Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs and a slew of famous mountain towns have long drawn planners and attendees to the Centennial State.
It’s hard to beat the Mile High City as a meetings destination with its nationally and globally recognized restaurants, breweries, arts, nightlife and surrounding trendy neighborhoods. Downtown is home to the Colorado Convention Center, multiple meeting-friendly hotels, major sports arenas and stadiums, and Denver’s transportation and lifestyle hub, Union Station.
Over the past 10 years the city has generated record tourism numbers, including a 2016 increase of one million visitors over 2015. And those visitors translated into $5 billion in spending in Denver. Richard Scharf, president and CEO of Visit Denver, the city’s CVB, says the record tourism numbers “validate Denver voter approval to increase tourism marketing dollars back in 2005. Since that increase,” he adds, “Denver has seen dramatic tourism growth that translates into greater economic impact for the city.”
“Everything is pretty much walking distance in Denver, and the weather is great. This helps with transportation costs, and it’s great exercise.”
— Susan L. Schaefer-Batzold
No surprise, then, that Denver is No. 11 on the Forbes 2016 list of America’s 20 Fastest Growing Cities. That kind of growth generates a lot of positives, including new and improved infrastructure and more options in terms of hotels, restaurants, amenities and activities for planners and their groups. And even though business travel was flat nationally in 2015, in Denver it was up 9 percent, proving that the city has drawing power for the business market.
Still, Denver is not Colorado’s only stellar meetings destination.
The names Aspen, Vail and Breckenridge have a cachet all their own and attract attendees from across the globe — not just for winter sports but for a wealth of summer activities and cultural events, too.
One name that might not be so familiar is Aurora, Colorado, just east of downtown Denver and directly south of Denver International Airport. But if meeting-goers don’t know the name now, they soon will.
The Anschutz Medical Campus helped to launch Aurora’s transformation and drive an expansion of ancillary businesses. In April, Hyatt Regency Aurora-Denver Conference Center, a mile from the medical campus, opened with 249 rooms and 30,000 sf of meeting and function space. Additionally, the 1,500-room Gaylord Rockies Resort & Conference Center will open in Aurora in late 2018, becoming the state’s largest hotel.
In May, Steffani G. Blackstock, CMP, president of Ascent Meetings & Management in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, brought 400 attendees to the Hyatt Regency Aurora-Denver Conference Center for a collaborative learning session.
“The proximity of the hotel to the client’s headquarters was the biggest factor in choosing the hotel, in addition to the configuration and square footage of meeting space,” Blackstock says. “And for a budget-conscious client with high-class demands, a pre-opening special is a great way to maximize value and establish a model for future business.”
Because hers was the first large group to hold a conference at the hotel, Blackstock says, “There was a buzz of excitement all about the place. All of the hotel staff wore big smiles and were exceptionally friendly and helpful; they made us feel very welcome.”
Even before the event, she knew she was in good hands with Kerri Pinkney, a sales manager, and Laura Carnahan Dole, an event services manager. “I have a solid working relationship with both in producing events at other hotel properties over the years,” Blackstock notes, “and I know them to be creative, attentive and fair in our dealings…they go the extra mile.”
About the hotel she says, “The meeting space flows nicely and is all on one floor — the ballroom for general sessions and nine breakout rooms — with natural light from skylights in the spacious prefunction areas and seating clusters for informal conversation and networking. These features were highly suited for this particular program. Additionally, the Borealis restaurant/lounge was a nice place to hang out, with movable glass walls that allow flow onto the patio areas with couch seating and fireplaces to enjoy a Colorado evening outdoors.”
On the downside, restrooms near the ballroom were not well marked and women’s restrooms near the breakout rooms reached capacity very quickly, creating long lines. And though Blackstock appreciated the break stations set on “lovely built-in cabinets,” as well as continuous coffee and a refrigerator with self-serve bottled water, she ultimately had to request added food and beverage stations because during session transitions those one-sided stations created bottlenecks for attendees.
