Colorado is one of the fastest-growing states in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And Denver, among the state’s busiest meeting destinations before the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen increases in hotels, restaurants, venues and other areas of infrastructure. The Colorado Convention Center is currently undergoing a major expansion set to conclude in 2023, which will result in even more options for planners in the heart of downtown.
Debbie Smithey, CMP, CAE, director, educational meetings, American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), says, “Colorado Convention Center is easy to maneuver in and attractive. Accessibility and walkability between hotels and the center are desirable to our group, and the 16th Street Mall free transportation is a bonus for getting around downtown. The restaurant scene is a plus, and attendees enjoy Denver’s relaxed atmosphere. The cost of doing business in Denver is also a plus compared to some of the larger convention cities, especially for hotel guest rooms.”
ACEP held its annual Scientific Assembly in Denver before the pandemic. The base hotel was Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center. “We held events at several hotels, including Hyatt Regency and Embassy Suites, both good to work with,” Smithey says. “Several downtown restaurants were used for our dine-around program, and for other functions such as board dinners. Food, service, facilities and cost were all very positive. Additionally, we held our Kickoff Party at the National Western Complex, where staff was extremely accommodating in guiding us to vendors for décor, entertainment, etc. The F&B was very reasonably priced and the venue staff did an amazing job helping with all elements of the event.”
Smithey calls Visit Denver, the city’s CVB, phenomenal. “They could teach a master class on customer service,” she says. “Every member of the bureau is attentive. The sales team is attentive to customers from the time you sign until after you’ve left the city post-event. [They] made sure our every need was met. Visit Denver worked with us to make the initial offer meet our needs, walked us through date changes that occurred after signing and made sure we remained aware of all the latest downtown hotel additions in the years in between. Their marketing team was vital to helping us promote Denver as a destination prior to the event, and they did a nice job with street banners and storefront signs welcoming our group.”
ACEP requires extensive space, with more than 900 events during the convention. “We use a lot of function space at the convention center in addition to space at hotels. The center’s close proximity to the hotels is appreciated by our registrants and exhibitors, and the ample seating areas for networking, or recharging phones and laptops, and checking email, was utilized heavily by our group. The greeters were incredibly warm and happy, and made everyone feel welcome; there were many favorable comments by our staff and attendees about them,” Smithey says. She adds, “Our convention center CSM was exceptional, and the convention center layout is a real asset.”
Hyatt Regency was a good choice for its proximity to the convention center as well as its own available function space. “And,” Smithey says, “the sales team was very good to work with and provided what we required in concessions to make the partnership for our event work well.”
Some years, snow impacts meetings during the late fall and early winter in Denver. “It snowed fairly heavily during our event. Our Visit Denver team worked with us in advance on communications with local transportation [ride-share providers, taxi services] to notify them of our group’s needs and ensure rides were available during our peak times,” Smithey says. “They also developed walking maps for our attendees in hotels a bit farther from the convention center with tips on accessing other modes of transportation. We added hot chocolate in the lobby at the convention center when attendees arrived on those coldest mornings to quickly warm them up. The city did a nice job of keeping sidewalks clear for pedestrians walking to the center.” Her best advice for groups considering Denver is to work closely with the CVB. “They’ll be a great asset to you in planning, marketing and implementing your event,” she says.
Areas Other Than Denver Are Also Attractive
Adjacent Aurora also welcomes meetings. Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center is close to Denver’s airport, and it’s a complete meeting destination, with more than 500,000 sf of event space and 1,500 rooms. The 249-room Hyatt Regency Aurora-Denver Conference Center is located halfway between the airport and downtown, across from the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus. It has more than 36,000 sf of IACC accredited meeting space.
Not to be outdone, Colorado Springs is also an enviable meeting destination. Tasha Weber, operations manager, development & marketing division for Youth for Christ USA, brought a group to The Broadmoor’s Cloud Camp, the resort’s exclusive mountaintop retreat. “Cloud Camp at The Broadmoor is a super unique and beautiful property,” she says. “The Broadmoor base camp staff handles all the details once guests arrive at the main hotel. Accommodations are understated mountain luxury. There are beautiful individual cabins, as well as rooms in the main lodge. The lodge dining room setup was perfect, and the wraparound deck has the most amazing views. Historical artifacts and artwork depicting western life are displayed throughout the property. Staff goes above and beyond; they’re always available to answer questions, get a drink for you and provide rides to various activities. Food and drinks are top quality, and the cooking class taught by the Cloud Camp chef was a hit.”
Weber says attendance increased because of the venue. “Cloud Camp is such a special property. It’s only accessible by an 8-mile dirt road, and Broadmoor staff drive guests back and forth. It’s very private with only Cloud Camp guests on-site.” Weber gives the Broadmoor, and specifically Cloud Camp, a perfect rating. “The Broadmoor itself is a world-class venue. We’ve used the main hotel and golf course for three years to host a weekend golf tournament. Hosting a small event at Cloud Camp was just as amazing down to the last detail. All staff are professional, yet friendly. They have a ‘can do’ attitude toward requests and go above and beyond to make every guest feel special, valued and well cared for,” she says. “The hotel grounds are immaculate, the same with Cloud Camp. Cloud Camp sits above 8,000 feet and has unsurpassed views of Pikes Peak. [Hosts] are so knowledgeable. They have anecdotal stories to share, check in to make sure all is well, yet are respectful not to be overly involved.”
