There are plenty of activities for attendees in Southern California. Hot-air ballooning is just one example. Courtesy of Visit Temecula Valley
Leisure travel is a top trend this year. As more business trips combine business with leisure, meeting planners and companies are looking to destinations that are capable of providing both. No destination does it better than Southern California.
From Los Angeles to San Diego and from Anaheim to Palm Springs, there are a host of venues to meet every possible need. Whether it is an executive retreat or a meeting with several hundred or several thousand, Southern California has the facilities.
“Add to that coastline views, ocean breezes, major meeting and convention hotels such as Hyatt, Marriott and Hilton and a multitude of independent and boutique hotels that cater to every possible demand, the choices are unlimited,”
Carroll A. Reuben
“While the major convention centers in Los Angeles, Anaheim, Long Beach and San Diego can accommodate some of the largest trade events in the country, many cities such as Pasadena and Carson have smaller meeting and convention facilities as well.”
As a corporate planner, Reuben has planned and managed many events in Southern California over the last 25 years and has seen some big changes in that time.
“Add to that coastline views, ocean breezes, major meeting and convention hotels such as Hyatt, Marriott and Hilton and a multitude of independent and boutique hotels that cater to every possible demand, the choices are unlimited,” says Carroll A. Reuben
“Improved facilities, transportation and services have all made my job a lot easier,” she says. “I nearly always start with the CVB in the selected city to secure the right venue for my needs and preferred dates. Destination Management Services such as ACCESS Destination Services have helped add interest to my programs by arranging offsite tours and activities such as the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, baseball games at Dodger Stadium and a tour of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar to name a few.”
Southern California has something for every taste and budget. Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Diego conference centers and adjoining hotel properties can handle meetings and conventions from large consumer shows such as Home and Garden and Comic-Con, to trade and professional conventions such as the Association of Woodworking & Furnishings Suppliers.
Independent and boutique properties can provide luxury accommodations and facilities for high-level executive meetings that might include some leisure time activities such as Terranea Resort poised above the Pacific on the beautiful Palos Verdes Peninsula. A hidden gem on the Los Angeles coast, this luxury Southern California resort destination is surrounded by tranquil waves and offers a whole new world of relaxation and adventure that words just can’t describe.
Stacey Crivello, director, national accounts for San Diego-based ACCESS Destination Services, says Southern California doesn’t just have something for everyone, it has everything for everyone.
“There are few destinations, if any, that offer the variety of venues, hotels, activities, entertainment and even geography that can be found in Southern California,” she says. “From the picturesque beaches of San Diego and Orange County to the desert and mountains of Palm Springs to the bustling metropolis that is Los Angeles, whether a planner is working on their first or 15th event in the area, it’s simply impossible to run out of unique and one-of-a-kind experiences to incorporate into a program.”
There’s lots of culture to enhance any program, such as concerts at the iconic Frank Gehry-designed Disney Concert Hall, downtown Los Angeles and the Hollywood Bowl, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Orange County as well as several world-class museums. In addition, there are so many family activities to choose from — both Los Angeles and San Diego have well-established zoos, there is SeaWorld San Diego and close by, LEGOLAND California Resort.
“I can honestly say that I’m spoiled with the choices in Southern California,” Reuben says. “When working with a new client, I have to prioritize their wish list before I ever get down to the logistical and budgetary needs of their programs. Meeting space at most of the major hotels offer state-of-the-art audio visual support and broadband Wi-Fi. Gone are the days when I had to hardwire properties to run a computer lab.”
The climate in Southern California is the primary attraction as the temperature seldom drops below 50 degrees in winter, even at night, and one can choose just how warm they would like to be by staying close to the ocean with a balmy 80 degrees in summer or going inland to Palm Springs and basking in the 100-degree sunshine.
And while Southern California is big, attendees can usually land within just a few miles of their meeting venue thanks to major airports such as Los Angeles International Airport, Long Beach Airport, John Wayne Airport in Orange County and San Diego International Airport, which serve most major airlines. Car rentals and car services are readily available and the major hotels have airport transport buses.
“Everyone knows Disneyland Park and Universal Studios Hollywood offer hours of fun, but if your event doesn’t include time for a day off to play, then there are lots of offsite locations that can add interest to even the most formal agenda,” Reuben says. “Scripps Institute, the J. Paul Getty Museum or Temecula wineries to name a few.”
Southern California also has more than 600 golf courses, with such notable courses as Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, to Torrey Pines and the Bel-Air Country Club, home of PGA major tournaments.