Of course, she knew there were bound to be hiccups with a brand-new hotel. “We watched the physical construction of the property and took a hardhat tour during the finishing stages, but we had never seriously considered how much time and effort it takes to build the infrastructure. The overlapping systems within a hotel — technology, maintenance, food/beverage, reservations, accounting — require a lot of training and practice for staff to learn and perfect the skills. We experienced a few challenges in the behind-the-scenes planning and execution, but most of our attendees were unaware and post-event evaluations were very favorable of the hotel.”
To planners considering meeting in a brand-new property, Blackstock offers this advice: “Schedule a pre-event walkthrough with the hotel’s key team members (banquets, AV, etc.) at least one week prior to the event. This will help them to envision how a group will use the space and can help to anticipate problems with flow, signage, etc.”
The Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center Hotel opened in 2014 in the meticulously renovated Colorado Bank Building. The mix of preserved historic detail and upscale contemporary aesthetic has attracted meeting planners and groups ever since, including Susan L. Schaefer-Batzold, director of corporate travel for Optiv Security in Overland Park, Kansas, which provides a full suite of information security services and solutions. Schaefer-Batzold books multiple meetings at the Renaissance throughout the year, with attendees numbering from 20 to 700. The hotel is a good fit as it’s located near Optiv’s Denver headquarters and the meeting space stands out.
“I love the fact that some rooms already have monitors, which saves on AV expense. I love the menus offered for meetings, they are unique,” Schaefer-Batzold says. “And the meeting space is unique, too, as each room is different.”
That’s because the meeting space utilizes the old bank vaults, providing one-of-a-kind spaces with architectural interest. Schaefer-Batzold also likes that an upstairs space — the Club Lounge on the mezzanine level overlooking the lobby — can be used on a complimentary, first-come, first-serve basis, “which is another added bonus and cost saver.”
The Renaissance also has other elements going for it. “This hotel is a great option, rooms are very nice and comfortable. It’s a Marriott property and points are typically a big deal. The sales staff is wonderful to work with. They make me look good, and they read my mind,” Schaefer-Batzold says. “It doesn’t get much better than that!”
When the groups range from 20 to 60 attendees, Optiv uses the Renaissance for its primary meeting space. “The consistency of food quality, the location and excellent service makes it a go-to option every time,” Schaefer-Batzold says. And while they have had team dinners in the hotel, she notes that, “Typically we like to take our folks offsite after a long day of meetings.”
That’s where the city comes in. “Everything is pretty much walking distance in Denver, and the weather is great,” Schaefer-Batzold notes. “This helps with transportation costs, and it’s great exercise.”
And though Optiv has a Denver headquarters, many attendees fly in from elsewhere. “Denver is an easy city to find nonstop flights in and out of and at a good price in most cases,” Schaefer-Batzold adds. “Plus, the addition of the light rail to and from the airport is a bonus.”
The only real challenge for Schaefer-Batzold is something over which she has no control: the natural dryness of Colorado. “It’s really hard on you if you are not constantly drinking water,” she says. “Other than that, it’s great.”
Also in the heart of downtown, The Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center is an excellent choice for larger groups. Jeff Wood, vice president/general manager, HP Workstation/Thin Client Global Business Unit in Fort Collins, Colorado, set the annual internal sales training event for 1,000 at the Hyatt Regency for exactly that reason. “It gave us the ability to host all of our attendees in one hotel.”
But it’s not just about the space. “The Hyatt staff is very accommodating of the complexities of our event. They do a fantastic job of catering to our food and beverage and meeting-space requirements,” Wood says. He advises planners to take advantage of that expertise. “They are very accommodating, professional and help us put on a great event!”
The group uses the hotel for the welcome reception and senior management meetings. “We host our partner-sponsored welcome reception at the hotel,” Wood notes. “Since half of our attendees are flying in from outside the United States, it’s convenient for them after a full day of travel to relax in the hotel and not have to navigate their way to other venues. The Hyatt does a fantastic job of catering our event and meeting the needs of international guests.”
Other main stage and breakout meeting requirements are managed at the Colorado Convention Center. “The convenience of the hotel to the convention center is ideal as the weather in December in Colorado can be d’icey (pun intended).”
