When the snow starts falling and the temperature begins to plummet, many meeting planners’ thoughts turn to warmer all-season destinations for upcoming meetings and events. Whether a group plans to stay closer to home or to venture to an exotic, faraway destination, there are options to bring warmth to attendees all year long.
Lauren Grech, CEO and co-founder of LLG Agency & LLG Events of New York City, and an adjunct professor at New York University, has planned events in various all-season locations, including Florida, California, Mexico, Aruba and the Caribbean.
Grech says destination events in these all-season locales are a great choice for clients who are more laid back with their event planning, as they often won’t get to see the venue or destination beforehand, or meet all of their vendors in-person prior to the event.
“Planners and clients choosing a destination event should be adaptable, because there are a lot more factors involved, which might result in last-minute decisions or unforeseeable changes,” Grech says. “It’s also a great option for a more intimate meeting or event with select attendees, as you can limit the attendee count and increase the spend per attendee for a more exclusive experience overall.”
If a meeting planner opts for a destination event, they need to be sure to do research or collaborate with a local resource or destination event planner who understands what it takes to budget for an event in a desired location and in that corresponding currency, so they can allocate funds accordingly.
As Grech explains, the event criteria and logistics that it takes to execute an event in this area, include such things as: Sourcing a venue that has accessibility to a nearby airport or the transportation involved for the attendees; the design components that may be impacted by this locale, such as the availability of certain florals; and the strategies available for a rain date, or contingency plan in case something happens such as a natural disaster.
“Planners and clients choosing a destination event should be adaptable, because there are a lot more factors involved, which might result in last-minute decisions or unforeseeable changes.” Lauren Grech
“I have planned, designed and executed destination events in many all-season destinations, in addition to conducting site visits and event evaluations in these locales: Mayakoba, Mexico; Newport Beach, California; the Virgin Islands; and even other, more far-flung sites such as Bora Bora,” Grech says. “The upside is that these locales offer the perfect opportunity to blend the event with memorable, bucket-list activities; unique, outdoor venues; or depending where you go, a special blend of new cultures.”
Many venues in Florida cater directly to corporate meeting professionals to make their all-season meeting or event memorable. In fact, for many organizations, Florida has become synonymous with ‘all things meetings’—thanks to its vast array of resorts, meeting venues, warm weather and amenities that keep attendees coming back.
When looking at beach destinations, Lauren Driggers, client experience consultant and meeting planner at TSYS in Columbus, Georgia, selected Naples, Florida because the area offered a quaint downtown area, unique beach setting among the mangroves, and one-of-a-kind experiences. Likewise some of Florida’s other ‘big draws’ include Palm Beach, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Miami — all of which offer ample opportunities to work and play.
“I chose the Naples Grande Beach Resort based upon the entire vibe the property emotes — the décor is impeccable, reflecting a modern sophistication, yet relaxed South Florida vibe,” Driggers says. Set on 23 waterfront acres on Florida’s Paradise Coast, Naples Grande Beach Resort boasts more than 83,000 sf of meeting and event space. The property’s second floor ballroom underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation late last year, which included a brand-new design, digital signage and custom lighting.
According to Driggers, it’s imperative to incorporate local elements whenever and wherever a meeting planner can — whether it’s through food selection, activity options or attendee gifts. “Naples is so charming and offers it all — it’s known for its high-end shopping, world-class culture and sophisticated dining scene, and offers unique activity options like Everglades airboat tours,” Driggers says. “Events today must go beyond just the traditional creative components — you have to bring new and different ideas to the table for everything from agenda formation to activities to audio-visual.”
Orlando is known for its theme parks, but for financial and insurance meeting attendees, Orlando is considered a top meeting destination — drawing corporate attendees from near and far. In fact, Orlando leads the pack for a variety of reasons, including affordability, accessibility, quality and variety of facilities, alongside the experiences attendees enjoy.
And when you think of U.S. banking and financial capitals, what comes to mind? For many, New York City, with its world-renowned Wall Street is paramount. For others, Charlotte, North Carolina is considered a financial mecca of sort, thanks to its Bank of America’s headquarters. But, venture further south and Miami’s Brickell neighborhood is an international banking center that offers the ideal locale for financial-based meetings and events.
Of course, the benefits of hosting meetings in Miami are endless; not only does it boast a broad variety of meeting spaces, but also offers venues in ideal proximity to areas that can be explored when business is done. From elegant venues in historic settings to beautiful, sun-drenched spots that welcome relaxation, Florida is an exceptional option for financial-based meetings or conventions of any size.
