Experiencing a destination as a local, not a tourist, is certainly a trend in leisure travel, and one that has impacted corporate group travel. Accordingly, planners often seek to create offsite events that immerse participants in the local culture and make them feel part of it.
When meeting in California, it’s natural to try to capture the laidback, West Coast lifestyle, and a reception held at Grapevine, Texas-based GameStop’s Expo 2014 in Anaheim succeeded in that regard.
The Anaheim Convention Center’s new Grand Plaza, spanning 100,000 sf, was converted into a casual setting for attendees to sample classic street fare, mingle, relax and enjoy the Southern California weather.
“We had around 4,000 attendees for our main arrival day on Sunday, and instead of having box lunches or lunch in a ballroom, we decided to have a little fun with it, and we had the convention center secure food trucks,” relates Judy Anderson, CMP, director of meetings and travel with GameStop.
“The convention center has a partnership with the food trucks, so the event went toward my F&B minimum. It was extremely well-received. Our attendees were able to sit out in the California sun and shop around at the different food trucks; we gave everybody food tickets and drink tickets. We had lounge chairs and tables set up throughout the Grand Plaza, as well as entertainment, a PlayStation truck and a stage with contests. It created this kind of organic sense of camaraderie.”
Like several convention centers in California, the Anaheim Convention Center plans to expand, and by early 2017, an additional 200,000 sf of meeting space will be available. “The size now is perfect for what we do,” Anderson says. “But we’re excited about the expansion because we’re always looking to grow.”
The center’s 7,500-seat arena also was a nice fit for the GameStop group, which used that facility for the program’s three daily general sessions. The meeting space itself “is very well laid out, ‘stacked’ with a lot of common areas and very easy to maneuver in,” she adds. “They also have a lot of outdoor meeting space that we use for all of our evening networking events, VIP receptions, award-winner receptions and so on.” She adds, “They’re upgrading their Wi-Fi, which we’re also very excited about.” By the end of the year, the Anaheim Convention Center will boast 10 gigabit Internet connectivity thanks to a $2.5 million investment and partnership with Smart City Networks.
The center’s proximity to hotels and restaurants was a big selling point, Anderson notes. GameStop used both the 1,572-room Hilton Anaheim (140,000 sf of function space) and the 1,300-room Anaheim Marriott (100,000 sf) as headquarters hotels.
It’s fair to say the city’s Resort District is booming with a nearly $200 million investment by major hoteliers to bring more than 1,500 guest rooms on line by the end of this year. Last year saw the opening of the 178-room Hyatt Place Anaheim Resort and two SpringHill Suites by Marriott (172 and 120 rooms, respectively). This year will see the opening of the 262-room Hyatt House Anaheim Resort, 274-room Residence Inn, 215-room Homewood Suites by Hilton – Anaheim Convention Center/Disneyland Main Gate, 96-room Holiday Inn Express and 221-room Courtyard Waterpark Hotel At Disneyland. Additionally, the Hilton Anaheim, Anaheim Marriott and Sheraton Park Hotel are undergoing $53 million in renovations expected to be completed by year’s end.
Unlike the Anaheim Convention Center expansion project, San Diego’s is still at the proposal stage, and no construction is scheduled to take place prior to 2016. The phase three plan would add approximately 200,000–225,000 sf of exhibit space, 100,000 sf of meeting space and an 80,000-sf ballroom.
Portland, Oregon-based Johnstone Supply, an HVAC wholesale distributor, held its Spring Sales Meeting and Tradeshow at the San Diego Convention Center in March, and previously in 2010 and 2012. With 1,200 attendees, the event does not require the added space the expansion would bring, but Janet Tipton, communications director with the company, sees these projects as beneficial nonetheless.
“We’re kind of that awkward size where we don’t fit nicely into a hotel per se, yet we don’t need the entire convention center. But I think that any time a city is investing in its infrastructure, it’s going to be positive for all sizes of meetings,” she explains.
