Whether it’s the rustic Rocky Mountain landscape of Colorado Springs, the urban sophistication of Denver or world-famous ski resort towns such as Vail, Colorado offers a tantalizingly extensive list of memorably scenic settings for meetings.
Located 65 miles south of Denver and ranking as the state’s second-largest city, Colorado Springs is a favored destination for many loyal planners because of its spectacular landscape and roster of offsite venues and attractions.
Kevin Fleetwood, marketing director at Atlanta-based financial software provider CRIF Lending Solutions, used Colorado Springs — and Colorado — for the first time last September for a four-day, three-night user conference for 28 attendees.
“We have offices in five cities across the U.S.,” Fleetwood says. “And each year, we try to pick a location that is close to one of those offices. We happen to have an office in Denver, so we decided to go to Colorado this time around.”
After doing his initial research on Colorado destinations, Fleetwood chose the AAA Four Diamond Cheyenne Mountain Resort (316 guest rooms; 40,000 sf of IACC-certified meeting space) because of its unique rustic location and ambience. He also liked the offsite options available in Colorado Springs. “There are multiple venues in Colorado Springs for unique evening events,” he says. “For example, we did a behind-the-scenes evening event at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Our theme for the meeting — which was about elevating the use of our products and elevating the bottom lines of our customers — was partly elevated by the fact that we were in Colorado Springs and could do an event at the Olympic Training Center. And it fit in very nicely because ‘stronger, faster, higher’ is a theme of U.S. Olympic athletes, and that really struck the tone we wanted during the meeting.” The U.S. Olympic Complex is home to the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Olympic Training Center programs.
The evening included a tour of the facility, as well as a sit-down dinner in one of the gyms. “We had a demonstration from the men’s gymnastics team, which had just returned from the London Olympics,” Fleetwood says. “We also had a fencing demonstration. So it was a very special evening.” The company also arranged local tours for small groups of attendees to the spectacular outdoor mountain venue Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak and the U.S. Air Force Academy. “Colorado Springs has many, many interesting tourist attractions that most people aren’t familiar with,” Fleetwood says. “That really adds to a meeting.”
Based on his experience, Fleetwood recommends Colorado Springs to planners who have never considered it. “Because of its proximity to Denver, Colorado Springs gives you multiple ways of getting people in for the meeting,” he says. “That means it’s very easy to get people in and out. And as I said already, there are just so many venues in town for doing special events or arranging tours for attendees. They have a lot of very nice restaurants. And it’s also just a pretty unique destination, so it turns out to be a very nice surprise when you get there and actually experience it. It’s a very charming, interesting place. We couldn’t have asked for a better destination for this particular meeting.”
Fleetwood also gave a glowing review to Cheyenne Mountain Resort, which completed a $20 million, property-wide renovation in 2011. “The property was just perfect for the size of our meeting, with just the right kind and amount of meeting space,” he says. “The sleeping rooms and meeting space are both very nice. And we liked the whole setup of the hotel, including the European Plan for meals and their AV facilities. In general, Cheyenne Mountain just had the overall look and feel that we wanted for this particular meeting.” A European Plan includes breakfast, lunch and breaks in the room rate. For Fleetwood, it represented great value. “Nobody ever wanted for food during the day,” he says. “And the food was excellent.
“It’s the first time we’ve ever gotten a 97 percent approval rating on the hotel from attendees for any meeting or event we’ve ever done,” Fleetwood concludes. “And in fact, in my 30 years of doing meetings, it’s the highest rating I’ve ever seen a hotel receive from the people who attended the meeting. That pretty much tells you all you need to know.”
Thanks to the status of Denver International Airport as hub for United Airlines, the Mile High City delivers easy access. The consensus among planners who use Denver for the first time is that it’s a surprisingly cosmopolitan city, with world-class meeting amenities that include formidable airlift, an assortment of high-quality meeting hotels, and a local dining and entertainment/arts scene that makes for memorable offsite activities.
“I’m not a native, but I came here 20 years ago and never left, because I love the city and the community,” says Melissa Risteff, senior vice president, enterprise engagement, at locally headquartered social technology software provider NewsGator. “We’re blessed with access to the Rocky Mountains and temperate weather year-round. And because we’re centrally located, most people can get here pretty easily. We have a great airport and are a hub, so there are many different ways to get here. We have a great food scene and great museums. So it’s just a great destination.”