In the past two years alone, the meeting planners at Meetings Made Easy have booked advisory board meetings of 15 executives up to events for 3,000 attendees all over California. That’s one of the biggest draws of California — there are hotels and convention centers that can accommodate all budgets, program sizes and interests, from high-end corporate financial events to meetings and association programs with stricter budgets.
“There’s more to having a great meeting than great weather, but it definitely helps,” says Sarah Buchbinder, a meetings group broker at Meetings Made Easy in Middleton, New Jersey. “When you host your events in California everyone wants to attend. It’s a destination that comes prepackaged with its own hype, so you don’t have to work as hard to create the FOMO — people get excited, which drums up attendance. This is a huge benefit for events whose revenue is dependent on attendance.”
Plus it’s easy to add on shoulder activities for families. As Buchbinder explains, if people feel they can leverage their business event into a family event, they’re more likely to take the time away from home and the office. Areas such as Anaheim have perfect opportunities for dinners on their own in areas such as the Garden Walk in Anaheim or Universal City Walk in Los Angeles. Logistically you can give your attendees lots of options while minimizing transportation spend.
It sounds cliché, but Buchbinder says meeting planners who have set their sights on California should think outside the box when it comes to activities. Here’s why: California is one of the best states as far as diversity of activities. Of course, in the north there is Oakland and San Francisco, and Napa, along with some of the best golf and wine cities. While Southern California is known for its beaches, surfing, celebrities and still more wineries.
People also forget you can ski in California. In the winter, you can have your sales conference in the morning in Huntington Beach, and you can be skiing at Big Bear in the afternoon.
“Since you’re in an all-season destination, make sure to highlight it,” Buchbinder says. How many ways can you incorporate the outdoors into your program? Besides having an outdoor sunset reception, can your team building be a scavenger hunt around the city? Can you do a walking foodie tour to sample some of the local cuisine? What about bringing your entire board meeting onto the beach and having all your guests barefoot in the sand?
Vanessa Loney, head of global planning at Blue Ribbon Events in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is currently planning a high-profile event to be held in 2020 in the San Francisco Bay area. It is a multiday international conference attracting thousands of attendees from around the world.
“Having never been to San Francisco or Oakland prior to my event, I had no idea the Bay Area had so many unique venues with rooftop views of the bay,” Loney says. “With the weather being pretty consistent, you can enjoy the outdoor spaces with nothing more than a sweater or light jacket.”
Aside from outdoor venues and activities, with so many visitors frequenting the city, there are tons of amazing Michelin-starred restaurants and other top-notch food options — not to mention, Napa Valley and Sonoma are about an hour outside of the city, offering group excursion options.
“This destination has enough to please everyone in an incentive group, conference or any event,” Loney says. “Spend as much time utilizing outdoor spaces as you can. If you have a conference, consider having the exhibitors hall in an outdoor corridor or the welcome reception under the stars.”
So what are some of the ‘must-see’ warm travel spots? All-inclusive meeting options in Mexico continue to be the leading request from many attendees. All-inclusive resorts offer an easy, no-worry experience with meals, beverages and activities all within the rate. And if attendees have children, there are a variety of activities to keep them busy.
Located between the Riviera Maya forest and the stunning waters of the Caribbean, Hotel Xcaret México, offers a wealth of meeting and event venues and amenities that will add to a sense of history and exclusiveness to any size event. From the hotel’s Convention Center to its Mexican Hacienda, as well as a wealth of multifunctional rooms and private beaches, Hotel Xcaret México is the preeminent all-season destination for meetings and events.
Barcelo Hotels & Resorts offers a vast array of different resort options throughout Mexico. From Los Cabos to the Maya Riviera to Puerto Vallarta, these hotels offer a variety of meeting packages, depending on the chosen locale. For instance, the Barcelo Puerto Vallarta boasts a convention center that can host up to 600 people, while the Barcelo Maya Grand Resort features 37 conference rooms, three theaters, and five business centers, allowing the hotel to host a variety of conferences, conventions or meetings in Mexico.
Although getting down to business may be the focus of a destination event in Mexico, financial and insurance attendees can also enjoy visiting Mexico’s Riviera Maya tourism district, just south of Cancun. Featured as a top winter, or anytime travel destination, this area has long been adored for its great value and ability to offer something for everyone. Attendees can explore ancient Mayan ruins, horseback ride through jungle mangroves, and snorkel along the coastal shoreline. In addition, attendees can relax on the white-sand beaches, revel in the charming towns or play a round of golf on nearby championship courses.
Of course, no discussion of Mexico would be complete without highlighting Cancun, a premier diving and snorkeling destination, situated along exotic coral reefs. In Cancun, attendees can explore the kaleidoscope of these multicolored gems. Delightful shopping, and sightseeing opportunities abound throughout this Mexican hot spot. Both Riviera Maya and Cancun are famous for their large-scale, all-inclusive resorts.
