Colorado, a vast and beautiful state highlighted by the Rocky Mountains and featuring numerous individual destinations large and small, has become popular with meeting planners who want to escape a typical urban setting and enjoy spectacular scenery.
Colorado’s location, which makes it convenient for attendees from both the east and west coasts, has been another factor in its steady ascendance as a meetings destination during the last decade.
Over the past few years, the “Mile High City” has seen its inventory of meeting hotels grow and diversify, while its 2.2 million-square-foot Colorado Convention Center launched a major $233 million expansion project. In addition, because Denver is a major hub for United Airlines, it also offers excellent airlift.
Michael Wilson, CMP, division director and convention and meeting planner at the Schaumburg, Illinois-based American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), chose Denver for the organization’s 9,175-attendee, five-day, four-night citywide annual meeting last July. AVMA had previously been to Denver in 2014.
“The biggest driver of attendance at our annual meeting is the destination,” Wilson says. “All of the improvements that Denver has made since we were there in 2014 have made the city an attractive destination for many people who want to bring their families to the meeting. And, we have a lot of folks that want to do that.
“Another thing about Denver that makes it a very good meetings destination is that it’s very walkable. That is key for us because our attendees don’t like to use shuttles. We always look for cities where a lot of hotels are close to the convention center so everything is very convenient for attendees, and they can walk.”
A third attribute that AVMA’s attendees liked about Denver, Wilson says, “is the growth of the dining and entertainment options, especially in the downtown convention district. There are lots of options for attendees in their free time.”
The net result of those key factors? Last year, Denver attracted 2,000 more attendees than Indianapolis did in 2017.
AVMA’s headquarters hotel — in a total room block that included 19 properties across a range of price points — was the 1,100-room Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center, which features 60,600 square feet of meeting space.
“The obvious factor in naming the Hyatt Regency our headquarters hotel was that it’s adjacent to the convention center,” Wilson says. “But it also has a great meeting space that was a good fit for all of the different types of things we do during the meeting … and other meetings that take place before the annual meeting starts. The staff is also extremely knowledgeable and very friendly. That’s another thing that is very important to us.”
“The obvious factor in naming the Hyatt Regency our headquarters hotel was that it’s adjacent to the convention center. But it also has a great meeting space that was a good fit for all of the different types of things we do during the meeting.” — Michael Wilson, CMP
Located just two blocks away from the Hyatt Regency is the AAA Four Diamond, 516-room Grand Hyatt Denver, which features 52,600 square feet of meeting space.
AVMA used the Colorado Convention Center for the more than 1,000 continuing education sessions it conducted during the meeting.
“The space at the convention center is really great,” Wilson says. “They have really large breakout rooms. The facility is also very easy to navigate. We used the Bellco Theatre for our keynote session because it has built-in AV capabilities — that saved us some money.”
The Bellco Theatre, a 5,000-seat venue, is one of the most technically advanced theaters of its kind in the U.S. It features state-of-the-art acoustics.
Because Denver is gaining popularity as a convention destination, last year, the Denver City Council green-lighted a $233 million rooftop expansion project. Plans call for the addition of 250,000 square feet of new space atop the Champa Street side of the complex, including an 80,000-square-foot ballroom and a large outdoor terrace with mountain and downtown views.
As for Wilson, he liked Denver so much that he agreed to join the advisory board of Visit Denver, the city’s CVB. He will also take AVMA back to town for its 2023 convention.
Erin Parrott, CMP, senior manager, meetings and events, at the Lakewood, Colorado-based American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), also chose Denver last September for her six-night, five-day annual meeting for 650 attendees. Lakewood is a suburb of Denver.
“It’s our hometown, and we had recently changed our meeting model,” Parrott says. “We downsized from a larger citywide meeting so that only accredited members could attend the meeting. So, we wanted to bring our annual meeting home to Denver for the first year the new meeting was held. Denver is just a great city. It has grown so much in recent years, and there is so much to see and do.”
AAHA also used the Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center. “We did an RFP that included seven cities, as far away as Florida and California,” Parrott says. “We ended up choosing Denver and the Hyatt Regency because they were willing to work with us on rates, so we got good value. Their meeting space was also perfect for us, so we signed a two-meeting contract, and we’re going back in 2020.”
