Small Meetings Utilizing Large Properties During COVID-19

By Beth Buehler

Most of us will agree that video meetings and chats courtesy of COVID-19 are getting tiresome, and we’re in need of in-person connection in a big way. Recent information received from The Broadmoor made me think more about how small groups are utilizing large properties so they meet and social distance inside and out and plug into fun activities to keep attendees healthy and happy. Here’s a look at three of Colorado’s larger properties in the form of a resort, hotel and ranch.

The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs

An increasing number of small corporate groups and associations are gathering at this 5,000-acre resort due to the ample space available. “The 40-person and smaller group have become our new normal,” says Director of Sales at The Broadmoor, Pepper Dombroski. Meeting planners are opting to cancel the majority of planned attendees and keeping a select group of executives or “inner circle” reservations to accommodate work on a smaller scale and bringing in other team members digitally as needed.

Colorado’s large properties and ranches that cover several acres provide a diversity of meeting space, ranging from boardrooms to ballrooms, and in The Broadmoor’s case even off-site wilderness properties that include Emerald Valley Ranch, Cloud Camp and Fly Fishing Camp. At the main resort, more than 90 meeting rooms of assorted sizes total more than 310,000 square feet and allow groups to disperse.

The Broadmoor has 90 meeting rooms, including many options for smaller groups. Courtesy The Broadmoor.

“Because we have so much square footage, we’re able to spread out our groups that are here in person and make everyone feel more comfortable and socially distanced,” Dombroski explains. Corporate groups also are seeking activities that keep attendees at a distance yet enjoying the outdoors like picnics, movies under the stars, outdoor team-building exercises, golf, tennis, pickleball, ziplining, mountain biking and hiking.

Colorado resorts provide space to spread out and all sorts of outdoor activities. Courtesy The Broadmoor.

Grand Hyatt , Vail

“Thanks in large part to the swift action taken by our local and state agencies, we feel privileged to host groups of up to 100 inside and 175 outside and have had the pleasure of hosting both association and social events since our reopening in June,” says Angela Sheehan, sales manager for Grand Hyatt Vail. “While we still have a bit to go before we can welcome back the 200- to 300-person events that we often see in the summer, we are excited to be able to easily accommodate social distancing guidelines in our expansive function spaces.”

Grand Hyatt Vail’s comfortable lobby with big views. Courtesy Grand Hyatt Vail.

The Texas Association of Defense Counsel based in Austin, Texas was one of Grand Hyatt Vail’s earliest groups. “The events of late have certainly proven to be a challenge for planners and all groups alike,” says Executive Director Bobby L. Walden. “I reached out very early in the process to Ashley Okamura, director of events for Grand Hyatt Vail, and together we made this event possible. We all—hotel and association alike—were creative in tackling obstacles and finding solutions. The end result was a safe and successful event. This is evidenced by the glowing evaluations from our attendees following the meeting.”

Communication and attendee safety were key focal points from the outset. “I had all the information I needed to give confidence to prospective attendees that the hotel was taking this seriously and had their welfare as a primary concern,” Walden says. “Ashley was able to answer specific questions as to hotel protocols such as housekeeping, room service, swimming area, etc., and I was able to pass that through to my attendees. … The end message ended up being, Colorado is open, safe and taking every precaution for visitors.”

Colorado’s large properties are working to make sure every aspect of their operations are safe for groups, including pools. Courtesy Grand Hyatt Vail.

Grand Hyatt Vail has more than 40,000 square feet of function space, allowing groups to spread out in ballrooms, breakout rooms and boardrooms, as well as various decks and an outdoor tent. Sheehan notes, “With a destination as spectacular as Vail, it’s not hard to get our guests outdoors to enjoy their breakfast, lunch or dinner on one of our beautiful decks overlooking Gore Creek. We also launched our food truck this summer, where guests can grab a snack or specialty cocktail and relax in our newly created Zen Garden.”

Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort and Spa, Tabernash

Located on 6,500 acres at the base of the Continental Divide, Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort and Spa is seeing interest from groups of up to 80 attendees that are ready to meet again. County guidelines currently allow a maximum of 50 attendees, excluding staff, however it is possible for larger groups to meet on property in two separate spaces and link together by videoconference.

“The ranch lends itself well for meetings during COVID-19 because we have two large event barns that allow groups to spread out and social distance meeting setups. Furthermore, there is appeal in fresh mountain air and wide-open spaces that can be found at the ranch,” Senior Director of Sales Thad Carlson. “We are currently offering all ranch activities including horseback riding, ziplining, fly-fishing and team-building options and limiting the number of participants in each activity to meet social distancing guidelines.”

Team-building outdoors is a group favorite any time of year and situation. Courtesy Devil’s Thumb Ranch.

Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa reopened on May 22 with new protocols and procedures in place. “We have revisited our meeting space grid and allowable number of participants in event spaces to ensure 6 feet or more between tables. Additionally, our events and culinary teams are creating custom menus, including converting buffet menus into plated options,” Carlson says. “We are also utilizing our many outdoor venues whenever possible and have opened up two private homes for rental.” The 10,000-square-foot Grand Guest House has seven bedrooms and 10 bathrooms, while the smaller Peak-to-Peak Ranch House features four bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms.

One of Devil Thumbs Ranch’s two historic barns that provide space for groups to spread out. Courtesy Devil’s Thumb Ranch.

These are just three of the many large properties available in Colorado that are working closely with meeting planners and getting creative in this new norm. Check out the wide range options on Destination Colorado’s website.

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.