150, anywhere from Denver to Aspen and Gateway.”
This included a program organized by Bespoke and hosted at St. Regis Aspen. For one of the evenings, the group walked down the street for a culinary event catered by The Little Nell. But here’s the catch: the event was held on Aspen Mountain’s Silver Queen Gondola! Attendees could opt to ride in their own private gondola for a socially distanced evening or to be part of a gondola car with a maximum of four people. “We brought the hot boxes out and prepped as much ‘à la minute’ to service a really phenomenal client dinner. We curated a playlist with the Bluetooth-enabled gondolas,” explains Ball.
When the gondolas arrived at the top Aspen Mountain, the doors opened and masked servers removed the first course and delivered the next course complete with a wine pairing served in disposable tumblers with lids for the way back down. “We tried to control all the senses and have a really great four-course meal,” Ball says. After two full loops on the gondola and four courses, the evening ended with a post program at The Little Nell. “It’s the first time we’ve turned a full gondola into a food and beverage experience. It was a great way to work with our hotelier partners to create something new and different and with five-star execution.”
Western Slope Seclusion for Incentives
On Colorado’s Western Slope, Gateway Canyons worked hand-in-hand with Mesa County to help create a 5-star program to recognize businesses for taking the necessary precautions and following guidelines to ensure customer safety during the pandemic. Many other counties in Colorado and the nation followed suit using the program as an example. Group business began picking up late summer and fall due to these efforts and Gateway being a bit remote and off-the-beaten path, notes Director of Group Sales Callie Cornell.
“The name of our game right now is incentive groups. Gateway is self-contained and we own all of our transportation as well as our activities, which has been appealing for our incentive clients. Also, the fact is that a lot of people are still a little hesitant to go international. We’ve been fortunate to have a lot of really good clients we have worked with over the past year and not a lot of cancellations, but there definitely has been some moving around of dates,” Cornell confirms.
“We had a buyout with Justin’s team at Bespoke in September 2020. With constant communication and overcoming challenges as they pertained to changing guidelines and comfort levels with clients, Justin’s team rolled with the punches with us and created a really memorable experience for their clients,” she says. “That is what we will need to do moving forward is work even more closely with clients and make sure that communication is always top of mind.”
Downtown Denver Hotel Renovates Building and Meetings Approach
Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel made the most of quieter times to complete an $80 million transformation quicker than planned. The property never closed its doors and has been able to host meetings consistently throughout the pandemic by spreading groups out across three ballrooms and a total of 133,000 square feet of meeting and event space located in two towers.
One of the highlights for Director of Sales and Marketing Tracy Blair was a hybrid well-being event with 300 in-person and 500 virtual attendees. The in-person attendees had to be split up into three groups due to the 100-person max per meeting space at the time, but it worked well due to a live feed with Jay Leno serving as one of the keynotes from his home on the West Coast.
“Executing this hybrid event, the organization was able to meet all of its strategies and goals for the event and have 50 in-person exhibitors all operating in a safe environment. What was really awesome about this event is they rebooked for October 2021,” shares Blair. “Organizers have increased their rooms on peak and in-person attendees for 2021 and will use hybrid going forward. People had such a great experience they wanted to be in person the following year. Hybrid does really help to expand and isn’t a solution to not meet in person.”
On a side note, Sheraton Denver Downtown, Denver’s largest hotel, received a large venue variance by the governor’s office in late March 2021, allowing the property to begin hosting in-person meetings and events of up 2,000 attendees.
Hybrid Enhances Meetings Model
“Hybrid is certainly a topic of conversation, and we are creating experiences both online and in-person that tailor to each type of medium. The biggest thing is to encourage people to think about it as not just one event. When considering hybrid, you are inherently talking about two separate events, and planners should approach it from that perspective. You have an in-person run of show and online run of show,” explains Artem Nikulkov, CEO/executive producer for Earth Coast Productions in Boulder. “We recently have done a number of fund-raisers, nonprofit events, conferences and meetings and are figuring out what media really captures people’s attention.”
Destination Colorado’s March webinar was hosted on the live event platform developed by Earth Coast Productions, a video production and media strategy agency. “The platform came out of pandemic in a lot of ways. When all the events we had on the books for 2020 cancelled, we switched gears and started to really ask what is required in this industry and what people need and continued to tailor custom solutions,” says Nikulkov.
Playing off the concept of Bespoke’s gondola event, he reminds planners to figure out how to translate “the wine pairings and all those tasty bites” from in-person experiences to virtual attendees. “All of those little details add up to a much larger holistic experience. … We’re all familiar with Zoom fatigue and creating those tailored experiences to overcome it is really the answer.”
Incorporating hybrid into meetings models is the “right business decision and something to really understand and embrace. It is something that can heighten the experience for both the in-person and online audiences if structured properly,” Nikulkov suggests. “What we are seeing right now is tailoring the in-person to being the VIP experience and the hybrid and virtual to being the general admission. That goes hand-in-hand with really great meals and wine tastings and all of those things. People are willing to pay a premium for that and want to gather.”
The five panelists are upbeat about how meetings and events have returned to the calendar and how Colorado companies, destinations and Destination Colorado can help planners create gatherings that people will remember and feel safe attending. Ball observes, “Locally, in the Denver market, we are seeing a resurgence of social and wedding programs, but being a corporate house at heart we are excited to see continued work with our corporate and not-for-profit partners.”
Destination Colorado is the one-stop Colorado resource for meeting and event planners and provides connections to meeting service providers. Create statewide RFPs, find detailed destination descriptions and inspirational articles, execute targeted property searches and more at www.DestinationColorado.com. All of this is provided at no cost to planners!
Lead photo: Aspen’s Silver Queen Gondola, photo by Jeremy Swanson.
Beth Buehler has been editor of Colorado Meetings + Events magazine for 16 years and helped launch Mountain Meetings magazine in 2013. She has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.