When Connie Cathey, meeting planner at DaVita, Inc., decided to host an event in Breckenridge, Colorado, scheduling the meeting during the mountain region’s “shoulder season” made sense.
As Cathey explains, hosting events at mountain resorts during the off-season offers many advantages, including especially attractive lodging rates and flexible guest-room options due to lower occupancy. In addition, staff members often have more time to dedicate themselves to the event.
And though many people naturally think of Breckenridge and other Rocky Mountain resorts only as winter skiing destinations, there are plenty of enticing off-season activities to enjoy, including rafting, fly fishing, zip lining and mountain biking, wildlife tours, gallery tours, wine tasting, stargazing, hiking, golf, horseback rides, and gondola and ski-lift rides.
“With the warmer weather, the mountains offer you many options outdoors, and the fabulous views make for an incredible breakfast, lunch, dinner outside,” Cathey says.
Cathey and her team at DaVita are not alone in realizing the benefits of hosting meetings during shoulder season: Cost-conscious associations are taking advantage of discounted lodging costs and venue fees, and deals on dining and activities, among other incentives and promotions for visitors. The opportunity to score significant discounts on local activities during the off-season will allow attendees to take advantage of much more than they might be able to afford at other times of the year.
Courtney Lutkus, owner and event planner at Simply Radiant Events in Brea, California, says that booking a meeting or event during the shoulder season offers planners more flexibility with dates, as fewer scheduled events means more availability.
“The price can also be different at peak season times,” Lutkus says. “It’s not uncommon to have peak pricing during summer and winter. If the date is flexible with the client, ask for all dates and time frames they are open to, to help maximize their dollar for the same services.”
As Lutkus explains, in her home base in Southern California, things have a tendency to remain busy most of the year, so flexibility in dates, rates and space is not easy to come by.
“Sometimes adding more services does offer a better overall deal,” Lutkus says. “For example, if we book the venue and they have in-house catering and a bar, using all their catering services sometimes results in a discounted package.”
According to Chris McAndrews, vice president of marketing at Cvent, “In shoulder season, event attendees don’t have to deal with higher travel costs, heavy tourist activity, and can often get a more relaxing, VIP experience as their event won’t be vying for attention from all the other leisure business.
“For example, a popular summer town, such as Newport, Rhode Island, is bustling between June and August with dozens of activities, restaurants and sites to keep visitors occupied. Event planners can take advantage of the big off-season savings by hosting here during the slow winter months, while attendees can benefit from the local scene, which — while much less active in the winter — offers plenty of activities before, during and after the meeting or event.”
Naturally, it can be especially challenging to market destinations for shoulder season.
“Regardless of whether it’s a boutique property, an upscale resort or a popular destination city, nearly all hotels and venues experience periods of time when vacancies outnumber occupancies,” McAndrews says. “We have found it often takes a stronger marketing strategy during the shoulder periods to entice association event planners to consider hosting at these locations. In our experience, the best way to appeal to meeting and event planners is to plan need dates way ahead of time — at least two to three months in advance.
“We have also seen facilities achieve success by looking ahead at major destination events and offering to be the official host hotel for an event or meeting,” McAndrews continues. This can often result in cost savings on the part of the association hosting an event.
“Meanwhile, don’t overlook smaller, local events that fall during a slow period. Consider partnering with other organizers and the local convention and visitors bureau to create unique experiences, tours, or events with nearby restaurants, breweries, and other top locations,” McAndrews says. “Working together with other venues and the CVB can help everyone increase business in the local economy and generate additional placement for the event on their marketing materials and advertising, ultimately expanding the reach of the shoulder campaign.”
Kelly Elliott, creative manager at Total Event Resources, a Chicago-based meeting and event planning company, says there are some additional advantages to booking during the off-peak season. These include:
When orchestrating an event or meeting during shoulder season, association meeting planners should not delay in booking a vendor. “You never know, they might have booked a vacation then because they have no other bookings or taken on a large project that will keep them going during the slow season,” Lutkus says. “Treat each event as though every vendor might be booked in order to get them locked in.”
Says Mc Andrews, “Meeting planners should also be careful to avoid overlooking a destination’s weather and climate when booking during shoulder season. For example, Las Vegas is a great meeting destination, but the region averages 103 degrees in August, making it less desirable to plan outdoor events or for visitors to sightsee between meetings. On the flip side, these same destinations may be more welcoming to meetings business in times of less-than-optimal weather, when the number of attendees can plummet. Planners should consider what they want out of an event and seek a destination that matches their needs.”
And be sure to check the school schedule where the meeting or event is being held. Some states, such as Florida, have kids back in school in mid-August, whereas other states have school starting later — after Labor Day. These scheduling discrepancies can cause fluctuations in the pricing at hotels and venues in which an association may be interested.
Not surprising, during shoulder season, many hotels, restaurants and venues trim back on staffing and their labor costs, which can affect service in some instances, so meeting planners should work with each venue to make sure adequate staff will be available to meet the group’s needs.
