By Beth Buehler
Some groups like to change up their meeting location every year. Others prefer returning to the same destination because it continues to work well for attendees and sweet relationships have been formed with local suppliers.
I enjoy going to different destinations every year for the Colorado Governor’s Conference on Tourism with Crested Butte, Breckenridge, Grand Junction and Vail being on the schedule the past four years and Denver serving as host in September 2019. On the other hand, the Meetings Industry Council of Colorado Educational Conference & Trade Show is always at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver each March, and there is a certain peace of mind knowing where to go yet also having new experiences, since the hotel blocks and opening reception venues often change.
So the big question at hand is how do you pick a new meeting destination for either scenario? Here are five things to keep in mind.
Group Size – First get a good handle on how many people will be attending, the number of lodging rooms needed and the amount of function space required. Do the accommodations need to be on-site and are several hotels required? If you have a large group, it will narrow down the choices, but several towns in Colorado like Boulder, Aspen and Vail are excelling at hosting walking conferences that involve a variety of venues and hotels all located within a few blocks of each other.
The Hangar at Stanley Marketplace in Aurora has worked well for Destination Colorado’s one-day annual meeting and Front Range Trade Show the past two years. However, the organization’s Client Appreciation Event jumps around the state to places like Hotel Talisa, Vail in 2018 and Morrison’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre in 2017, which keeps it interesting for planners and suppliers and allows Destination Colorado to vary up the activities.
Transportation – Consider how attendees will travel to the meeting. If it’s not by car, what distance is it to the meeting venue from the airport or train station and what methods of travel are available? In Denver, the commuter rail service between Denver International Airport and Denver Union Station has changed the game for the metropolitan area. For only $9 one way, it is a very clean, safe and easy 35-minute ride for attendees and their luggage to downtown and an even shorter ride to properties like the new Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center. Attendees can even connect with an Amtrak train at Denver Union Station and continue on to Grand County (location of great properties in Winter Park, Tabernash and Granby), Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction through scenic terrain.
Also, regional airports dot the state with locations such as Colorado Springs, Grand Junction, Eagle, Gunnison-Crested Butte, Montrose-Telluride, Aspen, Steamboat Springs and more. Some mountain towns like Aspen/Snowmass and Gunnison/Crested Butte also have free bus service that makes it easy for attendees to get between the communities and venues and to explore on their own.
Personality of the Town – What is the town’s overall vibe (e.g., laidback, upscale, friendly, business-like, etc.)? Does it fit your organization’s brand and your attendees’ style? Will they enjoy spending time there? For conferences that rely on paid registrations, like some of the ones mentioned earlier, it’s helpful if attendees look forward to spending time in the destination and perhaps even add on more time to spend some vacation days or schedule meetings there before or after, like I always do for the MIC Conference.
When inviting media and VIPs to launch a new luxury product, it makes sense to host a meeting in Colorado at places like Vail, Aspen or Telluride. Would your group relish the opportunity to have dinner by the vineyards, pick peaches in an orchard or visit a lavender farm? Then the Western Slope and Grand Junction and Palisade are a good fit. For both urban/mountain flair, it’s easy to find time for both meeting in Denver and Colorado Springs and venturing into the surrounding mountains.
Budget – Then there is the pesky thing called a budget, which is always an important factor to keep your client, boss or board of directors happy. Some destinations just tend to be more expensive than others, but not necessarily in the fringe seasons like April through May and October through November in the mountains. It also can depend on what other demand you are competing with, so try to be a little flexible with meeting dates. If there is a citywide happening in downtown Denver, for example, check the surrounding areas like Westminster, Broomfield and Aurora.
Are there suppliers right in the town you are considering to assist or will you have to pay mileage and time for travel to bring these partners in? Also consider your attendees’ budgets and what they are willing to pay for lodging and transportation to get to a meeting or conference. The list could probably go on and on in this category, but you get the picture.
Local Pros – A big factor in a successful event are the people behind the local venues, lodging properties, destination marketing organizations and other suppliers for things like décor, A/V, entertainment and more. How do you feel when you interact with these individuals over email, phone and in person? Are they responsive in a reasonable amount of time? Do they know the destination well and have fun ideas of how to plug your group into the sense of place? Relationships are vital in the meetings and events industry, and picking a new meeting destination is no exception.
These are just a few of the many things to consider with dialing in the best place for your gathering, but it’s enough to get started down the right track.
Beth Buehler is editor of Colorado Meetings + Events and Mountain Meetings magazines, has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado in all seasons.