Risteff is also a big fan of Denver’s A-list hotels. For the last three years, she has hosted NewsGator’s annual user conference, as well as several other meetings, at The Ritz-Carlton Denver (202 guest rooms, 13,000 sf of meeting space, including a 6,264-sf ballroom and 1,960 sf junior ballroom), the city’s first and only AAA Five Diamond hotel. The company held its most recent meeting, its annual kickoff conference, for 100 attendees, in January. In March, Risteff will host her annual user conference.
Why Is she so loyal to The Ritz-Carlton? “Hands-down, it’s the service we get from the people we deal with,” Risteff says. “We’ve been dealing with the same team for three years now, and they do a great job because they have top talent. So that means I don’t have to start from scratch every year. But even back the first time we did a meeting there, it was probably one of the most pleasant experiences I’ve ever had — not just in making sure that everything has been put in place properly, but also onsite for the meeting. Their staff is just amazing. They anticipate your needs, and everything they do is spot-on. We’ve never had any kind of problem or issue.”
Risteff also cites the hotel’s convenient location, near the company’s headquarters, and praises its food and beverage. “The food is just incredible,” she says.
Risteff also gives high marks to The Ritz-Carlton’s meeting space. “Its configuration is perfectly suited to our meetings,” she says. “For example, we hold our general sessions and cocktail receptions in a ballroom. The hotel also has the right amount of space for the exhibition portion of our meetings sponsored by our partners. We also do a lot of boardroom-style executive meetings. And the hotel is a perfect fit for all of those.”
The Ritz-Carlton also projects the right image, Risteff says. “We cater to many of the world’s top brands, such as General Mills, Kraft and Proctor & Gamble, and we want them to feel cherished,” she says. “And part of that is taking them to a property where we know they will be treated well and get the kind of service that will make them feel comfortable.”
Because of NewsGator’s blue-chip client list, the upscale, sophisticated local dining scene is also an important attribute of their major meetings. Risteff goes offsite at least once for every meeting, often to the trendiest “foodie” restaurants. Among her recent favorites is Elway’s Downtown, a critically acclaimed steak-and-seafood house, located within The Ritz-Carlton and owned by legendary former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway. The restaurant offers private dining for up to 50 guests.
Risteff also likes TAG, which offers a next-generation flourish on the small plates craze. “They do things like Kobe beef sliders,” Risteff says. “The place is very upscale and the food is just superb. They have a nice private room downstairs with a dedicated bar. We usually do heavy hors d’oeuvres there. That makes for a very nice evening.”
Jeffrey Wood, vice president, product management, at Hewlett-Packard, based an hour north of Denver in Ft. Collins, CO, is another fan of the Mile High City. For the last seven years, HP has held its annual “Rock On” training event in Denver, bringing in 1,000 attendees from across the U.S. and around the world. Last December, Wood hosted the five-day event for the first time at the AAA Four Diamond Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center (1,100 guest rooms; 60,600 sf of meeting space).
Like Risteff and many other planners of major meetings, Wood finds Denver very convenient thanks to its access. “It’s easy for us to bring in a large community from around the world,” Wood says. “And that is increasingly important to us, because the meeting is growing in size.”
As a result, he says, for the December meeting the company moved up to the Hyatt Regency and into the adjacent Colorado Convention Center for its general sessions and breakouts.
“We simply outgrew the hotel we had been using previously,” Wood says. “And the Hyatt Regency is just a fantastic venue. They have enough sleeping rooms and suites to meet the exact needs of our group, plus they are located next to the convention center so that makes it very convenient. And moving the meeting itself into the convention center really allowed us to spread our wings.”
The event featured main stage presentations on two mornings, with more than 50 breakout sessions over ensuing days.
“The facilities at the convention center are fantastic,” Wood says. “But an ever bigger benefit is their ability to accommodate us from a food-and-beverage point of view with excellent onsite catering.” The convention center provided F&B services for daily lunches and breaks. The Hyatt Regency catered an opening night welcome reception in one of its ballrooms. “The food and the service were really excellent,” Wood says.
On the second night, attendees had free time, so small groups of coworkers or team members could go to local restaurants for dinner. “And there are a lot of good places to eat around the hotel and convention center,” Wood says. “That is a huge factor for us, because social activity and networking are important parts of the meeting. And Denver is a very good destination for that because attendees can walk to lots of places near the hotel. And that means you don’t have to coordinate transportation to move people around. And another thing is that we have people coming in from all over the world, including places like Asia. And there is a good restaurant close by to satisfy any type of dining or personal taste.”
