There are plenty of golden meeting opportunities waiting to be mined in The Golden State of California. Not only is there a long list of outstanding hotels, resorts and convention facilities, there also are an endless variety of activities and attractions to go along with the sun, surf and sand. But for Sandra Ponce, associate manager, human resources for Taco Bell, choosing the right California meetings destination was all about sterling service.
Ponce leads a leadership development class for the company’s restaurant general managers. The one-week program, called The Mark, is conducted in a series of eight waves throughout the year with 60–65 attendees at each session. For almost five years now, the company has been housing its general managers at the 335-room Radisson Hotel Newport Beach. The actual training takes place at Taco Bell’s headquarters in nearby Irvine.
She explained why they chose the Radisson. “When we first started looking for a location, we were looking for a place that was committed to extending the experience the GMs were experiencing here in the session. When meeting with the staff at the Radisson, I just felt that they were committed to going above and beyond. They got the purpose of what we were doing, and they were truly committed to taking care of our restaurant GMs and providing them with an experience that was just as great as what they were experiencing here at the restaurant support center.”
Ponce gave a few examples of the Radisson’s “above and beyond” service. “Because they’re close to the airport, they’re able to pick up our GMs from the airport when they come in. They host a welcome reception for them with hors d’oeuvres and drinks. It’s an opportunity for them to start networking with each other that really goes above and beyond, and makes them feel really welcomed. Also, in partnership with Visit Newport Beach (the city’s CVB, also known as Newport Beach and Company), they provide transportation for us for the week so we’re not relying on hotel shuttles. It is a bus that is reserved for us, so again, it’s about (the GMs) being together, being able to do all of our activities that week because of the transportation that is being included.”
She offers an example: “On Wednesday, we have a community service event. We are across the street from the Irvine Spectrum (a large outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment center). We have our GMs go to Target and shop and fill up 10 backpacks for underprivileged teenagers who we are helping and supporting, and so they transport us back and forth for that. On Thursday, we give them a free night to explore the town, and they have been gracious enough to take our GMs to the Irvine Spectrum as well as to the Balboa Pier.”
Ponce describes what she likes about hosting her leadership program in Newport Beach. “Everybody I’ve interacted with has been extremely helpful and willing to make this a memorable experience for everybody who comes and attends our program.”
Located approximately 40 miles south of Los Angeles, Newport Beach is easily accessible from John Wayne Airport in Orange County. The city is known for its natural beauty, coastal lifestyle and Newport Harbor, the largest small yacht harbor in the U.S.
Also located in the Newport Beach area is the luxurious 332-room Pelican Hill Resort in nearby Newport Coast. The property is part of the Irvine Company’s resort properties division. Set on 504 acres offering spectacular coastal views and bordered by more than 50,000 acres of protected natural open land, the resort features an elegant architectural design inspired by Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio. For accommodations, the resort offers a choice of luxurious bungalows, suites and villas, and for golfers, there’s the Pelican Hill Golf Club featuring 36 holes designed by Tom Fazio, most of them delivering ocean views. The resort’s 20,000 sf of function space includes a separate event center, Mar Vista, and an event lawn with a Renaissance-inspired rotunda.
The upscale Island Hotel in Newport Beach also is owned and managed by Irvine Company. The 20-story, 295-room property offers views of the Pacific Ocean and is located in the heart of Newport Center and next to Fashion Island, a popular dining and shopping center. The hotel’s meeting space has been extensively renovated and features lush, tropical plants, plantation shutters and raffia wall coverings.
Irvine Company also recently added the Hotel Irvine Jamboree Center to its portfolio of managed properties. The company has owned the 536-room hotel since it was built in 1985, but it was formerly branded as a Hyatt. The hotel is conveniently located near dining, shopping and entertainment venues, and golf is readily available at the Tom Fazio-designed Oak Creek Golf Club. The hotel offers 35,000 sf of meeting space, including 25 meeting rooms, and is home to the largest ballroom in Irvine.
Sophia Tran, senior executive assistant to the CEO of the interactive media company Specific Media, plans all of her company’s events, and she has been using this property for seven years. She says that the transition from the Hyatt to the Hotel Irvine has been “seamless,” noting that the hotel retained many of its employees and she didn’t have to start over. The staff already knew of her history with the Hyatt, so they were familiar with all of her meeting preferences.
