With its abundance of new restaurants, hotels and venues; sunny days galore; and an active, outdoor lifestyle that draws award-winning chefs as well as entrepreneurs and innovators in technology, medicine and a variety of other trending industries, Colorado is on the move. It’s one of the nation’s healthiest, economically strong and most desirable states, according to polls including the 2017 rankings by U.S. News & World Report.
Urban venues and far-flung mountain towns provide a dynamic combination for savvy planners. Here are just a few of them.
Colorado Springs doesn’t play second fiddle to Denver. It has its own assets, including enviable growth and economic development paired with history, mountains, a training center for elite Olympic athletes and the presence of the United States Air Force Academy and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
Among the city’s well-known resorts is the inimitable Broadmoor, which opened in 1918. Yet it’s not necessarily top of mind for incentive programs, as Eric Czerlonka, principal creative director with Czerlonka Productions, points out.
“It’s not uncommon for my clients to immediately consider oceanfront locations for their incentives,” he says. “However we’ve recently seen a shift in this pattern. I believe the trend is heading toward locations that offer unique experiences.”
Czerlonka says the goal “is for attendees to leave thinking, ‘Wow, that was amazing. I don’t think I would have considered going there on my own.’ We want to introduce them to different locations and experiences, and The Broadmoor and Colorado Springs deliver that. Where else can you host an event that allows your guest to meet and pet a coyote or a wolf?”
“The beauty of the resort,” he adds, “its surroundings and the service are key to the success of the program.” Activities are another important element. “The Broadmoor offers luxury shops right on property, golf and amazing restaurants. The location makes several daytime activities accessible. Seven falls, the resort’s private fly-fishing camp, Garden of the Gods and the Pikes Peak Cog Railway are just a few of the experiences that groups gravitate toward.”
The Broadmoor’s three Wilderness Experience properties: The Ranch at Emerald Valley, Cloud Camp and Fishing Camp provide a unique range of activities for teambuilding and incentive experiences. And in fall 2016, The Broadmoor opened The Estate House, a lavish 12,000-sf historic mansion designed during the 1920s that is perfect for small private parties and receptions. Overall, The Broadmoor features 185,000 sf of function space, including the 60,000-sf Broadmoor Hall and 62 meeting rooms.
Broadmoor amenities include three championship golf courses, a year-round tennis program, a Forbes Five Star spa and fitness center as well as 26 retail boutiques. There are more than 20 restaurants, cafés and lounges, including the Penrose Room, Colorado’s only Forbes Five Star, AAA Five Diamond restaurant.
Another plus for Colorado Springs and The Broadmoor is ease of access, whether groups fly into the Springs or Denver. “Transfers from Colorado Springs to The Broadmoor are very convenient and the close proximity allows you to manage transportation costs,” Czerlonka says. “And for those who fly into Denver, we’ve found that the drive to Colorado Springs is one that is full of amazing views and our guests don’t mind the 90 minutes to the resort.”
Among the positives at The Broadmoor, Czerlonka says, are “the flexibility of our sales manager and ease of planning. In addition, our attendees loved the beehive on property. It’s a fun place for attendees to go.”
Czerlonka’s group had daily general sessions and evening events at the resort. “We had plenty of space, which allowed us to be creative in our meeting sets. Wi-Fi was reliable, food wonderful and menus creative. You will not be disappointed with the service or product provided by the resort.”
In the end, challenges were limited to client hesitation. “The only challenge I faced was convincing my clients to consider the destination for an incentive,” Czerlonka says. “Once I got them to The Broadmoor they understood it, and the rest was easy!”
Katie Sullivan, event production director with Planitomaha, a regional and national meetings and events company, is also a fan of Colorado Springs and The Broadmoor.
She says Kiewit Building Group loved it so much in 2017 they wanted to return for the 2018 meeting with 550 attendees. “Colorado Springs offers great airlift for some attendees. We also have a large population in Denver so it is easy for them to make the short trip south or for those flying into Denver to get to the property. By holding the meeting in the ‘off season,’ we are able to obtain amazing rates and an incredible overall experience for our attendees.”