“Every city has an active visitors and convention bureau always ready to help you find just the right spot and give you all the information you need regarding services, products, city information and possibly provide a concierge desk at your event to make reservations and answer your attendee questions,” Reuben says.
Crivello notes that conveniently, what’s good for planners is also good for attendees — ease of travel, exclusive and unique venues, activities, that laid-back ‘So Cal” vibe, and of course, the weather.
“Southern California is the most populous region of the United States. Why is that? Some might say it’s the weather, the attractions, the beaches, the food, the entertainment, the history, the culture … and they would be right,” she says. “It’s all of that and more.”
She also says Southern California chefs are on the cutting edge of every dietary need or trendy menu style. Sushi, Mexican, and just about any ethnicity you can think of, Southern California does it well.
Judy Payne, CMP, director, meetings and travel for GameStop in Grapevine, TX, says nobody sells sunshine and good times like Southern California, which is why selecting Anaheim for its annual conference is a “no-brainer.”
“You can always depend on great weather, great food and lots of entertainment in Anaheim. We like that our attendees can elect to Stay-n-Play and have so many cool things to choose from,” she says. “Our attendees like the ease of getting around Southern California and all of the fantastic things to do while they’re in town. You have amusement parks, great dining, beautiful beaches and tons of sports at your disposal. Anaheim is our favorite place to Stay-n-Play at our events.”
GameStop regularly works with Visit Anaheim and the Anaheim Convention Center for its events, with Payne calling them great partners who creatively think of new ways to help the company build a successful event.
For example, this past year the Anaheim Convention Center was host to GameStop’s annual conference with roughly 7,000 attendees.
“The campus around the convention center could house all of our attendees within a couple of blocks and had many restaurant options which we love,” Payne says. “We also had Downtown Disney at our disposal, which led to some fantastic events. It’s great to have a convention city that’s so walkable.”
With 50,657 sf of meeting and event space, 41 modern meeting rooms, and 36 breakout rooms, The Westin Los Angeles Airport hotel is well equipped to execute the perfect meeting — big or small. Sean Steenson, director of operations at the venue, notes guests can utilize its 13,100-sf ballroom space with its 18-ft ceilings for an over-the-top business conference, capable of holding up to 1,500 attendees, or put on a lavish 300-person company soiree in the 5,340-sf outdoor terrace.
“Additionally, our Executive Chef James McIver is an École Supérieure de Cuisine Française-trained chef who offers thoughtfully designed menu options, aimed to fuel productivity and support meeting attendees’ overall well-being,” Steenson says.
Most recently, the venue hosted the Marriott Sales One meeting which had an estimated 350 attendees.
Steenson notes that Los Angeles is the ideal destination for “bleisure” — business+leisure — travelers. In addition to being a hub for large meetings and conventions, Los Angeles is filled with outdoor activities and wellness experiences that corporate attendees will appreciate and can unwind with.
“Specifically, at The Westin LAX, we’re located minutes away from Los Angeles’ best beaches where attendees can cycle, surf, or simply relax,” Steenson says. “We are also minutes away from entertainment complexes like the Forum, which hosts events like music concerts, sports events and panel discussions.”
Additionally, being in Southern California means having great weather year-round and more opportunities for outdoor meetings and events, something corporate meeting attendees will appreciate.
“The Westin LAX has a beautiful 5,340-sf terrace for meetings, breakouts and receptions,” Steenson says. “Additionally, our close proximity, only four blocks from LAX airport, and our 24/7 shuttle service make for an easy and seamless meeting experience.”
The property is just 15 minutes away from Los Angeles’ most beautiful beaches such as Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach, which is also home to music, food and art festivals such as BeachLife Festival and Fiesta Hermosa along with popular sports events such as the Manhattan Beach Open AVP Beach Volleyball tournament.
“We think no visit to SoCal is complete without testing out the world-class surfing scene and our Surf Concierge, Jenny Palomo, is ready to help with everything surf-related, from organizing surf lessons, to sharing the best hidden surf spots, or assist in surf gear rental,” Steenson says. “Our VIP Experience Manager Alexandra Kearns is available to recommend hidden, under-the-radar experiences that guests will appreciate.”
Meeting Excellence has worked many events in Long Beach and Reuben is impressed by its vibrant waterfront scene; from its eclectic neighborhoods to sandy beaches, the Long Beach Marina and the Queen Mary Hotel.
The Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center includes 400,000 sf of exhibit and meeting room space, plus the Terrace Theater with 3,000 seats and the Beverly O’Neill Theater with 825 seats.
Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, says there are a host of restaurants all within walking distance of the convention center. The bright red Passport shuttle, which offers service to major Long Beach attractions, is free throughout the downtown area and whisks you quickly to downtown’s cultural spots.
“During summer months, you can also hail water taxis, the Aquabus and the Aqualink, with services between the Queen Mary and Alamitos Bay Landing,” Goodling says. “All shuttles and water taxis are bicycle friendly. If your attendees want to extend their stay they can take the Catalina Express to Catalina Island just 20 miles off the coast.”
Reuben worked nearly 10 years for Southern California Edison, the second-largest subsidiary of Edison International, both as an independent planner and as an in-house corporate planner responsible for its commercial and industrial events.
“I planned events both on the Queen Mary and in the Long Beach Convention Center with numbers ranging from 100 to 3,000, which included a major convention and trade show with the emphasis on energy conservation,” she says. “Long Beach offers nearly 5,000 hotel rooms, many within walking distance of the convention center. Educational programs, trade exhibits, hospitality functions and even dramatic program demonstrations were all possible in Long Beach right there downtown.”
Jen Singer, CEO of San Diego-based Jen Singer Events, which specializes in managing and arranging destination-based corporate events, says with a unique blend of outdoor activities and a dynamic city, San Diego is the perfect host to those looking for team-building opportunities on a spectrum of engaging scenarios.
“San Diego is well known for its sunny disposition and laid-back attitude with less congestion than its neighboring city of Los Angeles,” she says. “While also providing an environment where business casual can mean pairing your blazer with a pair of nice shorts.”
Access to local attractions such as the San Diego Zoo; the USS Midway Museum, a retired aircraft carrier; or Balboa Park all makes for fantastic onsite meeting opportunities as well as a chance to see some local landmarks. Plus, there are sun-soaked beaches with local eateries and shops right on the water.
“Having worked with multiple tech companies as they launch a new office space or host incentivized business meetings, we are here to curate a unique experience based on the goal the company aims to achieve,” Singer says. “We maintain a professional relationship with boutique hotels and local venues allowing us to easily host and book events with dynamic needs with a strong focus on the overall experience.”
San Diego also has an expansive culinary scene, and Singer has an extensive background in the food and hospitality industry, making her a fantastic resource on what venues offer the best culinary experience to serve your guests and colleagues.
“Right now, we are really loving Brick as they are making a big splash in the event venue space hosting approximately 200 guests at their flagship location here in San Diego and getting set to open a larger event space later this year right off the main drag near the San Diego International Airport,” Singer says.
David A. Anderson, CMP, meeting planner with Los Angeles-based Eventive Group, a third-party meeting and event planning firm servicing corporate and association meetings, loves the variety that Southern California venues offer in terms of size, scale and amenities.
“You can have resort-style meetings or suburban-style meetings, and there’s a variety of traditional and non-traditional places to hold meetings,” he says. “Because the weather is usually great, we can produce meetings all year round and we rarely need a contingency plan.”
Recent events have been held at both the Pasadena Convention Center, which offers 125,000 sf of flexible meeting space, and the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, which offers 60,000 sf of event space.
Annette Brown, director of public relations for Visit Temecula Valley, represents the Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country, an emerging wine region with nearly 50 wineries, and says Temecula Valley is the venue meeting planners and businesses are looking for when they want something fresh and unexpected.
“Recently named by Wine Enthusiast as a 2019 10 Best Wine Travel Destination, Temecula Valley is attracting visitors from both leisure and business markets,” she says. “Corporate business is using this attractive, award-winning destination for incentive travel. Not only is it an inspiring and rejuvenating setting, there are so many outdoor activities and great dining options available.”
Since leaving Southern California Edison, Reuben continues to draw upon Southern California as the “go to” place for her national and international clients, holding events at the Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego, a destination resort known for its golf, spa and cuisine.
A true destination for meeting and incentive groups, the 265-acre property features luxurious guest rooms, three swimming pools, an award-winning spa and wellness center, signature restaurants, and extensive meeting and event facilities.
“I have held major educational programs and trade exhibits at the Disneyland Hotel and Convention Center — it’s always fun working with cast members,” Reuben says. “And, for true variety, the company holiday party for 100 employees and guests at the classic Culver Hotel in Culver City. As a National Historic Landmark and almost a century old, the Culver Hotel gracefully retains its prestige and nostalgia of days long past. It remains a true icon.”
Reuben adds, “Gender mix, age range and interests are important to the design of the program to round out the core content. I know I can incorporate those interests in any program I produce in Southern California. Companion programs, offsite excursions, golf tournaments and tours all help to enhance what would otherwise be just another conference.” C&IT