By the end of 2014, the Hotel Irvine is scheduled to undergo $30 million in renovations. The guest rooms will be redone floor by floor, and the meeting space, outdoor areas and first-floor restaurant and lounges also will be renovated. The announcement of the renovation project was all Tran needed to hear to bring her annual sales conference for over 500 employees back to Irvine. It has been held in Los Angeles for the past two years. “They guaranteed us that the renovations will be completed before our event, so we are really excited to see their plans come to life and into fruition for our event. This is something that we definitely need for Orange County.”
Tran also lauded the service she experienced at the Hotel Irvine when she recently held a meeting there. “When I arrived at the valet, the gentlemen who were former Hyatt employees recognized me by name. And they always park our co-founders’ cars up front.” She asked them how they knew to do that. “Their response was ‘Oh, we recognized them.’ We hadn’t been there in six months. That, to me, is very impressive.”
The Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina recently completed a $1.7 million renovation of its food and beverage venues to enhance the guest experience. The project included a redesign of the hotel’s signature dining venue, Harbor’s Edge restaurant and lounge, and an expansion of Tapatini Bar.
After a $15 million transformation project, The Westin San Diego now features 436 upgraded guest rooms and the hotel’s restaurant, lobby, bar, lounge and meeting space have all been revitalized. The project also included the installation of a vertical garden wall in the lobby designed to improve air quality and create a relaxing environment. Perhaps at the other end of the spectrum are the hotel’s self-described “War Rooms,” private spaces designed by lawyers for lawyers as places to prepare for trials, conduct dispositions and briefings and conduct other legal meetings.
The iconic US Grant Hotel located in the city’s Gaslamp Quarter, dates back to 1910. The hotel has now partnered with a group called On Demand Lifestyles to offer an exclusive fitness package to meeting groups. One option they offer is to schedule a group workout during breakout sessions. Also, with at least 10 days’ notice, attendees can select a personal trainer who will create a customized workout that can be completed in the guest’s room, in the hotel’s fitness center or while out and about in the city.
Perched atop the San Diego Marriott Gaslamp Quarter, Altitude Sky Lounge, touted as “the West Coast’s highest open-air rooftop venue” — 22 stories above street level — now also offers an indoor venue called City Sights. The new addition features a glass-walled balcony, affording the same panoramic views of the city, San Diego Bay and MLB’s Petco Park no matter what the weather.
Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles is making an unprecedented five-year investment in new thrill rides and expansive themed environments. The most significant undertaking in the theme park’s 50-year history began in 2012 with the introduction of the Transformers: The Ride — 3D. Universal Plaza, a 37,000-sf art deco-styled piazza, debuted last summer, and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and Super Silly Fun Land opens this month. Springfield, an immersive land surrounding The Simpsons Ride, will open in spring 2015, and Fast & Furious — Supercharged, based on the blockbuster film series, will be introduced in summer 2015 as the grand finale to the Studio Tour. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, similar to the themed land at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida, debuts in 2016.
Convention business is booming in Los Angeles. With 29 shows already booked into the Los Angeles Convention Center as of February, the center is on track to achieve its highest performance in a decade. “Los Angeles is hot right now,” says Ernest Wooden Jr., president and CEO of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board (LATCB). “Groups that are meeting here are finding they need to expand their room blocks because the destination’s drawing power is ballooning show attendance.”
The LATCB credits part of the city’s popularity to its new lineup of hotels that are coming on board. It says that 10 new hotels are now under construction, which will add 2,135 to the city’s inventory by the end of the year. The LATCB further reports that 25 hotels are in various stages of planning, which will bring nearly 5,000 new rooms to the city by 2017. These include a 900-room Wilshire Grand and a Residence Inn and Courtyard by Marriott under one roof.
The 180-room Ace Hotel, which recently opened in downtown L.A., is the hip new place to stay. Part of a new hotel group based in Portland, OR, the Ace Hotel is located in the historic United Artists building that was built for the film studio in 1927. The meeting space at the Ace is anything but your typical breakouts and ballrooms. Take The Theatre at Ace Hotel as an example. It’s a 1,600-seat movie palace from the 1920s with a three-story, 2,300-sf grand lobby. The theater’s ceiling sparkles with thousands of tiny mirrors. There’s also Segovia Hall, named for the Spanish cathedral that inspired Mary Pickford’s vision for the United Artists Theatre. This opulent space can be used as one large room or divided into three smaller rooms.
The Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC) contains 720,000 sf of exhibit space, as well as 64 meeting rooms and a 299-seat theater. It also offers advanced fiber-optic, power and data/network systems along with spacious, sunlit lobbies, three food courts and a full-service business center. The LACC also is conveniently located near popular sports and entertainment venues, including LA Live and the Staples Center.
The big news in Anaheim is the recently announced plan to expand the Anaheim Convention Center. The $180 million, 200,000-sf expansion project will create a state-of-the-art multipurpose, flexible meeting and exhibit space. The development will involve the replacement of existing parking spaces, the addition of new loading docks, vehicular entrance and a climate-controlled pedestrian bridge that will connect to the existing facility. The project, which represents the seventh expansion in the convention center’s 47-year history, is slated to begin late summer of 2014 and is expected to be completed by fall of 2016.
Today, the 1.6-million-sf facility is the largest convention center on the West Coast. The center features 815,000 sf of exhibit space, 130,000 sf of meeting space and an array of outdoor function space that includes the 100,000-sf Grand Plaza, which opened January 2013.
Future hotel development plans could add 2,400 hotel rooms to the Anaheim Resort area’s 25,000 rooms within the next six years.
The iconic Disneyland Hotel, which opened in 1955, is conveniently located near Disneyland and the Disney California Adventure Park, and the Downtown Disney shopping, dining and entertainment complex. The hotel has revamped its 969 guest rooms through what it calls a “modern makeover with a magical twist.” The rooms now have a contemporary look and feature classic Disney artwork and memorabilia. The hotel’s new courtyard complex features two new private-event lawns that offer a total of 20,000 sf of space
The property has a 136,000-sf convention center, including the 18,000-sf Disney Grand Ballroom, which features a built-in stage, full lighting and sound capabilities, and a private prefunction area. The hotel also recently unveiled the Blue Sky Suite, a 3,000-sf purpose-built meetings suite offering three different meeting environments designed to encourage creative “blue sky thinking,” built-in AV and complimentary Wi-Fi. It can accommodate meetings for up to 15 people.
The Moscone Center which is comprised of Moscone North, South and West, covers more than 2 million sf and includes more than 700,000 sf of exhibit space, more than 100 meeting rooms and nearly 123,000 sf of prefunction areas. The three-level convention facility covers most of a city block in downtown San Francisco. The center has finished a two-year, $56 million renovation of the North and South buildings, which offer a total of 1.2 million sf of space. The project included a new wireless system that provides high-speed Internet for up to 60,000 devices simultaneously.
Future expansion plans call for the addition of 200,000 sf of flexible meeting space to the North and South buildings. Construction for the $500 million project is anticipated to begin this December with completion expected in summer 2018. Plans include a 50,000-sf ballroom and an enclosed pedestrian bridge connecting Moscone Center above Howard Street.
Moscone was the site of a unique program planned by Penny Fondy, principal of Wit’s End Productions, headquartered in Roswell, GA. “We worked on an event that was in conjunction with a game developers’ conference,” she explains. “It was for a corporate client who was interested in gamification and learning about that, so they asked us to organize and produce a ‘hackathon.’ So we engaged game developers, and they all essentially got into a room and created games and wrote code for the games. At the end, it was judged to see which person won. It was pretty complex to plan it, actually. That was a very different event for us. Usually what we do is very corporate.
“It worked out great. It was perfect,” she adds. Fondy had high praise for the staff at Moscone. “I found them to be exceedingly professional, helpful and responsive. They have a way of working. They have a system. They have everything down. It was a pleasure. That part of it was seamless.”
Fondy also was recently asked by a client to find a unique venue near Moscone Center for a private event for a group of C-level executives. After doing her research, she submitted a list of possibilities to her client. “The client selected one of the venues and is very, very happy,” Fondy says. The winning choice was B Restaurant & Bar. The contemporary-styled venue sits atop Moscone North and has an outdoor terrace overlooking Yerba Buena Gardens and the San Francisco skyline. The venue can accommodate a wide range of events, from a private wine dinner to a cocktail party for 400.