Hosting the meeting in Denver is convenient in terms of HP’s global business. “Our worldwide headquarters are in Fort Collins, a short hour drive to the Hyatt,” Wood notes. “It gives us the ability to host a greater number of our employees at the event vs. traveling to alternate locations.”
The meeting usually includes two open nights where attendees go where they want for dinner, but they primarily use venues along the 16th Street Mall within walking distance of the hotel. “We don’t venture farther than that into the city,” Wood acknowledges.
With the event going on 13 years, Wood says, “I think we have the process nailed by now.” The only complications are due to weather in December, which can impact travel in and out of the airport and the city. But then there’s what Wood sees as the highlight: “Colorado — it’s God’s country.”
Colorado has no lack of idyllic mountain towns that accommodate meetings and incentive trips, including Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Breckenridge. Vail Resorts is a key player in these four towns and ready to assist planners with whatever they need.
In Breckenridge, a premier resort to consider is One Ski Hill Place, a RockResort, located at the base of Peak 8 where a gondola provides access to the town of Breckenridge below. That’s where Springfield, Virginia-based Seertech Solutions America held its annual retreat and strategy meeting in June, with seven team members as well as their families in attendance.
Ken Goldwasser, director, learning solutions, says the location was ideal, and he received excellent assistance from Vail Resorts. “We explained our needs — a combination of work, teambuilding and fun for staff and families — and they matched us with the best available location. I highly recommend letting them know your requirements so they can explain available options,” he says. “The Vail Resorts team was very active in providing information to facilitate the booking of accommodations and meeting rooms, and seeing that all was in order when we were onsite.”
One Ski Hill Place served as the primary meetings venue. “We like the convenience of staying and meeting in the same building, avoiding any commute time. A simple elevator descent and you are at your meeting site,” Goldwasser says. “Our meeting room had plenty of windows to allow in natural light and take advantage of the mountain location. Breakfast and lunch were set up outside the room, which provided a nice way to assure we had to get up for a break and so that the food prep and wonderful smell were not a distraction from the meeting. The room had excellent Wi-Fi and met our needs perfectly.”
The hotel was also the setting for a dinner function for staff and family, a group of 30. “We appreciated that catering accommodated our mix of adults and children as well as prepared a vegetarian meal for one guest,” Goldwasser says. “There were plenty of menu items for us to choose from when determining what to serve and the style. We went with a buffet.”
The town of Breckenridge, which sits at a heady 9,600 feet above sea level, also proved ideal. “Breckenridge offers so many options for group and individual activities. This was key for a group like ours spanning ages from young children to adults,” Goldwasser notes. “We were able to organize activities for the group, and each family also found plenty to do on their own. The free shuttle into town was convenient and efficient. The gondolas also provided a unique transportation option. The town is full of great restaurants and bars, places for children and adults and all tastes and dietary requirements.”
The group enjoyed activities together and separately. “In addition to a team hike on the trail to Frisco, our group split up for some activities and meals,” Goldwasser says. “Families enjoyed the Breck Fun Park while other attendees rented mountain bikes and rode the lift to access trails or rode into town. Downstairs at Eric’s was a popular restaurant for lunch and dinner, and a stop at the Broken Compass Brewery was a hit.”
To be sure, there are some extra things to consider when you hold a meeting in a mountain town. “If some of your guests are from lower altitudes, be sure to prepare them to hydrate and to bring and use sunscreen,” Goldwasser says. “Don’t plan activities, such as hiking and biking, without considering breaks to allow guests to catch their breath.”
Although the outdoors is definitely a highlight of meeting in the mountains, that doesn’t mean everyone has to be a hardcore adventurer. Goldwasser points out that, “The trail system in and around Breckenridge is not too strenuous, follows the Blue River and accommodates those who want dirt under their feet or tires, as well as those who prefer pavement. And,” he adds, “there are opportunities to do things outside of town, too, such as rafting and hot air balloon rides.”
Like other mountain towns, Breckenridge should be on planners’ destination short lists for a multitude of reasons. “It’s a beautiful mountain location with plenty of activities for all ages, not too crowded and has excellent accommodations and attentive staff, “ says Goldwasser.
