The program at the PCMA Education Conference, June 25–28 at the L.A. Convention Center, features a variety of speakers and sessions exploring the trends and issues that will shape the next generation of meetings and events. And when it comes to exploring the host destination, I got an early inside scoop — the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board hosted my media trip in mid-April to get a closer look at the city’s group offerings.
When I met my driver at the Los Angeles International Airport, he shared a common complaint associated with the City of Angels: traffic. That should soon be alleviated by some new developments. The city has recently broken ground on a $14-billion airport renovation that will overhaul the terminals, speed up the security lines, add a range of authentic L.A. dining options — plus help passengers ditch the need for cars to get to downtown. The project will connect the city’s light rail system with the airport, which will help relieve congestion when the city hosts the Olympic Games in 2028.
Downtown on the Rise
Once we made it out of the arrivals line, though, it was clear sailing to drop my bags at my hotel. After a quick pitstop, I headed to The Fields L.A., a culinary destination with nine kitchens that celebrate the city’s food scene in downtown L.A. Over a chicken sandwich the size of California from C.J. Boyd’s Fried Chicken, Shant Apelian, director of corporate communications for the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board and a native Los Angeleno, reflected on what this section of the city felt like when he was growing up.
“It was so sleepy,” Apelian said. “You drove through downtown. There wasn’t really a reason to stop.” Today, the neighborhood is so hip that it’s got its own nickname, DTLA. One of the biggest attractions is Banc of California Stadium, the city’s newest venue. The 22,000-seat facility is home to the Los Angeles Football Club, the latest expansion team in Major League Soccer, and it’s located in the middle of Expo Park — a 160-acre collection of museums, educational facilities, and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Having had my fill of fried chicken, I walked over to the venue — which is next door to The Fields, making it a prime tailgate spot for soccer fans — for an experience that felt more like a luxury desert retreat than a sports paradise. The rooftop Sunset Club features hanging egg chairs, comfy couches with throw pillows, a small pool, and comes with striking views of the downtown skyline.
A 10-minute Uber ride took us back toward that skyline and the site where the red carpet is regularly rolled out to welcome the Emmy Awards, ESPN’s ESPY Awards, and the American Music Awards — L.A. LIVE. Home to Microsoft Theater, the GRAMMY Museum, the STAPLES Center, and 20 restaurants, the sprawling complex hosts more than
1,600 events each year and attracts more than 20 million visitors. Those numbers should swell in the near future, once L.A. LIVE’s next-door neighbor, the L.A. Convention Center, completes a $1.2-billion expansion plan.
Doane Liu, executive director of the city’s department of tourism and convention development and unofficially the city’s biggest sports supporter — he once caught five L.A. professional teams in one marathon-long day of sports action — wants the convention center expansion to be completed when the city hosts the Super Bowl in 2022. As with any expansion project, deadlines can be a moving target, but whenever it is completed, it’s going to give the beach a run for its money: Attendees will have plenty of reasons to spend more time downtown. “No longer will we be selling convention space,” Liu told me in his office as he walked me through blueprints for the project. “We’ll be selling an integrated campus of 100 acres.”
In addition to selling that space, he is equally excited to give Los Angeles residents a place to call their own. “Most convention centers are geared toward out-of-towners,” Liu said, “but the way we’re designing this project — especially the outdoor park area — is intended to make it like a hotel lobby for the entire city.”
Historic and Hip Hotels
Speaking of hotels, the number of guest rooms within walking distance of the convention center has doubled in the past five years, and there are approximately 1,000 more rooms in the works. They will cover a variety of price points, ranging from the luxurious Park Hyatt to Marriott’s Millennial-focused, select-service Moxy brand. All those new developments are giving attendees and L.A. residents alike reasons to explore downtown, but the city’s past — particularly the hustle and bustle of the 1920s when the city’s population doubled in size — continues to live on in reclaimed historic buildings.
There’s no better place to discover that old-meets-new flavor than the Hotel Figueroa, the host for my stay. Originally built in 1926 as a safe haven exclusively for female travelers, the 268-room property completed a two-year renovation in 2018. Alex Canas, group sales manager at the hotel, said that the hotel’s 10,000 square feet of meeting space and spacious Spanish-inspired rooms are “ideal for organizations that are looking for something different or something a bit unexpected.”
Attendees can sip a mezcal-based Ring of Fire on the rooftop oasis of Rick’s, which serves libations to up to 75 standing guests, or enter Casbah through a secret entrance (shhh…via a door in the bookcase), which seats 24 VIP guests. Wherever in the hotel an event may be situated, groups will be immersed in authentic L.A. art. Many of the pieces on the walls are from female artists in the city, which Canas said marks “a focused effort to keep some of the property’s roots intact.”
No trip to Los Angeles would be complete without getting closer to that iconic Hollywood sign. On my second day in L.A., I took a 20-minute Uber ride to Dream Hollywood, a 178-room property where the retailer Forever 21 had recently hosted a rooftop event with a 360-degree view of the surrounding area. A tour of the site below revealed a 24-hour gym on the second floor designed by Gunnar Peterson — the trainer best-known for getting the Kardashians into reality-show-ready shape — and an adult playground on the street level with stunning spaces like the 10,000-square-foot Beauty & Essex, a radio studio launched by hip hop icon Ice Cube, and a private alley for photo shoots.
The property hosts plenty of big events. For example, Nike took it over when L.A. hosted the NBA All-Star Game in 2018. That may be the extent of the property’s competitive nature, though. Danny Benaderet, Dream Hollywood’s director of sales and marketing, pointed out that the hotel works with other properties to host meetings and events business. “We have to be collaborative with the other hotels in the area,” Benaderet said. “To get the room supply that big meetings need, we work together.”
That collaborative approach has attracted some event organizers to organize “Hollywides” that make use of the Dream’s sister properties such as Mama Shelter, a 70-room property across the street, and bigger hotels like the Loews Hollywood and the W Hollywood. The location puts attendees even closer to where all the movie magic happens. I took a quick, 15-minute Uber ride to Universal Studios Hollywood to see it live and in-person. The theme park was crowded with fans touring the meticulously designed Harry Potter experience, interacting with raptors from Jurassic Park and robots from Transformers, and riding a tram through the sound stages where television shows like “The Good Place” and “Superstore” are filmed.
The park attracts huge public crowds each day of the year, but Patrick Murphy, senior event sales manager at the park, walked me through the options for groups to transform sections into their own brand experiences. “We can make this a blank canvas,” Murphy said. “The possibilities are endless.”
Those possibilities extend to more than the park. As my return flight took off from LAX, I looked down on so much of what I hadn’t experienced: the beaches of Malibu, the canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains, and seats at Dodger Stadium. My short trip had only scratched the surface of southern California. Lucky for me, I’ll be back in June to explore more of those possibilities. I might have to skip one of the education sessions, though. Please don’t tell my boss.