San Francisco Travel, a private, not-for-profit organization that was founded in 1909 to market the city as a destination, has recently made several staff changes to enhance its service to meeting planners. One of these changes is the promotion of Oleg Nakonechny to director, convention services. One of his goals will be to create an updated process for the hundreds of site inspections the city hosts each year.
The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco recently announced plans to renovate its 23,000 sf of meeting space. The project, which is expected to be completed in the fall, will include updates to the hotel’s Grand Ballroom, Terrace Room, conference rooms and boardrooms.
Team San Jose has been a key driver for many planners who have used the destination in recent years. Unlike many CVBs, which hand off a planner to any number of other contacts after a meeting is initially booked, Team San Jose provides comprehensive, fully integrated support services in housing, event services, food and beverage, permitting, marketing support and technical consultation.
The city’s compact downtown area also offers a nice assortment of excellent restaurants, museums, performing arts venues and hotels with sophisticated facilities because of its role as the business hub of Silicon Valley. One example is the upscale Silicon Valley Capitol Club, which offers indoor-outdoor space for 300 attendees and 360-degree views of downtown.
There’s a wide array of other unique offsite venues in San Jose that take advantage of the city’s 300 days of sunshine a year. For example, the San Jose Museum of Art can host an indoor-outdoor event for up to 3,000; and the San Pedro Square Market, half a mile from the convention center, offers indoor-outdoor space for receptions with up to 1,850 attendees. The Tech Museum offers a rooftop terrace for 150 and 132,000 sf of gallery and meeting space for up to 2,500. Planners looking for a mid-sized theater will be delighted with the 3,036-seat, newly renamed City National Civic, a 1936 city landmark concert venue, which reopened in 2012 after a four-year renovation.
The expansion and renovation of the San Jose Convention Center (SJCC) was completed last fall. The project added nearly 125,000 sf of new space including 38,706 sf of additional meeting space and a 35,110-sf Grand Ballroom. The SJCC also upgraded its technology, improved the arrival experience for attendees and improved service levels by making changes to the way the back of the house functions. The convention center now offers a total of 550,000 sf of convention space and 305,000 sf of exhibition space.
Kim Huerta, senior manager for store operations for West Marine, plans an annual internal meeting in Monterey. For the past several years, the event has been held at the Portola Hotel & Spa and the adjacent Monterey Conference Center. This March, the event was attended by 500 internal associates and 200 of the company’s vendor partners.
“It’s convenient to our corporate headquarters,” Huerta explains. “We’re located in Watsonville and Monterey is very close. The size of the hotel meets our needs. The Portola Hotel is not too large and not too small. The hotel staff has been really fantastic — the management as well as everyone from the bellmen to room service.”
West Marine didn’t host any offsite events this year, but in the past they have used the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “They do a wonderful job with events,” she describes.
Huerta also worked with the Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau (MCCVB) and found them to be very responsive. “It’s a smaller town, so you get more personal service,” she notes. “They accommodate each individual client’s needs. I appreciate that. If you go to some of the bigger markets, you’re just another convention. Here, we always feel like a top priority,” she continues. “We are happy to partner with Monterey, the conference center and the Portola Hotel.”
“The Monterey County CVB accommodates each individual client’s needs. I appreciate that. If you go to some of the bigger markets, you’re just another convention. Here, we always feel like a top priority.” — Kim Huerta
In an overwhelmingly positive vote – more than 90 percent — Monterey hotel owners approved a plan to tax themselves to pay for a projected $32.3 million renovation and improvement project for the Monterey Conference Center. The next step calls for city staff to issue requests for proposals for project management, and design and architectural services.
The MCCVB is offering a “Fly-See-Book” promotion that allows qualified planners who submit an RFP the opportunity to receive roundtrip airfare (up to $500), a customized site inspection, hotel accommodations, ground transportation and meals.
There’s no doubt that the interest in California as a destination is high. According to a recent report from Hotel News Now, California was a market of choice in 2013 for hotel investors. One of the factors cited for investor interest is “a very strong demand story” which, as it appears is true of meeting and event planners, as well. C&IT