Parrott gives the Hyatt Regency high marks for its room product. “The rooms are great,” she says. “They have a lot of light. The rooms are very clean and very well-maintained. We also got upgrades for our senior executives, and the suites are gorgeous.”
She also praised the hotel’s food and beverage services. “We did all of our meals at the hotel, all as buffets,” Parrott says. “I worked very closely with the chef to create our banquet menus, so we did some very cool things. For example, we did a ‘Welcome to Colorado’ reception that he created from Colorado food options like lamb, smoked trout, elk carpaccio and locally made cheese. He also worked with us to do some breaks that were very creative and also to create some ‘grab-and-go’ options.”
A key local food vendor was Fruition Farms, which was featured on the TV show “Top Chef” in 2017. “The food was great,” Parrott says. “Everybody loved it. We got a lot of feedback from attendees about how good it was.”
The meeting space at the Hyatt Regency was also ideal for AAHA. “It was just perfect for us,” Parrott says. “Their ballrooms were also ideal because we hold our exhibits in the same space as our general sessions. And, their upstairs ballroom was perfect for our breakouts.”
The factor that truly set the hotel apart, she says, was its service. “I’ve never had a hotel go so far above and beyond what my attendees and I expected,” she says. “Once they understood the purpose of our meeting, they came up with some great ideas that helped us create a better event. For example, they hosted a pet Halloween contest in the lobby, and our attendees voted on the winners. They also created animal-themed drinks. They just did so many little things that were really creative.”
As a resident of the Denver area, Parrott notes that the city is still not as well-known or respected among association meeting planners as it deserves to be.
“A lot of meeting planners still think of Denver as a small ‘cow town,’” she says. “But it’s definitely not. It’s now a very cool, very sophisticated city. There are lots of things to do. We actually lost some attendees during the day because they wanted to go explore the Denver area.”
Other major meeting hotels in the Denver area include the AAA Four Diamond, 302-room Hilton Denver Inverness in nearby Englewood. The property features more than 60,000 square feet of IACC-certified indoor/outdoor meeting and function space, a full-service spa, and an 18-hole championship golf course. The hotel’s flagship restaurant is The Fireside Bar & Grill, which serves American cuisine.
Another top-rate meeting property, located between Denver and Boulder, is the 390-room Omni Interlocken Hotel in Broomfield. It features 40,000 square feet of meeting space, as well as 27 holes of championship golf.
Located 60 miles south of Denver is Colorado Springs, which by virtue of its extraordinary roster of renowned resort hotels — including the legendary The Broadmoor and Cheyenne Mountain Colorado Springs, A Dolce Resort — is a perennially popular association meetings destination.
Ann Arnott, executive vice president/CEO of the Chicago-based Power Transmission Distributors Association (PTDA), used The Broadmoor for the first time last October for PTDA’s five-day, four-night annual meeting for 725 attendees. It was the 100-year-old, widely acclaimed resort — considered by consensus the best resort-style meeting property in the country — that attracted Arnott to Colorado Springs, rather than the destination in general.
The 784-room hotel — which holds the record for most consecutive years as a Forbes Five-Star, AAA Five Diamond property — features 185,000 square feet of meeting and function space, including spectacular outdoor venues.
The Broadmoor also includes 10 restaurants and 10 cafes and lounges. Its flagship Penrose Room is the only Forbes Five-Star, AAA Five Diamond restaurant in Colorado. Other amenities include a Forbes Five-Star spa and two championship golf courses, designed by the legendary Donald Ross and Robert Trent Jones Sr.
“I’ve been an association manager for 25 years, but I had never been to The Broadmoor until 2015,” Arnott says. “But in 2015, I was there for three different meetings as an attendee. And the first time I went, I took my family with me, and they said, ‘Mom, you have to hold a meeting here so we can come back.’ It’s just a fabulous property.”
Last year, Arnott got to experience, as a meeting planner, why The Broadmoor enjoys its singular status.
“We often do our meeting in a resort-style property,” she says. “But what attendees get at The Broadmoor is a true resort experience. It isn’t just a really nice hotel that has a golf course and a spa. It’s a real resort. You never have to leave the property for anything, and there is more to do than you can actually do. But even more important is the culture of The Broadmoor. It’s very high-end, but also laidback. I call it comfortable luxury. It’s not stuffy, like a lot of luxury resorts are. You don’t have to feel like your luggage is not good enough.”