She calls Colorado Springs a “hidden gem” with options for every type of client or group. “Colorado Springs should be on everyone’s short list when sourcing properties and offsite locations,” she says.
“We worked closely with the U.S. Olympic Training Center for an offsite activity we organized. USOTC had amazing service and attention to detail helping us to create a custom day consisting of a tour, demonstrations, lunch and athlete interactions. Our visit was shortly before the Winter Olympics, an exciting time to be on the campus.”
As for The Broadmoor, Sullivan calls it a “one-stop shop with great meeting space as well as lavish accommodations and endless entertainment options and activities at your fingertips. Everyone we work with at The Broadmoor is beyond fantastic.”
The Broadmoor is just one of the city’s superb hotels. Colorado Springs is a dynamic destination with multiple lodging options for planners. Among them are also Antlers Hotel and The Mining Exchange, a Wyndham Grand Hotel & Spa. That’s where Kara Lawrence, co-president and CEO of Alert Management Systems brought 110 attendees in November for the company’s annual conference and training session for users.
“Our company is headquartered in Colorado Springs. Our business is software for the rental industry. We offer an annual three-day training event to gather clients from all over the country to see our new features, get training, network and vote on future enhancements for Alert Management Systems. We primarily hold the event in Colorado Springs because half our staff lives here, making it convenient.”
Colorado Springs itself is part of the draw. “Many restaurants across the city have private meeting rooms for smaller gatherings, and we have top-notch hotels to accommodate large groups. For our group, it’s important for our hotel to provide reasonably priced hotel rooms and for us to be able to hold our entire event within the venue. We need to keep everyone together for a cohesive function,” Lawrence says.
“Since Colorado Springs is a smaller city compared to Denver or other large cities, we’ve found that the price of hotel rooms and catering for our event is very reasonable. We’ve quoted the event at different venues in Denver and our cost would increase substantially. We’d have to pass that cost on to our clients, which would be unpopular.”
Lawrence says many of the attendees combine the event with a few days of vacation. “They visit our city’s popular attractions, such as the Cog Railway to Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods, U.S. Air Force Academy and the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Or they get in a few days of skiing in the mountains.“
Lawrence attributes much of the success of the event to outstanding service provided at the host hotels they’ve used. “For the past several years, we’ve held our event at the Mining Exchange or Antlers Hotel in downtown. Both hotels have done an amazing job with managing our event’s need for function space, room availability and meals. Our clients continue to come back every year, which is a testament not only to the success of our staff hosting a robust event, but the success of our host hotel.” In recent years the conference has been located primarily downtown. “Our clients have enjoyed the quaint downtown, which has a fun nightlife. After hours, they’ve been known to frequent anything from Rendezvous Cigar Bar and Cocktail Lounge to Cowboys Country & Western Bar. While our attendance at early morning training sessions may be sparse, we’re thrilled that our guests are enjoying themselves. Steps away from our host hotels, Colorado Springs offers a diverse selection of restaurants, shops and bars that aren’t a part of our main event but are a popular attraction to our clients.”
Next year, they’re going to try a different area. “For 2018, we’re moving our event to the new Great Wolf Lodge in the northern area of Colorado Springs,” Lawrence says. “Outside the water park hotel, the area is home to fun attractions such as Overdrive Raceway, Summit Interquest Bowling and LaserTag, and many restaurants and bars. Our clients will be able to entertain themselves after our event has concluded each day.”
All sessions of the conference are held at the base hotel, though small groups do hold dinners at local restaurants. “The restaurants in downtown Colorado Springs are easily able to accommodate our smaller groups of five to 15, and we’re always pleased with the food and service,” Lawrence says.
Lawrence calls The Mining Exchange and Antlers Hotel successes. “Both hotels are downtown. This is very convenient for our clients who fly into Colorado Springs and don’t want to rent a car because everything is in walking distance. The staff from the front desk to sales to catering has been absolutely delightful in all the hotels we’ve worked with. Their competence and professionalism shine a spotlight on Colorado Springs’ capabilities as a destination for events.”
The design of The Mining Exchange is a plus. “The hotel is a mining exchange from the old pioneer days in the West. The designers of the hotel took this into consideration and the old vaults and other interesting décor were left intact, which adds tremendously to the unique feeling of the hotel. The guest rooms are on the small side, but they’re exquisitely appointed.”