For the company’s closing-night dinner and reception, Wood used The Cowboy Lounge, located near Coors Field, where Major League Baseball’s Colorado Rockies play. “We did a buyout and did an evening of dinner and dancing,” he says.
Hyatt Hotels also operates the AAA Four Diamond Grand Hyatt Denver, (516 guest rooms; 60,000 sf of meeting space), which is currently undergoing a $28 million renovation of its guest rooms, conference center, lobby and 38th floor Pinnacle Club. Last fall the hotel opened Skycourt, downtown Denver’s only outdoor rooftop jogging track and tennis court.
Along with Aspen, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone, Vail is one of Colorado’s upscale, wildly popular Rocky Mountain ski destinations. But each of those locations also offers spectacular scenery and a pristine environment year-round.
For the last three years, Pearl Izumi, a Louisville, CO-based manufacturer of apparel for runners, bicyclists and triathletes, has held its annual sales meeting at tony Vail Cascade Resort Spa & Condominiums (292 luxury rooms, and 80 condos and private residences; 45,000-sf conference center). For the last two years, sales operation coordinator Kimberly Copanas has planned the important, much-anticipated six-day meeting, which is held in conjunction with parent company Shimano American Corporation, the Irvine, CA-based U.S. operation of global bicycling hardware manufacturer Shimano. In May, Pearl Izumi and Shimano will return to Vail Cascade for the fourth consecutive year.
“Vail is just a great location for our particular national sales meeting and for our company, which is deeply involved in the running, cycling and triathlon industry,” Copanas says. “So for our sales meeting, we need access to really good road riding for bicycling and mountain-bike riding, both of which are immediately accessible right off the Vail Cascade property. And for the size of our group and the length of our stay, and our specific needs for meeting space, which includes running a lot of breakout sessions simultaneously, Vail Cascade has a unique feel, unlike what’s generally in a ‘big box’ hotel. But it also provides the kind of meeting space we need that you don’t often find at smaller, boutique-style hotels.”
In addition to the facilities and amenities at Vail Cascade, Copanas and her attendees and management also like the cozy, exclusive Vail Village for its offsite venues including trendy local restaurants. One she favors is Mango’s Mountain Grill, in the nearby small town of Red Bluff. “And on the way there, you pass two old silver mines,” Copanas says.
She also likes Bōl in Vail Village, which serves creative Asian fare. “It’s a very stylish, contemporary place,” Copanas says. “And they also have a 10-lane bowling facility in the back. For the past two years, we’ve done a buyout of the bowling lanes and had our food served back there. And the bowling is a neat teambuilding activity.”
Although Vail offers a surprising number of offsite options for such a relatively small place, it is the atmosphere and amenities at Vail Cascade that keeps Pearl Izumi coming back.
“What we really like about it is that it’s a high-end property, but it’s also very comfortable,” Copanas says. “And when you have very little turnover in your company and you keep going back to the same place every year, that just creates a sense of comfort for our attendees because they are familiar with the facility and they know how to navigate it. It just works very well for us, also because I get to work with the same group of people every year. And every year, they meet or exceed my expectations.”
Planners looking for spectacular mountain settings as backdrop for meetings large and small also would do well to consider Keystone Resort, which boasts the largest conference center in the Rockies. Combined, the Keystone Conference Center, the AAA Four Diamond Keystone Lodge & Spa and The Inn at Keystone provide 100,000 sf of meeting, exhibit and function space. A total of 1,200 lodging units are available across the area, as is world-class skiing, a state-of-the-art spa, two championship golf courses and more than 25 dining venues.
Keystone Meeting Planners can assist with meeting logistics as well as teambuilding programs that include Colorado-themed activities such as:
• Winter Olympics: Groups engage in a selection of activities such as the Snowshoe Shuffle, Nordic Express Tubing Challenge, Retro Ski Relay, Biathlon, and more.
• 4×4 GPS Road Rally Race: Teams compete in an accelerated take on the traditional scavenger hunt.
• Amazing Race: Teams race across town to solve riddles and compete in challenges.
In keeping with its pristine outdoor environment, Keystone Resort’s sustainability efforts over the past 15 years have prevented 138 tons of emissions from being released into the atmosphere, a plus for planners with a green meetings mandate.
No matter where a meeting lands in “Colorful Colorado” — from ski country to the Springs to the Mile High City — the highest of expectations are met — and often exceeded. C&IT