The rooms at the resort are just as luxurious, as what one might expect from its accolades.
“Even their standard rooms have fantastic bathroom amenities, like glass showers, big towels and gorgeous views,” Arnott says. “And beds that look like they’re fit for a king. The rooms actually feel like a suite. You feel like you could live there and be really happy. But there’s also a price point for every level of attendees.”
Likewise, Arnott says, the hotels F&B is phenomenal, as is the meeting space. But it is The Broadmoor’s standard of service that supports its reputation.
“The service is the thing that really came out in our post-meeting evaluation from attendees,” Arnott says. “We usually get ratings between ‘satisfied’ and ‘highly satisfied’ that total 92 or 93 percent. At The Broadmoor, we got 99.5 percent. That’s never happened before.”
As a result, she says, her attendees are “already asking when we’re going back.”
The IACC-certified, 217-acre, 316-room Cheyenne Mountain Colorado Springs, A Dolce Resort, features 40,000 square feet of meeting space, including 38 meeting rooms. Amenities include an 18-hole, Pete Dye-designed championship golf course, 11 outdoor tennis courts and five indoor tennis courts.
David Geddes, co-founder and CEO of the International Sports Technology Association (ISTA) in Marietta, Georgia, is another fan of Colorado Springs as a meetings destination. And like Arnott, he was drawn to it because of the existence of a singular, world-famous venue. In ISTA’s case, that was the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
In 2017, Geddes hosted ISTA’s inaugural annual meeting, a two-day, two-night event for 50 attendees, at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Colorado Springs — and used the Olympic facility as his meeting venue.
“Colorado Springs is a very unique destination,” Geddes says. “The factor that was most responsible for bringing us there was the U.S. Olympic Training Center. One of the initial objectives of our conference, from the beginning, was to foster relationships with elite sporting organizations. That’s important because there is immense pressure on governing bodies and national organizations to perform at their optimal potential. That means, among other things, having good feeder systems through sporting organizations. And, the U.S. Olympic Training Center represents the country, it represents America, so it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many athletes to experience it. It also goes directly to our underlying focus on high performance.”
Geddes chose the Embassy Suites property because its value proposition, but also because of his intimate knowledge of the brand. At the time it was launched, Geddes worked for Promus Hotel Corporation, which created and launched the brand.
“The thing I like about an Embassy Suites hotel is that it’s an affordable, all-suite property,” Geddes says. “It also offers some unique amenities. For example, we did an opening night reception in the lobby atrium. Every Embassy Suites hotel has a great atrium. You get a free happy hour in the early evening, so that is a great advantage of the brand for a small group because you can hold a free cocktail reception in a beautiful atrium.”
Geddes also hosted an opening night plated dinner at the hotel. “The food and service were both excellent,” he says. “I paid very close attention to everything, and everything was just perfect — from the quality of the food to the size of the portions and the presentation. As a planner, you couldn’t ask for more.”
For the meeting’s other evening, Geddes took attendees offsite to the Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom restaurant near the hotel. “It’s very casual,” he says, “but the food is really excellent. And everybody had a really fun time.”
All of ISTA’s meeting sessions and activities were held at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. The facility features 65,000 square feet of meeting and event space, including 10 individual meeting rooms.
“We used a meeting room in the main facility and did classroom-style setups,” Geddes says. “One thing I really liked about the space is that there is an onsite AV control room that is located behind glass, so it’s a real control room right where you are meeting. And, the AV capabilities at the Olympic facility are truly state-of-the-art.”
Colorado Springs also features another unique and sensational offsite venue which Geddes took advantage of — the Garden of the Gods, a vast and scenic public park that was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1971. It offers dramatic panoramic views of towering sandstone rock formations against a backdrop of snow-capped Pikes Peak. Its world-class Visitor & Nature Center and museum is the most visited attraction in the region and features interactive educational exhibits. “It’s just spectacular,” Geddes says. “Our attendees loved it.”
Another popular meeting hotel option in Colorado is the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa, located in the tony ski resort of Beaver Creek in Vail Valley. The 190-room Park Hyatt Beaver Creek features 20,000 square feet of meeting space. AC&F