Drive-in MeetingsFebruary 1, 2016

Choose These Easy-to-Reach Value Destinations to Get More Mileage Out of Attendance By
February 1, 2016

Drive-in Meetings

Choose These Easy-to-Reach Value Destinations to Get More Mileage Out of Attendance
Foxwoods Resort Casino comprises four hotels with a total of 2,200 rooms and 150,000 sf of conference space. Credits: Foxwoods Resort Casino

Foxwoods Resort Casino comprises four hotels with a total of 2,200 rooms and 150,000 sf of conference space.

The old adage “location, location, location” doesn’t just apply to making real estate decisions — it also applies to site selection. After all, members will be more inclined to attend a meeting if it’s being held in a destination that’s either easy to reach or affordable — or both. Here are a few options to consider:

Providence, Rhode Island

The Organization of American Historians (OAH) based in Bloomington, Indiana, the largest professional society dedicated to the teaching and study of American history, has chosen Providence as the site of its 2016 annual meeting in April. The meeting, which is expected to draw approximately 2,000 attendees, will be held at the Rhode Island Convention Center, which offers 100,000 sf of exhibition space, 20,000 sf of ballroom space, 23 meeting rooms and 30,000 sf of prefunction space. The official meeting hotels will be the 564-room Omni Providence Hotel, which is connected by indoor walkway to the Rhode Island Convention Center, the 294-room Providence Biltmore Hotel and the 219-room Courtyard Providence Downtown.

“I think (Providence) is a great alternative to Boston, which is often very expensive. It is close to major cities in the Northeast corridor, and the venue is relatively affordable.”
— Hajini G. Selby

Hajni G. Selby, director of meetings for OAH, cited several factors that made Providence a good choice for her organization’s annual meeting. “I think it is a great alternative to Boston, which is often very expensive. It is close to major cities in the Northeast corridor, and the venue is relatively affordable. For small associations, it is a place that is easily accessible, and though not a big city, holds all the amenities needed to keep attendees engaged.” Providence is known for its safe, walkable downtown area, world-class restaurants, thriving arts community and historic sites.

Providence will be a convenient location for OAH’s annual meeting, as 40 percent of the organization’s members are located a quick train ride away. In fact, according to the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau, about 25 percent of the population of the U.S. lives within 500 miles of the city.

Virginia Beach, Virginia

The Virginia Recycling Association (VRA), headquartered in Ivy, Virginia, chose the 214-room Sheraton Virginia Beach Oceanfront Hotel in Virginia Beach as the site of its 2015 conference. The hotel contains 11 event spaces, including the oceanfront Ocean Grand Foyer that can host meetings, banquets and receptions.

Erica Trout, who was association manager for the 2015 conference, explains, “An oceanfront location was important to our members who travel from far southwest Virginia and northern Virginia. The meeting space can accommodate three breakout sessions as well as the general session. Renovation of the meeting area is very nice.” Trout, who now is manager, global accounts for HelmsBriscoe, also noted that parking was readily available for attendees who drove. “Parking is great (in a parking deck across the street).”

Virginia Beach is centrally located on the East Coast. According to the Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau, the city is within a day’s drive for two-thirds of the nation’s population.

The Virginia Beach CVB staff is available to help associations that want to include a charitable component in their agendas. Through its “One Beach, One World” program, it can help attendees engage in a variety of meaningful experiences such as restoring and protecting the environment, supporting the Armed Forces, combating homelessness, hunger and domestic violence; assisting youth and the elderly; and participating in international outreach programs.

The Virginia Beach Convention Center (VBCC) recently renewed its LEED Gold certification under a more stringent rating system adopted by the U.S. Green Building Council. The VBCC offers more than 500,000 sf of event space and has put a long list of sustainability initiatives into place that focus on recycling, energy reduction, water efficiency, waste reduction and environmentally friendly practices.

Atlantic City, New Jersey

Barbara Parmese heads the annual meeting committee for the Princeton-based New Jersey Health Information Management Association (NJHIMA), representing certified professionals responsible for acquiring, analyzing, coding, and management of digital and paper medical information vital to providing quality patient care. The event attracts approximately 200 attendees and 125 exhibitor representatives, and it has been held in Atlantic City every year since 2002.