Lawrence says staff at both hotels has worked to make the event seamless for the guests. She says a primary concern is having enough hotel rooms to accommodate the group. “With a boutique hotel like the Mining Exchange, we were able to secure an overflow block of rooms at Antlers Hotel, walking distance to the Mining Exchange. Additionally, our group expects a discount from published rates since we’re taking up a significant portion of rooms during the week.”
It’s also imperative, Lawrence adds, “that our group is served tasty food at a reasonable price. If the food leaves something to be desired, it reflects poorly on our company and our event.”
Fortunately, the catering for both hotels has been good. “We’re able to choose our menus in a reasonable amount of time ahead of the conference, and the Mining Exchange in particular went above and beyond when we had more guests than RSVP’d,” she notes.
Wi-Fi is a critical element. “Business owners and managers attend our event every year, and it’s important for them to be able to stay connected to their businesses back home. I can’t emphasize enough how important a good Wi-Fi signal is to our clients. Although it seems silly, our company is criticized in our conference evaluations if the Wi-Fi at the hotel is crummy,” Lawrence says.
The company’s decision-makers actually tested the signal at Great Wolf Lodge, so they know there are no issues for this year’s conference.
Lawrence says that her biggest challenge is keeping the conference fresh in the same location year after year. “That’s why we look at different hotels every few years. I’ve been working with this conference for 10 years and we’re moving to our third hotel in the area. Fortunately, Colorado Springs is experiencing tremendous growth, giving us new opportunities to accommodate our large group.”
Her advice to planners considering the area: “Don’t forget to schedule some time in our beautiful city. Our natural beauty is unparalleled.”
An astonishing 245 restaurants opened in Denver in 2017, some helmed by nationally and internationally notable chefs. Six hotels opened in downtown or the Cherry Creek neighborhood in 2017 and seven are currently on track to open this year, with more in the pipeline for this year and next. For planners, that means it’s possible to return to the Mile High City over and over and still give attendees something entirely new.
Kristin Grunewald, senior operations manager with RMC (Resorts, Mountains, Cities), a DMC serving Denver and beyond, calls Denver an amazing city for corporate and incentive groups of all shapes and sizes.
“Denver and the surrounding area have unlimited opportunities for unique indoor and outdoor activities, sporting events, a plethora of hotels of every caliber, optimal meeting spaces and venues and so much more,” she says. “Denver International Airport is centrally located in the U.S. with over 190 direct flight destinations and more than 1,500 flights per day. Denver is also a hop, skip and jump from the mountain towns for a great weekend hike or skiing in the mountains.”
Grunewald notes that RMC helps with in-hotel and offsite events from catering and décor to transportation, VIP services and manifest management to amenities for attendees. Activities are as diverse as fly-fishing and teambuilding.
If clients want it, it can be done. “One group was provided with arrival and departure transportation to and from DIA via specified manifest. They also required charging furniture at the host hotel to be branded with fathead logos. They had an onsite welcome reception where we provided Rocky Mountain chic décor along with local bluegrass entertainers.”
On the second night, the group went to popular bar-and-game venue Punch Bowl Social for a casual, fun atmosphere, Grunewald says. ”For that event, we managed the transportation for 700 guests, food-station menus and all of the games the venue offers.”
Spouses had their own daytime activities, ranging from Board & Brush for DIY crafts paired with wine to Cherry Creek shopping tours. “The final night,” Grunewald notes, “was a formal affair at the Denver Broncos’ stadium. Guests had drinks and hors d’oeuvres on the field and went on private, behind-the-scenes tours. The event concluded with a formal dinner and band on the club level of the stadium.”
For a group of about 1,200 arriving in May, Grunewald says RMC is providing 13 different tours highlighting Denver’s top venues and tour stops. “Among them will be a beer tour at three local breweries and a history tour that will include the Molly Brown House, Union Station and History Colorado Center, among others. Another tour will take guests through Denver’s art neighborhoods, and yet another will show off our zoo, the Museum of Nature & Science and our botanic gardens. There will be something for everyone!”
