Key Site Selection Tips for a Destination Meeting

By Beth Buehler

There are many facets to consider when planning a destination meeting in Colorado or anywhere, and this list of 10 tips can help organizers strategically think through the process.

Meeting objectives – First and foremost, knowing the purpose of the meeting and having a clear sense of what needs to be accomplished should drive the selection of a destination and venues. For example, is this a training session, team retreat, annual conference or incentive trip? Is the goal to mix fun with the business at hand, release a new product line, celebrate a significant organizational anniversary or rally the troops for the next decade or a new initiative? There are all sorts of scenarios, just make sure the planning team is all on the same page regarding the reason(s) behind the meeting.

The 2018 ILEA Live annual conference opening reception was held at Denver’s History Colorado Center. Photo by From the Hip Photo.

Attendee profile – Next, it’s important to have a grasp on how many people will be attending as that is a driver for so many things, namely meeting space size, accommodations, budget and activities. For conferences or association meetings where people have the choice to attend or not, things like having an approximate number is more difficult but this is where relying on event history, planning early and offering an early-bird rate are handy. Also, think through where attendees are traveling from and things like their ages, interests, personalities, job types, etc.

Location – While this can feel like finding a needle in a haystack, it doesn’t have to be that way. First consider how people will get to the meeting and what that involves in terms of distance, time, cost, convenience, passports, visas, etc. Is this a one-off meeting or an annual gathering where people like going to the same place or prefer changing it up every year? Inquiring about desired locations on meeting wrap-up surveys can be helpful. If you have this data, use it. Destination Colorado switches up the location of its annual customer appreciation event to keep it fresh and showcase various Colorado destinations, while the annual Meetings Industry Council of Colorado Educational Conference and Trade Show is always held at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver as it can hold a crowd of more than 1,000 and is a central location for attendees.

Destination Colorado’s 2017 customer appreciation event took place at the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Denver. Photo by WonderWorks Studios.

The stage in one of the ballrooms at the Colorado Convention Center transformed from entertainment to keynotes at the 2018 MIC of Colorado Educational Conference & Trade Show. Photo by All Digital Photo & Video.

Local resources – After narrowing it down to a few location options, find the local destination marketing organizations that work with groups (e.g., convention and visitor bureaus, tourism offices and Chambers of Commerce). By providing them with a list of basic specifications like group size, venue needs, activity interests and basic budget parameters, DMO staff can help guide you to the right properties. In Colorado, the Destination Colorado website is a great tool to search destinations regionally and to look at potential venues by destination, group size and facility type (alternative/unique, conference center, hotel/resort and restaurants). There also is a free planning tool to gather quotes from multiple venues in one outreach instead of several.

Cost – At this point, it is important to have a grasp on your meeting finances, as that will be a major driver in searching for and communicating with potential destinations and venues. If you have a beer budget, don’t waste your time wishing you had a champagne budget. Instead, find venues that may not have all the bells and whistles but have loads of potential. In Colorado, there are towns that will naturally cost a bit more based on demand and seasons of the year that are more expensive. For example, booking a meeting in many Colorado mountain towns from April to the end of May and mid-October through November will be less expensive than in the height of summer or ski season. Don’t forget to consider attendee costs when they are footing the bill to attend a conference or event.

The YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center not only offers lots of options, it’s a wallet-friendly location. Courtesy YMCA of the Rockies.

Meeting space – Think through the attendee experience and the logistics of the meeting when considering meeting space options. First, it has to hold everyone comfortably in one place for keynotes, meals, awards and gatherings where the whole group is present. Are breakout sessions and team meetings part of the agenda? If so, is the host venue able to host all of these or can other venues within easy walking distance be utilized? Vail, Boulder and Aspen have demonstrated how walking conferences (using multiple meeting venues) make their communities candidates for larger meetings and keep it interesting for attendees. Also, the Colorado Governor’s Tourism Conference successfully used meeting and event space at the ski base area and on-mountain locations at Crested Butte Mountain Resort a few years ago.

The St. Regis Resort Aspen is one of several higher-end options in Colorado and can be part of a walking conference. Courtesy St. Regis Resort Aspen.

Aesthetics – However, its more than making sure the square footage fits. What is the overall look and vibe of the venues that you are considering? What will it feel like to sit in the space and be part of meetings, meals and networking opportunities? Consider if much décor will be needed or if the space has charm of its own. How about the destination? Look around and see if things feel tired or inspiring.

The details – Then there is the nitty-gritty regarding things like audiovisual, WiFi, food and beverage, contract requirements, parking and attendee safety. Oh yes, and do available dates match up with your group’s needs? When communicating with properties and going on site visits have a checklist of questions ready.

Foods like this dessert by Centerplate at the Colorado Convention Center during the 2018 MIC Conference are sure to impress. Photo by All Digital Photo & Video.

Accommodations – For many meetings, this is a key factor. What are the options and how many people will you need to house? What level of lodging will your organization and attendees expect and be willing to pay for? Colorado offers all sorts of options such as camps, guest ranches, conference hotels, resorts and condominiums. If a conference center or convention center without lodging is being booked, research what lodging properties are within walking distance. Is the property fairly isolated for privacy and relaxation (like Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa in Gateway and C Lazy U Ranch and Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa in Grand County) or square in the hub of activity (like a ski area such as Snowmass or a bustling downtown district like Denver).

The ski base area at Snowmass is alive with activities and action. Courtesy Snowmass Tourism.

Access to activities – When selecting a meeting site, consider how it will impact your ability to provide a local experience. The attendee of today wants to plug into the destination and avoid being confined to a convention center or hotel. The beauty of a state like Colorado is that great activities exist around every corner it seems, whether it’s utilizing ranch activities for team-building; hosting a tasting event at a local winery, distillery or brewery; getting out on skiing, hiking and biking trails; going on walking tours with a food or history focus; or taking a chairlift or gondola to a reception or dinner on a mountaintop.

While this isn’t an all-inclusive list, it’s a good starting point for selecting a great site for your next meeting!

Beth Buehler is editor of Colorado Meetings + Events and Mountain Meetings magazines, has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.