This is a state where cities and towns across the board evolve and update to stay at the top of their game. There’s always something new to engage attendees.
In March, The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs opened The Overlook at Cloud Camp, a 1,500-sf meeting/event space. Cloud Camp, accommodating up to 60 guests, sits atop Cheyenne Mountain seven miles from the main resort. In addition to guest cabins, Cloud Camp offers activity options from hiking and mule rides to archery, crafts and yoga.
In June, Sea Island Company, which includes The Cloister and other Sea Island, Georgia, properties, announced that ownership would consolidate under the Anschutz family, previously one of four owners. What does that have to do with Colorado? That ownership pairs Sea Island with The Broadmoor, also owned by Anschutz. The newly formed Broadmoor-Sea Island Company will oversee the management and development of both of these independent and historic properties.
In late 2016, The Broadmoor opened The Estate House, a 12,000-sf historic mansion, which was designed in the 1920s and evokes visions of Gatsby-esque grand affairs and parties with its luxurious and opulent setting. The home has been entirely refreshed while maintaining the historic sophistication of the home’s original woodwork, art and other period features.
This private retreat boasts a variety of spaces, customizable to fit the needs of any group. A grand parlor is equally suited to a cocktail reception of up to 120, private dinners for up to 60, or meetings. The dining room seats up to 16 and is serviced by The Broadmoor’s culinary team. For a quiet escape, or breakout meeting, the library and third-floor reading rooms provide additional flex space, and an outdoor covered veranda overlooks two sprawling croquet lawns and manicured gardens, offering a natural extension to the inside areas.
In addition to the entertaining and meeting rooms, the property features five spacious and well-appointed bedrooms, each with a king or two queen beds and private baths. “We are thrilled to add this luxurious private venue as an extension of The Broadmoor’s established meetings and events services,” said Jack Damioli, president and CEO of The Broadmoor. “As we prepare to celebrate our centennial in 2018, it’s exciting to see our legacy of offering guests a truly authentic, historic, luxury Western experience continue to grow.”
A stay at The Estate House also affords access to the full range of the resort’s amenities where guests can spend downtime at one of three championship golf courses, the Forbes Five Star spa and fitness center, a nationally recognized year-round tennis program, 26 retail boutiques and more than 20 restaurants, cafés and lounges, including Colorado’s only Forbes Five Star, AAA Five Diamond restaurant, Penrose Room. Other activities on the resort’s 5,000 acres include falconry, guided mountain biking, hiking, rock-climbing tours, fly-fishing, paintball and more. Offsite attractions for teambuilding include Pikes Peak Cog Railway, Seven Falls and The Broadmoor Soaring Adventure zip-line courses.
It’s hard to keep up with food and wine in Aspen. Multiple restaurants have opened this year, including Jus Aspen, The Monarch, Aspen Kitchen, Bosq and Mi Chola. The Cooking School of Aspen opened downtown in March, offering classes, teambuilding, private events and more, and Rec Room, a lounge and glam nightclub, also debuted.
Summer and early fall is a particularly good time for groups to fly into Aspen now that American has added nonstop flights from Chicago and United has added them from San Francisco. In terms of lodging, the big news is that W Aspen and The Sky Residences at W Aspen are slated to open for the 2018 winter ski season. Located across from the base of Aspen Mountain, the design includes a 12,000-sf rooftop bar and pool.
The Grand Hyatt Denver and Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center had a combined $10 million makeover to meeting spaces and ballrooms, with new designs providing more of a Colorado aesthetic and sense of place. Between the two hotels, planners have access to more than 113,200 sf of meeting and function space.
Boulder’s renowned historic hotel, The Boulderado, is updating its annex guest rooms and event center, as well as the mezzanine and lobby in the main building. The work will be completed in two phases. The hotel has 160 guest rooms and 10,000 sf of meeting and event space.
The bottom line is that Colorado has enormous variety and depth, whether you’re talking geography, aesthetic, budget and amenity requirements, cuisine or venues. And it’s ready and willing to accommodate the needs of planners, businesses and their groups. C&IT