Meetings give people a chance to learn and network with their colleagues, but they also provide an opportunity to visit new destinations and learn about the things that make them exciting and different. There’s no better way to capture the flavor of a community than to work with the local convention and visitors bureau. They know their cities inside and out, and can offer insights that are hard to gain even through extensive online searches. Here are examples of CVBs that have worked with companies to plan unforgettable experiences for attendees.
The best of natural and man-made wonders combine in Newport Beach, which is about an hour south of Los Angeles. The community sits on Back Bay, which is bordered by an 800-acre nature preserve with beautiful beaches and one of the few remaining estuaries in Southern California. It’s home to many celebrities and wealthy individuals, which means there are hundreds of eye-popping homes, outstanding shopping and great golf courses.
“The thing planners want to expose their attendees to is the aspirational lifestyle in Newport Beach,” says Michelle Donahue, senior vice president of sales for Visit Newport Beach. Her organization has plenty of ways to do that through relaxing, enjoyable excursions.
Many groups enjoy renting low-speed, easy-to-drive electric Duffy boats for tours or teambuilding exercises in Back Bay. “It’s a great, accessible way to get on this phenomenal harbor and look at these multimillion-dollar homes,” Donahue says. When they’re done, groups can dock and enjoy one of the waterfront’s many restaurants.
Groups also can rent yachts through Hornblower Cruises for parties, dinners and other functions. One of the ships is the Wild Goose, which was once owned by John Wayne. Traces of the famous actor and his family are still everywhere on the ship, Donahue notes. “The staterooms are exactly as he left them. One room has a library with his poker table. Their bedding and paintings are still in the ship. In the staterooms for the kids you can see where they’ve carved their initials in the headboards.”
The harbor and surrounds also can be enjoyed by foot, bike or electric bike. Many groups take the boardwalk through Laguna Beach and other local cities, then have a catered picnic at a park. Whales swim along the nearby shoreline, and more than 200 bird and animal species call the estuary home, so there are plenty of chances to nature-watch. Or arrange for helicopter tours, which provide views of celebrity homes and the breathtaking scenery.
Jacksonville is Florida’s youngest city population-wise, and it’s also one of its hippest. The Northeast Florida city is known for its extensive beaches (22 miles of beaches), a large park system with myriad opportunities for eco-adventures, rich cultural and educational opportunities, one of the state’s best craft beer scenes, and great nightlife. “Jacksonville is home to 160 hotels and resorts, offering planners a variety of choices including oceanfront boutique resorts, modern suburban hotels and elegant riverfront convention hotels,” says Monica R. Smith, CMP, CASE, CDME, vice president, sales and services with Visit Jacksonville. “A variety of mortgage banking firms, financial technology firms and financial institutions are either headquartered or have a large presence in Jacksonville,” which means meeting attendees will feel right at home.
Smith has a long list of activities planners might consider for offsite events or incentive trips. One popular activity is a dine-around at local museums, where each course is served at a different museum. The Cummer Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art and Museum of Science and History are regular participants. Meeting attendees can tour local breweries or walk the seven destinations on the local Ale Trail.
To enjoy Jacksonville’s beaches and other outdoor destinations, groups can take bike tours of local historic neighborhoods, hire an instructor for surfing and paddleboard lessons, fly over the community and ocean in a helicopter, or go charter fishing or sailing.
“Jacksonville is an affordable destination, offering some of the most competitive rates in Florida, while continuing to provide an exceptional experience,” says Smith. “The busiest time of the year in Jacksonville is during major sporting events, which include the Florida-Georgia football weekend in October, The Players Championship golf tournament in May and the Tax Slayer Bowl in late December. However, with more than 18,000 rooms, Jacksonville can accommodate groups year-round during all seasons.”
The towering mountains that surround Salt Lake City provide ample recreational opportunities and breathtaking scenery. Visitors will find plenty to do in this clean, safe and affordable Southwest city. Among unique attractions (the Mormon Temple, surrounding Temple Square and Utah Olympic Park included), winter and summer sports, and great dining and shopping, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
Julie Rhoads, director of convention services for Visit Salt Lake, has a few ideas about exciting activities for incentive trips. The nearby Snowbird Ski Resort has a tram that travels to the 11,000-foot high Hidden Peak in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest. Depending on the season, guests can look at wildflowers, search out animals and enjoy the majestic views. Take champagne and snacks on the tram ride or enjoy a meal at The Summit restaurant on top of the peak.
Visit Salt Lake recently worked with a company to plan a memorable party for guests attending a conference. They arranged a private picnic at Red Butte Garden, a large botanical garden and arboretum. After picnicking on the lawn around the amphitheater, guests heard a performance by a popular local band.
At another event, Visit Salt Lake helped event organizers plan a Sundance Film Festival-themed party at the Grand American Hotel. When guests arrived, trailers from movies first shown at Sundance were playing on large screens around the venue. The food and drinks harkened back to popular movies such as “Pulp Fiction.” A DJ played music for dancing, taking a break only for a live performance by the Bacon Brothers.
