The Golden State is the pulsing heart of the movie and tech industries, global trendsetter in culture and politics and celebrated for its wealth of bucket-list adventures. It’s the third largest state and hugely diverse, culturally and geographically. If planners can’t find a destination here to meet their group’s needs, they aren’t looking hard enough.
In Orange County, Anaheim is a destination where serious business and fun intersect.
Jay Burress, president and CEO of Visit Anaheim, points to dozens of other attributes that make Anaheim a great choice for planners. “The destination is known for its exceptional hospitality community and close synergy between Visit Anaheim, the Anaheim Convention Center and local hotels,” he says. We’re really proud of our unique relationship and the way it translates over to planners by easily conducting business across key hospitality organizations.”
“The city of Anaheim has evolved dramatically. It’s almost unrecognizable if you haven’t been here in the last five years.”
— Jay Burress
He notes that 300-plus days of sunshine, four nearby airports, the West’s largest convention center and 9,000 hotel rooms within 1/5 mile of the convention center contribute to Anaheim’s meeting friendliness, along with the area’s famed theme parks and beaches. It’s what makes Anaheim, says Burress, “the epicenter of SoCal.”
Meeting business growth currently comes from two sectors. “Growth in the Asia-Pacific region MICE market, particularly China, Australia and New Zealand, is a trend that we’ve been keeping a close eye on,” Burress says. “We’re investing heavily into that market, bringing a dedicated MICE sales rep in China and joining ICCA to promote and sell Anaheim to the international MICE Market.
“Corporate groups have also grown exponentially,” he continues, “thanks in part to the upcoming Anaheim Convention Center expansion, which adds 200,000 sf of flexible space. Planners can build any experience within this space, from large galas and presentations to small educational breakout sessions. It’s really a blank slate to create any customized event.”
He calls the Anaheim campus the best campus setup in the country. “The convention center is surrounded by numerous major, full-service hotels that flank an al fresco function space, providing a self-contained, walkable campus.” The center gives groups a place to gather in “a single high-profile location with nightly views of world-famous fireworks and everything else the Anaheim Resort has to offer.”
With approximately $6 billion in investment happening or coming online, including luxury hotels, mixed-use developments and new attractions at Disneyland Park, there’s a lot for planners to see.
“The city of Anaheim has evolved dramatically,” Burress concludes. “It’s almost unrecognizable if you haven’t been here in the last five years. From hotel development and beautification projects to the burgeoning epicurean and brewery scene as well as our ever-evolving attractions, we encourage a site visit to see the possibilities.”
Another Orange County, California city, Irvine sits inland from Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. Gina Viña, director of global events with ConferenceDirect, says the city has a multitude of attributes. In October, she assisted one of her clients, the Center for Research on Biotoxin-Associated Illness Inc., which met at Hotel Irvine, drawing 140 attendees.
“Irvine offers many wonderful options to meeting attendees,” Viña says. “Warm weather, plenty of dining experiences and entertainment are available within minutes. Airlift is easy because attendees can use the John Wayne Airport, which offers quick access, or LAX, which offers numerous direct-flight options, especially for international travelers.”
It’s the people, though, that shine. “Irvine is a great city to do business with. There are great hotel options and a fantastic CVB, Destination Irvine,” Viña says. “Staff members at Destination Irvine are valuable partners and can provide support and expertise to ensure your event is successful. I really enjoyed working with them.”
Hotel Irvine, with a “convenient location, recent renovation, easy airport access, excellent F&B and service and an amazing staff” proved to be an excellent venue. “It started with the sales process and Mark Eastman,” Viña says. “Mark was professional and listened to what our needs were and provided the best solution at a competitive price. However, I believe a great team starts with great leadership and General Manager Jeroen Quint is outstanding. He has a passion for service excellence and it’s clear he imparts this to his staff.”
Viña also has high praise for Tricia Smith, senior event services manager who has been with the hotel for over 25 years, as well as Josh Cameron, director of the AV team.
She calls the meeting space “fresh and crisp with good lighting,” noting that most is just off the lobby, thus easy to access. “The only space a little removed is the Pavilion,” she says, “but it’s a 2.5-minute walk from the main ballroom along a charming outdoor area. I thought it was nice for attendees to get some fresh air and enjoy the California sunshine.”
Viña’s advice for planners considering Irvine: “Partner with Destination Irvine.”
Sometimes, the best destination for a conference is right at home. Tala Baltazar, director, global events and sales enablement for Laserfiche, headquartered in Long Beach, says the city is perfect for the company’s Empower Conference of 3,000 attendees. The event was held in Long Beach in January 2016 and February 2017.