Among the hotels opening this year in Denver are The Ramble Hotel and The Source Hotel, both independents launching this spring in the burgeoning RiNo (River North) Art District. A Staybridge Suites, Element Hotel by Marriott and Hilton Garden Inn will open in 2018, along with The Jacquard Hotel in Cherry Creek and Origin Red Rocks, set to open this summer in Golden, Colorado, near Denver’s famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre park and concert venue.
Restaurants of note to recently open include Ultreia, an intimate 50-seat restaurant in Union Station serving Spanish and Portuguese fare; Italy-centric Tavernetta near Union Station from the team at nationally acclaimed Frasca in Boulder; and Señor Bear, a pan-Latin eatery in the Highlands neighborhood, already on reviewers’ best-in-Denver lists.
Among Colorado’s premier incentive destinations, Aspen and Snowmass continue to add to their collective offerings. In Snowmass, the Limelight Snowmass, a 99-room hotel scheduled to open this fall, will include a new restaurant and a children’s game area. It will provide ski in/out access to the slopes.
In Aspen, Hotel Jerome will add new event space in June totaling 735 sf and opening onto the courtyard. Also in June, Aspen Meadows Resort will launch a new pavilion, including an outdoor deck space, and the resort’s reception center will be renovated. W Aspen is slated to open spring 2019 with 88 guest rooms. The 12,000-sf rooftop bar and pool will provide a draw for groups.
Sarah Heredia with DSC, an AlliedPRA Company based in Avon, Colorado, points out that Vail and Beaver Creek have two unique seasons for corporate groups. “There is no ‘best’ time to meet in Vail or Beaver Creek. Each season offers an entirely different experience. Winter guests experience the grandeur that is Vail and Beaver Creek — world-class skiing, luxury hotels, top restaurants and live entertainment plus activities that get people outside and into the mountains. Summer meetings come at a lower price tag than winter meetings. The weather is warm and the sky is blue. Bring your group to the mountains to re-energize and re-inspire them. Move breakout sessions outside and be sure to build in time for a teambuilding event or group activities.”
Among Vail and Beaver Creek’s assets, she says, are several luxury hotels and a large number of activities for groups. “Guests can enjoy a scenic gondola ride from Vail Village half way up the mountain to The 10th, a stunning mountain lodge that offers breathtaking views, amazing cuisine and a private fireworks show.” In terms of teambuilding, “Guests can participate in a customized teambuilding activity at 4 Eagle Ranch, a former 1800s homesteading ranch, followed by a chuckwagon barbecue.”
Beyond skiing, Heredia notes, “Vail and Beaver Creek are home to exceptional venues for performing arts. While our communities are small, our access to international performers for ballet and symphony and to A-list entertainers is incredible. We can provide exclusive meet-and-greet experiences at performance venues along with backstage access for corporate groups.”
A recent group was based at Hotel Talisa, one of the newest luxury properties with 285 rooms and more than 40,000 sf of space. “The welcome reception took place in the hotel’s well-appointed public spaces. Guests flowed between the Fireside Lounge and Living Room, enjoying a crafted Colorado menu that included many locally sourced ingredients. Following the reception, guests were invited onto the Gore Creek Terrance for s’mores and a tasting of locally distilled spirits while overlooking Gore Creek and Vail Mountain.”
Heredia’s advice to planners considering Vail is to “plan early in order to ensure the best group rates possible and build free time into the program so that guests are able to explore the mountain village and enjoy the many outdoor activities this destination has to offer.”
Fort Collins, about 60 miles north of Denver, is the home of Colorado State University and has already experienced much change and growth.
In December, the Elizabeth Hotel opened in Old Town with a rooftop bar among its attributes. A 6,000-sf restaurant, Union, is set to open this year, while The Exchange, which will include restaurants, CopperMuse Distillery, shops and an open-air private plaza, is slated to launch this month. In February, the newly transformed Washington’s bar became the city’s newest music venue, with an impressive slate of performers already scheduled for 2018.
Wherever you set your meeting or incentive in Colorado, there’s a spot that will work for you and your clients. Take the time to explore the options and then surprise attendees with a setting they wouldn’t have thought of. C&IT