Palm Beach County includes 39 diverse cities and towns that span more than 2,200 square miles and provide 47 miles of pristine beachfront lined with hotels, restaurants and opportunities for outdoor excursions. It’s a warm-weather destination with plenty to offer event planners, including a wealth of exciting incentive travel or offsite event experiences.
Staff at Discover the Palm Beaches recently helped arrange a trip that started with a catamaran boat ride through the Lake Worth Lagoon. The boat then ventured into the ocean, where everyone went fishing. After the boat ride, the group was taken to The Boca Beach Club for an evening by the pool and beach. For entertainment, guests were invited to take part in interactive glow games.
A separate group chose to take an Island Living bike tour, where a guide shared fun facts and stories about Palm Beach Island. Another trip involved a tour of Harbourside Place in Jupiter, a waterfront shopping and dining destination, followed by a boat ride to uTiki Beach, a popular restaurant on the Jupiter Inlet that serves Caribbean food and drinks. The Woods restaurant, owned by golf legend Tiger Woods, who lives on nearby Jupiter Island, is also at Harbourside, as is the Wyndham Grand Jupiter,
The CVB also helped the group add a CSR component to their meeting. “Discover the Palm Beaches’ meetings and incentives team held a CSR project where they collected travel sized toiletries from the group and created hygiene kits for in-county communities affected by Hurricane Irma,” says Kelly Cavers, the company’s senior vice president, group sales. They’re happy to work with other groups on similar events.
There’s no place in the world quite like New York. For event participants who enjoy the hustle and bustle of an urban area, there are countless ways to find unique experiences in one of the world’s greatest cities.
Rachel Peace, communications manager with NYC & Company, shares several offsite event ideas. Her organization recently arranged for a corporate group to take cooking classes at the Institute of Culinary Education. The package included gnocchi-making and a wine and chocolate tasting. Another group participated in a chocolate-making teambuilding exercise at Voila Chocolat on the Upper West Side. Restaurant Le Pain Quotidien does pizza-making classes, and eatery Black Barn provides cooking classes and knife skills demonstrations.
For the athletically inclined, Spin NYC is a ping-pong bar where people can show off their paddling skills in between noshing on snacks and drinks. NYC & Company recently helped a group of 100 host a reception there. The Fishbowl at Dream Midtown provides mini bowling, skeeball, a built-in photo booth and a fun atmosphere for parties. The NFL Experience Times Square, which opened in November, gives fan an interactive look at their favorite sport.
Rural Sedona is another destination that provides a blend of breathtaking scenery and many modern conveniences. The Arizona community is known for its red rocks, which can be viewed along numerous hiking and biking trails as well as from many of the community’s meeting facilities. In addition to great opportunities for outdoor adventure, expect to find great arts and culture and luxurious spas and resorts.
“The Sedona Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau is launching Sedona’s Secret 7, an innovative campaign that reveals hidden trails and locations across Red Rock Country,” says sales manager Leslie Brearley. “Sedona’s Secret 7 is broken down into seven categories: picnics, sunrise and sunset vistas, stargazing, spiritual, arts and culture, biking trails and hiking trails. Within each category there are seven different places that offer a doorway to lesser known parts of Sedona. These hidden gems allow visitors the opportunity to create a one-of-a-kind itinerary based on their interests.”
For those more interested in arts and culture, Sedona is home to more than 80 art galleries and shops. The CVB and local hotels offer art walk maps that detail fun routes in different areas of town.
“Washington, DC is home to world-class meeting spaces, exceptional venues and a dining scene packed with culinary talent, not to mention the country’s finest monuments and memorials and captivating museums,” says Melissa Riley, vice president, convention sales and services at Destination DC. “We’re lucky to have a recognizable skyline and special events spaces with city views.”
The CVB recently helped a company plan a dinner for senior stakeholders in the nave of the National Cathedral. Uplighting gave the stained glass windows a beautiful glow. Destination DC can arrange after-hours tours of the U.S. Capitol, then connect guests to the Library of Congress via underground tunnels for special events. The National Archives is another memorable venue for meetings. Cultural attractions such as the National Air and Space Museum or Newseum can hold concerts and other large gatherings.
“If you have flexible dates, there is great value in meetings over the summer or winter, or when Congress is not in session,” Riley says.
Though it may seem like an out-of-the-way destination to some, there are few places in the continental United States that are more exotic than Albuquerque. New Mexico’s largest city is rich in history, art and culture, interesting architecture, good food and drinks, and quality entertainment. The airport is less than 10 minutes from downtown and has flights from over two dozen major cities.
Notable event venues include the Albuquerque Museum, Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum, Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and National Hispanic Cultural Center. Should you need entertainment beyond the exhibits these venues offer, book intimate flamenco performances, traditional Native American dancers, talented mariachi bands and more. Outside of these venues, take guests on ghost tours, scavenger hunts through Old Town, tours of the many attractions along Route 66, hot-air balloon rides or hikes through the nearby national monuments.
“The food scene in Albuquerque is truly a microcosm of the city’s melting pot of cultures,” says Kristin McGrath, vice president of convention sales, services and sports for Visit Albuquerque. “Aside from the famous chile peppers that form the basis of traditional New Mexican cuisine, visitors can experience everything from Native American fusion and fine French fare to Asian delights and dinner classics.” I&FMM