While it may be more distant, Hawaii has long been a favorite warm winter destination for meeting planners who recognize that the beaches and culture of Hawaii make a fantastic backdrop for meetings and events of all types. In addition to volcanoes, waterfalls and beaches aplenty, Hawaii boasts historic sites and indigenous Hawaiians traditions just waiting to be experienced.
And while Hawaii offers a wealth of venue options, Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa, can accommodate gatherings of all sizes, thanks to the resort’s 76,000 sf of beautiful outdoor space and a 21,000-sf conference center.
With deluxe accommodations, Aulani exudes world-class Disney hospitality at every turn. Set on 21 stunning oceanfront acres along the coast of Oahu, the resort also includes world-class dining and catering options, as well as an award-winning spa to help attendees relax after a day of meetings.
In the heart of Hawaii, Oahu is home to Hawaii’s capital, Honolulu — where the island’s art, culture and history come alive. The north side of Oahu features legendary beaches, charming surfside towns and tiny shops. Oahu’s Waikiki region is considered the ‘tropical Manhattan,’ and is home to vibrant hot spots that keep attendees coming back for more.
Does the idea of hula dancing on pristine beaches or volcano-hiking through shrouded rainforests seem like perfect ‘after meeting’ activities to offer attendees? Then Maui may be the ideal all-season destination for a group. As the second-largest island in this archipelago of volcanic landmasses, Maui features lush rainforests, eclectic small towns, world-class resorts and charming bed-and-breakfasts. Attendees can enjoy sailing expeditions through iridescent waters, engage in a thrilling drive to the small coastal village appropriately called ‘Heavenly Hana’, or immerse themselves in Hawaii’s rich cultural history.
The natural beauty of the Bahamas stretches far and wide — occupying more than 700 islands in the Atlantic Ocean. And while the majority of those islands are uninhabited, meeting and event planners can hone in on 29 islands in the Bahamas where golf courses, resorts and tropical pleasures abound.
Paradise Island is home to Atlantis, a luxurious destination for corporate and adventurous travelers. The ballrooms gracing Atlantis’ grounds can accommodate up to 4,000 resort guests and features the 50,000-sf Imperial Ballroom, with more than 40,000 sf of pre-function space. The conference center can host up to 4,000 attendees and boasts 30 breakout rooms, three boardrooms, and a large staging area. It also has a banquet kitchen equipped with additional pantries and state-of-the-art facilities for conventions, board meetings, annual events, or other memorable trips for groups of all sizes. Flexible group packages can be developed to provide the ultimate work and relaxation program.
Located in Nassau, Bahamas, Grand Hyatt Baha Mar is another favorite destination of meeting and event planners. Its Baha Mar Convention, Arts & Entertainment Center doubles as an art gallery, featuring original works from Bahamian artists. Grand Hyatt Baha Mar features 200,000 sf of state-of-the-art, indoor and outdoor spaces for meetings and events looking to add a true Bahamian feel to the experience. In addition, Grand Hyatt Baha Mar offers more than 30 dining options, including: KATSUYA by Starck, COMMONWEALTH and COSTA.
A bit more exotic, all-season destination resorts throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands, including St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix, as well as Aruba, offer meeting and event packages that many companies find enticing. And as new developments pop up in these locales, the region’s seasoned DMCs can help meeting and event planners find the ideal venue for a conference, meeting or event, while also orchestrating meaningful tours and activities to must-see attractions.
For attendees eager to explore the various islands that are playing host to their meeting or convention, the U.S.V.I. and Aruba offer a wealth of opportunities to explore this tropical paradise via off-road tours, horseback or on 4×4 vehicles.
Obviously one of the major draws for these all-season locations is the beautiful, sunny weather that accompanies the ocean breezes and tropical landscapes. However, as we’ve seen with recent hurricane activity, it’s crucial that event professionals have strategies available for a rain date or contingency plan — in case something happens in the chosen destination such as a natural disaster.
Another thing that Grech says event planners should be aware of is that many of these locales can still host events, even if they’ve been hit by a recent hurricane.
“For example, some of the best-known resorts in the Bahamas’ 700-islands chain, like Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, and Atlantis, remained unscathed by Hurricane Dorian — bringing tourism to these resorts will actually help speed up the country’s recovery by giving their economy that boost it needs during a crucial time,” Grech says. “This brings an added element to a meeting or event as well, by making it philanthropic and purposeful to aid an area of natural beauty back to full capacity.” I&FMM