“The Laserfiche Empower Conference is the premier educational and networking event for the Laserfiche community and professionals who want to learn ways to improve efficiency and transform their business. It’s important for us to select a venue that sets a stage conducive to learning and networking. The city of Long Beach is a smart choice,” she says. “We are able to maintain our strong sense of community among our thousands of attendees. Hotels are within walking distance from the convention center. Long Beach is truly a convention-friendly city. The waterfront location and many options for shopping, dining and entertainment are a plus. Overall, it’s about the brand experience, and we know our attendees will have a great time at our event in Long Beach. Additionally, it’s wonderful to kick off our year with an event in sunny Southern California, at a waterfront setting.”
Baltazar says several Long Beach “watering holes” were designated for attendee networking after meetings. “It was easily arranged; attendees just show their badges, and they get a discount for food and drinks.”
For past conferences, the group also held events at the Queen Mary and Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific. “These venues and others provide unique types of experiences for convention attendees,” Baltazar says.
For meeting sessions, Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center is ideal. “Besides the proximity of its location to our headquarter office, the center’s space fulfilled our requirements for our keynotes, 250-plus breakout sessions, exhibits and meal functions. The layout and room-naming convention are logical such that attendees can easily figure out where to go. There are so many function spaces that can be used and transformed from one type of function to another. Cost was another consideration. Housing, meals, even parking fees were reasonably priced. We also love the Pacific Room; it’s a flexible space with built-in, state of the art AV equipment where you can hold a wide variety of functions.”
For citywides, seamless interaction between stakeholders is critical. “Laserfiche is a big proponent of process efficiency, communication and collaboration, so it was interesting to see how the Long Beach CVB, convention center services and catering staff, hotels, transportation and other city departments involved in citywide conventions work together,” Baltazar says. “They have this production down to a science. Service expertise combined with strong interorganization communication and collaboration were extremely beneficial in the conference-planning process.”
Baltazar believes if planners visit downtown Long Beach, choosing to meet there will be an easy choice. “If you can, attend an event at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center so you can envision your event through the eyes of your attendees. You’ll know they’ll have a good experience. You’ll also discover how easy it is to imagine your event at this setting, and how easy it will be to make it happen.”
When events require a truly “wow” destination, L.A. is often on the short list. That was the case for Harley-Davidson’s 2017 annual Dealer Meeting, coming up in August with approximately 6,000 attendees. Amy Heppe, event manager, is in the planning process for the L.A. meeting now.
“The redevelopment of downtown Los Angeles provides the perfect combination of logistical ease, meeting space, event space, hotel space, entertainment options and the wow we look for in a destination,” she says.
In addition to using space at Los Angeles Convention Center, there will be multiple individual receptions and events in different venues. “We’ll host about six receptions for 75–600 people for our regional receptions,” Heppe says. “In addition, we will host our global award recipients for our Annual Global Awards Photos and Reception, followed by 12 regional dinners at locations throughout downtown. The options are endless, which is extremely rare!”
While Heppe notes that so many options can be challenging, she says the process has been generally easy for a couple of reasons. “The rebirth of L.A. offers many exciting venues and eclectic food options,” so she has found exactly what she needs. And the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board has been there to help. “The L.A. Tourism team members are extremely knowledgeable and have gone out of their way to understand the program and provide options exceeding my expectations.”
Heppe says the city’s extensive variety of lodging also makes housing easier. “We have multiple sub blocks based on region. But the variety of service levels, price points and room-block availability was extremely easy for us in planning.”
For planners considering L.A., Heppe says, “Downtown L.A. can be intimidating. Reach out to the L.A. Tourism team when you begin planning. Spend time with them to explain your program, and they’ll offer suggestions to help you navigate through the many options. Take the time to site visit the different venues as there is so much to see — but you will definitely find the right fit.”
Offering an intimate seaside location, Marina del Rey is just four miles from LAX. Jennifer Squillace, manager, global accounts with HelmsBriscoe, works with a luxury automotive group that meets frequently in California.
“This client held over 20 meetings, close to 6,000 room nights, in California in 2016. Among the reasons they love California,” she says, “are the great weather and natural beauty along the coast. This is the perfect combination for driving tours.”
Squillace worked with the group on two meetings in fall 2016, drawing 25 and 100 attendees, respectively. “Marina del Rey was chosen as the ideal location because of the high quality hotels and restaurants available, the relaxed but upscale atmosphere and the proximity to LAX.”
The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey and Marina del Rey Marriott met the group’s requirements for upscale lodging and had the pattern available for their meetings. “The proximity to the marina offered easy access to restaurants and activities,” Squillace says, adding, “The Ritz-Carlton made the planning and execution of the event easy and seamless.
Squillace recommends that planners partner with CVBs in Los Angeles County and says, “Marina del Rey should definitely be considered as an option. It’s about 20 minutes from LAX and easily accessible from many areas of the city.”
The Conference Board, a global, independent business membership and research organization working in the public interest, has set its own annual employee health care conference in New York and San Diego for 17 years. Last March, approximately 600 employees attended the San Diego conference.
