By Beth Buehler
If your group has never seriously considered small towns as meeting destinations for gatherings, now may be the time. Places that have less-dense populations or are a bit out of the way yet still have the venues, lodging and activities to host groups may end up being the locales that get meetings and events back in action, especially as guidelines surrounding COVID-19 are relaxed and as attendees get used to traveling again.
At least that is what is expected for leisure travel, and I’m guessing the same will be true for groups. It seems likely that both social and business gatherings will be smaller to start off with, which opens up opportunities to consider all sorts of amazing Colorado small towns as meeting destinations like Buena Vista, Salida, Durango, Gateway, and Palisade. But these also are places to consider at any time!
Here are a few reasons to consider small towns as meeting destinations.
Unique Experiences in Abundance
Going someplace new and different definitely qualifies as an experience. Did you know that many of Colorado’s fruit orchards, lavender fields and wineries are located around Palisade and Grand Junction?
These two towns are easy to enjoy together, and it’s hard to beat dinner in an orchard, a reception at a winery (and there is a distillery and brewery in Palisade, too!), a bike ride between vineyards and orchards, and a raft excursion on the Colorado River. Stay and meet at the 80-room Wine Country Inn in Palisade surrounded by grape vines, and attendees will get the sense that they are in the Napa Valley of Colorado. It just might happen that choosing small towns as meeting destinations might become your go-to after the first experience!
Buying Out Properties Is Easier
South from Grand Junction about an hour is the tiny but mightily beautiful town of Gateway where John Hendricks, founder of the Discovery Channel, translated his vision for a unique, high-end property into Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa. Not only is there a curator of curiosity on staff and all sorts of great venues and activities to choose from, Hendrick’s impressive auto collection is housed in the Gateway Auto Museum. Properties like these offer buyouts that may not be available elsewhere and ensure privacy and will accommodate social distancing as the guidelines loosen up. There is loads of space on property and the nearby Palisade Ranch to spread out on.
It’s Easy to Dial into Local
Local flavor could be the twin of unique experiences in terms of being in demand by attendees. I leave a destination most satisfied when it feels like I’ve dialed into the local vibe on my own or through the efforts of a skilled meeting planner and local hosts. Nowhere is it easier to tap into local than small towns for meeting destinations. The Chaffee County communities of Buena Vista and Salida in central Colorado are great examples. Both have cultures that surround recreation on the Arkansas River and an abundance of hiking and biking trails, an active craft brewery scene, and charming downtowns filled with locally owned coffee houses, restaurants, shops and more.
Plus, there are glorious hot springs for soaking and relaxing in both communities, including one that has lodging, meeting and event space, and hot springs spread out over several acres at the foot of several 14,000-foot mountains: Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort.
Out-of-the-Way Places That Impress
If your group wants a town that is slightly larger but still out of the way, head for Durango in the southwest part of the state. This gem of a town is a year-round destination with both a ski resort and all sorts of fair-weather past times. There are historic hotels equipped with indoor and outdoor function space in the busy downtown, making it easy to book lodging and venues with easy access to restaurants, shops, and the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad’s depot and free museum. Or book a hotel along the Animas River with out-of-the-back-door access to a paved recreation trail, visit local distilleries and breweries, and take your group for an outing to James Ranch and Honeyville located across the highway from one another.
These are just a few reasons to consider small towns as meetings destinations and a glimpse of Colorado communities that work well for groups, whether it’s for a retreat, sales meeting, client thank you event or strategic planning session. The flip side is there are a lot of great cities and mid-sized communities as well, but that is a subject for another time!
Beth Buehler has been editor of Colorado Meetings + Events magazine for 15 years and helped launch Mountain Meetings magazine in 2013. She has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.