“Price and available space at the venue are essential in our decision to return to Atlantic City.”
— Barbara J. Parmese

Parmese says there are several reasons Atlantic City is a good fit for NJHIMA’s annual meeting and the No. 1 reason is pricing. “We’re a nonprofit organization and usually our meeting space is either free or priced extremely attractively. And the hotel rates are more than competitive, usually much less than elsewhere throughout the state of New Jersey.

“The price structure for the association is essential,” she continues. “That and the fact we use a lot of space. Even though our meeting isn’t considered a large event, we need a lot of space. Convention centers tend to be too big for us, and then we wouldn’t always have the hotel linked right there. We like to keep everybody in one place if we can. Many hotels around the state don’t have the space that we need to use concurrently. Price and available space at the venue are essential in our decision to return to Atlantic City.”

Parmese elaborated on other reasons that make Atlantic City so appealing for her association’s members. “Our meeting is in June, and who doesn’t like to be ‘down the shore’ in June? Atlantic City has something for everyone. If you’re into gambling, you can do that. If you’re into shopping, you can do that. If you just want to walk the Boardwalk, you can do that.”

NJHIMA has held its annual meeting at a number of different properties in Atlantic City over the years. The 1,749-room Bally’s Atlantic City was the site of NJHIMA’s 2015 meeting, and this year, the event will take place at the 2,590-room Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City. “We’re going to Resorts (Casino Hotel with 942 rooms) in 2017,” Parmese explains. “We’ve been at Bally’s before, we’ve been to (Trump) Taj Mahal, we’ve been to Tropicana (Casino & Resort). Pricing is important and feedback from attendees is very important,” she says, noting that the condition of each hotel must meet the expectations of the NJHIMA members and exhibitors.

NJHIMA is a state association, so attendees drive to the annual meeting, although some speakers and exhibitors do fly in. Parking, either valet or self-parking, is always available.

She describes a common thread she has found at all of the properties she has worked with in Atlantic City. “I have found that pretty much, every person that we have dealt with at every hotel, from banquet/catering to AV, to convention services, they’re just a really nice bunch of people. After so many years, I’m on a first name basis with many of them. The longevity of the people who work there is a big benefit. The hotel staff remembers you and your group, which makes running a meeting that much easier. I have found them to be really wonderful to work with.

“Atlantic City does offer so much,” she sums up. “It’s a great place for people to consider. Depending on the time of year, why wouldn’t you want to be at the beach? There’s so much to do. It’s a fun place to be. It’s not just all work.”

Larger groups may want to consider booking the Atlantic City Convention Center for their meetings, conferences and expos. Offering more than 500,000 contiguous sf of exhibit space, the facility is set on 31 acres and is one of the largest convention centers on the East Coast. Also of special note to planners is the fact that it is located within a few hours’ drive of nearly one-third of the nation’s population.

Enhancing the city’s meetings capacity is Harrah’s Resort, which added the new Atlantic City Waterfront Conference Center last September. The conference center expands the property’s total meeting space to 125,000 sf while adding two 50,000-sf ballrooms, each with an additional 26,000 sf of prefunction space.

And, debuting in summer 2015 was the multifaceted convention and event space at Resorts Casino Hotel that added 12,000 sf of meeting space and 12 more conference rooms all on one level. The new conference center brings Resorts’ total offerings to 24 meeting rooms and 64,000 sf of usable space. (For more on Atlantic City, see page 20.)

The Meadowlands, New Jersey

Another option for groups looking to avoid the hustle and bustle of a big city is The Meadowlands area, which is named for the large wetlands ecosystem in the northeastern part of New Jersey. A number of meeting venues are available in the area, including The Meadowlands Expo Center, a facility that offers more than 60,000 sf of meeting space that can accommodate up to 6,000 attendees. More information on meeting and event services in the area is available from the Meadowlands Liberty Convention & Visitors Bureau.

While The Meadowlands area is probably best known as being home to the NFL’s New York Jets and New York Giants at MetLife Stadium, it also is home to more than 250 species of birds as well as acres of trails, estuaries and protected marshland, which give nature-loving meeting attendees plenty to explore in their free time.


Foxwoods Resort Casino,­ located in the southern part of the state in the town of Mashantucket, is another meeting destination to consider in the Northeast. The complex includes four hotels with a total of 2,200 rooms, 150,000 sf of conference space, six casinos, multiple restaurants ranging from casual to fine dining, shopping, golf and a spa. Foxwoods offers a Meeting Planner Tool Kit on its website, It includes an interactive space planner, speed RFP and a property map.