While San Diego is sometimes perceived as a rather expensive destination, Tipton has not found that to be the case. “When you compare San Diego with other cities in the West, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Las Vegas, San Diego is actually very competitive,” she remarks. The city’s CVB is certainly an added value, she says. “One of the nice things about the San Diego CVB is that they do a great job with social media, so you’re constantly getting specific, useful updates about new things that are happening. I find their communications are really spot on for planners. They’re also a great resource for any third-party referrals, such as DMCs and photographers.” The city’s suppliers now have even more credibility with planners: More than 200 salespeople representing hotels, restaurants, venues, attractions and other service providers registered for the first session of San Diego Meeting Certified, a six-month course custom-designed by Terri Roberts, director of training and communication for Destination Marketing Association International. The program just graduated its 2014 inaugural class.
Overall, Tipton has found San Diego to be a “very visitor friendly” city where “you don’t have to create a lot of specific things for your attendees to do because it’s very self-service. They can find things to do on their own, such as great restaurants and shopping, and the downtown is very walkable and safe.”
Nonetheless, Johnstone Supply did host an organized offsite event at the USS Midway Museum this year that included dinner, docent tours and fireworks. The historic naval aircraft carrier accommodates private events for up to 3,500 guests, who can explore more than 60 exhibits and a collection of 29 restored aircraft.
The last couple of years have seen numerous upgrades to Long Beach’s meeting facilities, including the debut of the Pacific Ballroom at the Long Beach Arena. The ballroom’s 45,000 sf of customized event space is complete with adaptable, electronic walls and a $1.6 million state-of-the-art AV system. On the hotel front, the Renaissance Long Beach Hotel (21,000 sf of meeting space) completed an $8 million renovation last April that redesigned its 374 guest rooms. Other major renovations include The Hyatt Regency Long Beach ($30 million), Westin Long Beach (more than $12 million) and the Long Beach Marriott ($10 million). Overall, more than $60 million has been invested during the past several years to upgrade the city’s primary meeting hotels.
Two fine choices for offsite events represent Long Beach’s status as a maritime hub of the U.S.: the Queen Mary and the Aquarium of the Pacific. The Queen Mary departed from Southampton, England in 1936 on its maiden voyage, and since 1967 has been docked in Long Beach, today serving as a floating hotel and attraction with three world-class restaurants. The ship offers groups more than 80,000 sf of meeting and exhibit space in 14 art deco salons. The Aquarium of the Pacific offers the LEED Platinum-certified Watershed classroom with catering by Savor.
In line with the overall improvement in California’s convention centers, the Los Angeles Convention Center is undergoing a $10 million renovation that should be fully complete by May 1. Numerous interior aesthetic and facility systems enhancements include a new energy-efficient solar-ready “cool roof” on the South Hall and Concourse Hall; new carpet throughout the center; overhauled parking systems; a remodeled 299-seat Theater; elevator and escalator modernization; and much more. Plans also are under consideration to expand the 870,000-sf LACC to 1.3 million sf, including 60,000 sf of new ballroom space, in order to attract more meetings business.
Also renovating is downtown Los Angeles’ Hotel Figueroa, with a multimillion-dollar modernization of its 285 guest rooms. The hotel features Spanish Mediterranean-style architecture and 20,000 sf of meeting space.
Large groups can look forward to a 755-room expansion of the 878-room JW Marriott L.A. Live, recently announced by developer AEG. Combined with the 123-room Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles, the expanded JW Marriott will house 1,756 rooms and more than 200,000 sf of function space. The tentative year of completion is 2018.
Meeting facility developments are just one aspect of Los Angeles’s growth this year. A 120,000-sf contemporary art museum The Broad will open in September. This fall also will see the completion of the $160 million transformation of Macy’s Shopping Plaza into The Bloc, featuring more street-accessible stores and restaurants, a high-end theater, and the complete renovation of the 485-room Sheraton Los Angeles Downtown Hotel, located in the same building. To top it off, LAX’s Terminal 5, home of Delta Air Lines, is scheduled to complete a $229 million renovation this year.