“San Diego is the perfect location for this meeting due to the mild weather in March, the proximity of the airport to the city’s downtown area, direct flights from major hubs and the convenience of having great restaurants and entertainment for our attendees close to the hotel,” says Tereza Todorova, CMP, senior meeting planner. “Also, since San Diego is such a tourist destination, many of our attendees extend their stay a few days to enjoy the beach, the famous zoo, great golf courses, entertainment parks, shops, restaurants, boat rides, etc.”
For the last four years, the group has used the Hilton San Diego Bayfront. “Its great location on the water, proximity to the airport, spacious meeting space, the luxury of outdoor space for lunches and receptions, beautiful and clean sleeping rooms, creative catering options, fresh and tasty banquet food and amazing service provided by the conference services team, reservations, banquets, housekeeping, etc., make this property the perfect hotel for any size meeting,” Todorova says. “I highly recommend it.”
But among the city’s attributes, Todorova notes, is choice of lodging options. “San Diego has a variety of hotels suitable for any group size: resort hotels, convention hotels, conference centers, etc. As our Employee Health Care Conference continued to grow through the years, we were able to find a new home for it and return to San Diego every year. A city with such options is a great destination for every meeting planner.”
If there is a downside to San Diego, it’s only its popularity. “Book as much in advance as possible,” Todorova says, “as space and dates seem to get taken very quickly!”
California has so many cities, towns, attractions, hotels and convention centers, there’s always something new to discover.
San Francisco. While the Moscone Convention Center undergoes a massive renovation to increase its size to 772,179 sf of usable space (scheduled for completion in 2018), hotels in the city have partnered to provide planners with Neighborhood Network Connections for meetings of up to 2,500. Near Moscone, InterContinental San Francisco and San Francisco Marriott Marquis jointly provide 1,400 guest rooms and 160,000 sf of function space. In Union Square, Grand Hyatt San Francisco and The Westin St. Francis provide 1,200 guest rooms and 86,000 sf of space. There are Nob Hill, Downtown and SOMA neighborhood networks, too. Self-contained conferences — those with lodging and venues in the same building — rose 47 percent in the past year, so book as far ahead as possible.
Monterey County. Arguably the most significant project for 2017 is the renovation and opening of the new, state-of-the-art Monterey Conference Center this spring, with 40,000-plus sf of LEED-certified flexible space accommodating up to 3,200 attendees. In addition, Hyatt Carmel Highlands, celebrating 100 years of coastal hospitality this year, has renovated its guest rooms, lobby and other public spaces.
San Diego. Kimpton Hotel La Jolla was rebranded as Hotel La Jolla, Curio Collection by Hilton. In July, Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites opened a joint campus, easily accessible from the airport. Pendry San Diego by Montage Hotels & Resorts opens this month in the Gaslamp Quarter with 35,000 sf of function space. Harrah’s Resort Southern California will launch four new high-tech meeting rooms this winter and unveil its new spa renovation in May.
Both Legoland California Resort and Sea World San Diego will launch new attractions in 2017. Legoland’s Star Wars Miniland opens in March, SeaWorld’s Ocean Explorer comes online late spring.
Dana Point. In June, Dana Point launched its own CVB, Visit Dana Point, giving meeting planners a one-stop resource for the town, which offers four luxury resorts, 1,370 guest rooms, 59 meeting rooms and 16 restaurants, along with beaches, golf, spas and whale watching. Six major airports are within 100 miles of town, making access a breeze.
Newport Beach. Newport Beach turned 110 in 2016. Among its attractions for planners and groups: sailboat rentals via Newport Beach Sailing School, scenic helicopter tours with OC Helicopters and golf at The Resort at Pelican Hill.
Long Beach. In spring 2017, Long Beach Convention Center will open its newest turnkey meeting space The Cove. Providing an “under-the-pier” fantasy aesthetic, the new space is located below the Terrace Theater. Additionally, a new pedestrian bridge The Wave will connect the center’s Pine Avenue entrance with Terrace Place, The Cove and the arena.
Marina del Rey. Following a 2016 renovation of its guest rooms, The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey completed a renovation of its Marine Vista Room in January, offering fabulous views and a prime location. In December, the Marina del Rey CVB launched The Free Ride, a fleet of five electric shuttles providing free transportation to attractions within the marina, including six hotels, many restaurants, Fisherman’s Village and Waterside mall. Some shuttles also travel to neighbor Venice Beach.
Los Angeles. Los Angeles County will add more than 8,700 new hotel rooms by 2018. Dream Hollywood Hotel will open in February with 179 upscale rooms, and a rooftop pool and lounge. The James Hotel Los Angeles opens in April, with 286 rooms and 10,000 sf of meeting space. When the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown opens in June, it will be the tallest building west of Chicago and include a sky-lobby on the 70th floor. The landmark Century Plaza Hotel, undergoing extensive restoration, will re-open as the Fairmont Century Plaza, Los Angeles in 2018. C&IT