For Rocky Mountain ski resorts, April is a prime off-season month to schedule a meeting or event. In addition to wonderful culinary, spa and shopping experiences, the shoulder season in the Rockies offers a plethora of event planning options. Vendors throughout the region often offer increased group discounts, while many local restaurants run off-peak specials. Overall, meeting planners have the upper hand when negotiating concessions and food and beverage packages during these times.
In addition, not only is there more availability in meeting space and hotel accommodations, but the ski resorts act as attractive destinations to association attendees and provide the opportunity to optimize programming — all while enjoying beautiful scenery. Late-season skiing is offered at various resorts, as is season-extending opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors.
For example, the Breckenridge Epic Discovery, which is offered during the summer, includes such adventures as the Expedition Zip Line Tour on Peak 7. Here, guests will spending two hours exploring the Peak 7 Ore Bucket area of Breckenridge Ski Resort by air; navigating over a mile on eight zip lines between 10 towers and a 200-foot-long aerial bridge walk with stunning views of Summit County.
Also, in the Alpineer Challenge Course, visitors pick their own paths through 16 different challenges — from lightly swinging logs to shoe-to-rope balancing maneuvers. The one-of-a-kind course blends in with the surrounding environment of the new Alpine Camp and offers shade for those who want to observe the fun.
A new hiking loop takes guests on a journey of learning about Breckenridge’s high-alpine environment, including animals, flora and fauna, mountain wetlands, impacts of the gold rush and additional history of the area.
“Denver is a popular destination during shoulder season,” McAndrews says. “Often thought of as a winter playground, the city actually sees the majority of its visitors in the summer months, making the spring and fall ideal seasons to visit. The climate is generally mild, dry and arid, and it only receives eight to 15 inches of precipitation each year.
“Rich with history, culture and recreational opportunities, the Mile High City is a popular event location — and one that continues to develop and invest in its future,” McAndrews continues. “In 2004, Denver residents signed off on a 12-year, $6.5-billion plan to create six light-rail, diesel commuter rail and electric commuter rail lines with a combined length of over 120 miles; expand existing light-rail systems; and add a bus-based rapid transit route between Denver and Boulder. Denver has positioned itself to become one of the nation’s most sought-after areas for meetings and conventions, and these investments should certainly help bolster the attractiveness of the city throughout peak and shoulder seasons alike.”
Fall is also the ideal season to consider Anaheim, California for association meetings. Thanks in part to the modern Anaheim Convention Center, many associations have found this city to be the ideal destination for hosting events with a reasonable budget. In addition, Anaheim offers access to multiple nearby destinations including Dana Point, Huntington Beach, Newport, Los Angeles and San Diego.
Of course, an event held in a tropical Caribbean paradise is always appealing, and April and November are the best times to visit for shoulder season opportunities and pricing. In late fall to early winter months, the Caribbean hurricane season tapers off, leaving behind clear, sunny skies and average temps anywhere between 75 and 85 degrees. However, if an association’s meeting must take place in the fall, planners need to be mindful of potential hurricane season disruptions and contract favorable terms accordingly. Not surprising, the most expensive times to travel to the Caribbean are winter and the spring break seasons. Scheduling events post-spring break, yet before school is out for summer recess, offers a window of opportunity for great values, including favorable airline rates and discounted meeting or event packages.
If a beautiful desert backdrop sounds appealing for an event, the May-through-September shoulder season is the ideal time to visit Scottsdale, Arizona, to experience fewer crowds and higher value. In addition, golf aficionados in an association’s group can enjoy championship golf at favorable rates, while others can enjoy world-class spas, wellness and culinary options galore.
Kelli Blubaum, vice president of sales and services at Experience Scottsdale, says that visitors to the region during shoulder season have the opportunity to receive discounted room rates at resorts, as well as flexibility with dates of programs. “There is also flexibility on room upgrades for upper management or VIPs and the ancillary event discounts such as spa or golf experiences,” Blubaum says. “Groups are able to experience outdoor activities in shoulder months such as hiking, Tom cars, hot-air balloon rides and kayaking. We have an average of 330 days of sunshine per year. But during shoulder seasons, the weather is also still conducive to utilizing outdoor space for breakfasts, receptions and dinners.”
And while Orlando, Florida, almost always experiences peak season, due in part to the incredible weather year-round, May and September offer shoulder seasons for meeting planners. Being family-oriented, Orlando is often crowded when children are out of school, but in the month of May, families are often gearing up for school ending in early June. Likewise, most kids are back in school in September, which offers the ideal opportunity for associations to take advantage of working some and playing some, without having to deal with massive crowds. Not surprising, Orlando hotels and venues use a simple formula for pricing these two short shoulder-season months in Orlando — you pay less when there are fewer crowds.
A final benefit to keep in mind is a destination’s off-season vibe — once the influx of tourists wanes, the area’s live-like-a-local personality emerges. Meeting attendees, who now more than ever are looking for authentic destination experiences, won’t be disappointed. AC&F