The “capital” of Silicon Valley offers its own distinctive venues for offsite events, including The Tech Museum of Innovation, the recently renovated City National Civic (formerly San Jose Civic Auditorium) and the Center for the Performing Arts. All are located within walking distance of the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, whose expansion was completed in October 2013. The center’s 169,957 sf of additional space includes 27,834 sf of flexible meeting space and a 35,194-sf Grand Ballroom.
The city’s “Wickedly Fast Free Wi-Fi” now extends to the center, which is connected to both the 353-room Hilton San Jose and the 506-room San Jose Marriott. A natural for a high-tech hub like San Jose, the fast and free Wi-Fi service also is offered throughout the downtown and the Mineta San José International Airport, which recently installed two automated Global Entry kiosks in the International Arrivals facility.
During free time in San Jose, attendees can visit the bohemian San Pedro Square Market and Plaza de Cesar Chavez, home to the San Jose Jazz Festival. Planners can rent spaces in the San Jose Museum of Art, which can accommodate meeting groups of 20 to 150 during the day in the Wendel Education Center. Team San Jose, which manages the convention center, City National Civic, Center for the Performing Arts and four other venues, is a “one stop shop” for a planner’s sourcing needs.
Home to some of the country’s most scenic coastlines including the Big Sur, Monterey offers groups much more than R&R in a consistently mild climate. Twenty-five golf courses, 19 state parks, 10 major museums and a variety of vineyards open to the public are among the offsite options. The county’s regional airport offers direct service to Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.
Contributing 550 guest rooms to the county’s 12,004-room inventory, the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel & Spa completed a $6 million renovation over the last two years, featuring the theme “Land, Edge, Sea” in the color scheme and décor of its ballroom and conference center. (The Monterey coast has been described in literature as “the greatest meeting of land and sea” by poet Robinson Jeffers.) The hotel offers more than 40,000 sf of flexible meeting space, including indoor and outdoor facilities.
The Monterey Conference Center and Meeting Connection, a partnership with three adjacent hotels, combine to offer more than 61,000 sf of meeting and exhibit space and 700 guest rooms. The Portola Hotel & Spa at Monterey Bay and the Monterey Marriott are directly connected to the center via skybridge; the Hotel Pacific is directly behind the center. The Monterey Conference Center, which itself offers 41,000 sf of meeting and exhibit space, will begin a $45 million renovation in November with the first floor of the upgraded center planned to reopen by late summer 2016 and the grand opening of the entire renovated facility in early 2017. The center will be better configured to host multiple meetings simultaneously, and will feature advanced technology and a new exterior.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium offers not only a stunning setting for corporate events but an event planning staff to coordinate entertainment, décor, menus and more. Venue rental helps to support the aquarium’s marine conservation efforts.
Like Los Angeles, the City by the Bay is one of California’s most accessible, particularly for international groups. SFO offers nonstop flights to 21 international points on 30 international carriers. When in town, there is great cultural diversity for attendees to explore, including iconic areas such as Chinatown, Haight-Ashbury and the Mission District, as well as a variety of compelling venues for planners to hold offsite events.
Several of them will be showcased this August at the 2015 Meeting Professionals International World Education Congress. Pier 48 will be the site of the Opening Night Celebration. Approximately 2,000 attendees of the Congress will enjoy panoramic views of the waterfront, Bay Bridge and the city skyline, as well as some of the city’s finest sustainable cuisine. The MPI Foundation will be hosting two events: The Big Deal poker party at City View at Metreon, an indoor/outdoor venue overlooking the renowned Yerba Buena Gardens, and the Rendezvous fund-raiser and networking event at the historic Fillmore, the stomping grounds of many classic rock greats. The Beaux-Arts City Hall, reopened in 1915, will provide stately surroundings for the Congress’ Closing Night Celebration.
Hosting MPI will surely boost meetings business in San Francisco, but many other major cities in California should see that result once planners gain exposure to the investments that have been made into the state’s meetings infrastructures. California’s culture may be laidback, but its meetings industry certainly is not. C&IT