Mohegan Sun is located in Uncasville, 45 minutes from Providence, Hartford and New Haven and just 90 minutes from Boston. The property offers 1,200 guest rooms and 100,000 sf of meeting space, including the 38,000-sf, pillar-free Uncas Ballroom, along with the assistance of event service managers that are CMM- and CMP-certified. Recreational amenities include the Earth, Sky and Wind casinos, an 18-hole golf course, the Elemis Spa, a fitness center and pool solarium. The hotel’s new Earth Tower is slated to open in the fall and will include 400 deluxe rooms, an indoor pool, fitness center and additional meeting space.

Baltimore, Maryland

Located at the crossroads of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic States, Baltimore is another conveniently located meeting destination. According to Visit Baltimore, Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport handles 650 daily flights from 70 destinations, and for attendees who drive, parking is plentiful with more than 40,000 off-street spaces available in the city’s downtown garages.

Baltimore offers numerous convention and meeting facilities, including the Baltimore Convention Center, which offers 300,000 sf of exhibit space, 50 flexible meeting rooms and a 36,000-sf ballroom. Visit Baltimore reports that there are more than 8,500 hotel rooms near the convention center and the city’s Inner Harbor area, 5,500 of which are committable. The Visit Baltimore staff also can provide meeting groups with access to local business, non-profit and public sectors through its board of directors and Meet Local network of community leaders.

The first 10 meeting planners to book a meeting through 2017 with more than 3,000 total room nights can receive a free crab feast for up to 200 people. Complete details are available at Visit Baltimore also has created a list of “hot meeting dates” for 2016 and 2017 so groups can take advantage of special savings on selected dates.

Schaumburg, Illinois

For groups in search of a Midwest meeting venue that’s not in the heart of a downtown area, Meet Chicago Northwest promises that “It’s Better on the Edge.” The organization, which was originally incorporated as the Greater Woodfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, promotes eight communities northwest of Chicago and is certified by Destination Marketing Association International. The bureau represents 62 hotels and more than 50 alternative venues, including the 474-room Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel, which is connected to the Schaumburg Convention Center offering nearly 150,000 sf of flexible meeting space.

Groups that need a smaller venue may want to consider the American Society of Anesthesiologists Conference Center, which offers more than 6,000 sf of meeting and event space and a 150-seat auditorium. The venue is located in the heart of Schaumburg’s business district and promotes the fact that it offers “affordable pricing with discounts for non-profits.”

Washington, DC

In this election year, the country’s focus is on Washington, DC, so it just might be a good time for planners to cast their eyes on the nation’s capital, as well, when searching for a meeting site. The largest meeting venue in the area is the 2.3-million-sf Walter E. Washington Convention Center, which offers more than 198,000 sf of meeting space in five exhibit halls, 67 meeting rooms, a 62,000-sf ballroom and 36,000 sf of dedicated registration space. This spring, the convention center will begin offering expanded free Wi-Fi services.

The area’s convention hotels are large, as well. The Marriott Wardman Park contains 1,256 guest rooms, 76 suites and 173,000 sf of event space, while the Washington Hilton features 1,118 guest rooms, 82 suites and 110,000 sf of meeting space. The Grand Hyatt Washington, Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill and the Renaissance Washington, DC each offer more than 800 guest rooms and meeting space that spans from 40,000 to 60,000 sf.

In this election year, there soon will be other new “faces” in Washington, DC, in terms of hotels. The Trump Hotel Collection is completing a $200 million restoration of the iconic Old Post Office building and is expected to open the Trump International Hotel, Washington, DC, this fall (two years earlier than expected) with 263 guest rooms and suites, 38,000 sf of meeting and event space, a street-level steak house and a 10,000-sf spa and fitness facility designed by Ivanka Trump.

The Watergate Hotel, a Washington, DC, legend, is projected to reopen this April as a luxurious 336-room hotel after a $120 million renovation. It will include Top of the Gate, a rooftop bar that will feature panoramic views of the Potomac River, as well as a fine dining restaurant. The hotel also will contain 27,000 sf of meeting space, including a 7,000-sf grand ballroom. And here’s a fun bit of trivia: The hotel staff’s uniforms have been designed by Janie Bryant who created the costumes for the “Mad Men” TV series.

Oh, and don’t worry — meetings at The Watergate Hotel don’t have to be scandalous. As the hotel’s new website advises, just make sure the recorder is off. AC&F

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