One more thing about Cloud Camp, Weber notes, is that it’s all inclusive. “Sometimes, quantity is confused with quality at an all-inclusive resort, but not at Cloud Camp. It has top-notch food beyond that at any all-inclusive resort I’ve been to.” The group utilized the Overlook, a standalone venue, for meetings, and Weber says it held the group very comfortably. “Cloud Camp staff served our desserts there each evening.”
The one challenge is attendees’ differing arrival and departure times due to the mountaintop location. However, Weber says the resort staff handled it “effectively and efficiently.” She strongly advises planners to arrange a site visit, “Then trust the event staff at The Broadmoor. They have great suggestions for everything from food and drink to which rooms to use for events, and how to explain the property to potential guests. Pictures and videos,” she says, “don’t do Cloud Camp justice.”
Cheyenne Mountain Colorado Springs, A Dolce Resort, is also in Colorado Springs, and that’s where the Economic Development Council of Colorado (EDCC) held one of its Drive/Lead/Succeed Conferences also before the pandemic. “We strategically selected Colorado Springs for our . . . event to be closer to communities we’d visited . . . with our regional forums in order to increase their participation,” says Kim Woodworth, operations director with EDCC. “We move our event year to year. We’re a statewide organization trying to reach all four corners of the state. Colorado Springs is a central location for members in the southwest, south and southeast.”
Visit Colorado Springs, the city’s CVB, helped by contacting hotels in the area to answer EDCC’s RFP. “Colorado Springs has great offerings. If you want a retreat feel, Cheyenne Mountain Resort offers that,” Woodworth says. She advises planners considering Cheyenne Mountain Resort to tour the property, eat there, tour downtown as well and “assess timing and transportation needs.”
Colorado Far and Wide
Colorado’s other mountain towns have huge appeal for planners and attendees as well, and Beaver Creek, a few miles west of Vail, is highly desirable. David Haar, with Tailwind Events and coordinator of the nonprofit Vail DECA Invitational, has for years brought a group of business students, teachers and other stakeholders to Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa. “The Hyatt is the main conference facility for the whole village, which makes it ideal for our event. It’s prior to ski season, so hotel, retail and restaurants make it a synergistic fit. It’s a valuable experience for the students and hopefully turns them into lifelong . . . visitors,” Haar says.
The Hyatt, he adds, is very accommodating in tailoring the hotel, F&B and A/V services to meet the group’s needs. “The facilities are the perfect fit for hosting this conference. The attendees have the right amount of business and leisure while at the conference, and the village skating rink is always a big hit.” The event requires more than 100 volunteers to help judge the business competitions, Haar notes. “The various chambers and partnerships are always reaching out to their clientele, so we end up having enough volunteers. The local Rotaries are excellent resources as well.”
The Park Hyatt Beaver Creek has 14,000+ sf of meeting and function space, and Haar says it meets multiple needs. “The space can turn from opening session to testing session, to dinner venue to workshops, to business competition events at smaller tables, all turned around by hotel staff at a very efficient level. I love the responsiveness to our needs.” As for what stands out, Haar says, “The hotel staff pretty much stays the same, so I’ve partnered with the same people year in and year out. They can anticipate my needs. If I have a last-minute change, it can be handled by capable personnel. We have fine-tuned the meals over the years, so there’s never a wait for food. They also do little things, like bringing me a complimentary mocha at 5:30 a.m. when I arrive because they know I have a lot on my plate and they want to exceed my expectations. Because of their service, the attendees have a valuable and enjoyable experience and cannot wait to come back.”
Haar wasn’t always convinced the Park Hyatt was the right place for this event. “I told the hotel ‘no’ several times before I said ‘yes.’ I still laugh about that. I didn’t think the students and this fine hotel would make a good fit, but thanks to the Hyatt’s persistence in wanting my business, I finally gave it a one-year trial run. I’m glad I did. That was [more than] 12 years ago, and the program continues to grow. The hotel is suitable for having all our needs met within short proximity to all our events, which works well for all the attendees.”
And top to bottom, he says, the Hyatt staff is top-notch. “The valet people remember me and the front desk is responsive to my last-minute changes to administrative personnel. I typically visit the hotel . . . two weeks prior to the conference, and we get reacquainted and start the wheels turning. Once I arrive two weeks later, the process has already been put into motion.” The Hyatt, he adds, “takes pride in its brand and well they should. I’ve come to appreciate that attention to detail and quality. If you want a facility that will give your conference a quality experience, this is a great place. We always need a combination of business and pleasure, and the whole Beaver Creek Village comes together to provide that.”
Richard Munoz, meeting planner for the Assemblies of God Executive Leadership Conference (ELC), also has praise for Park Hyatt Beaver Creek, where his group had an early winter event before the pandemic. “This group usually meets in warmer weather, but the chairman thought it would be great to think outside the box and meet somewhere different. This was intentional. The beauty of the location with snow on the mountains was amazing. As one person leaving at the end of the conference told me, ‘All of these ELCs have been great, but this one was special.’” Four different groups take part in the program, requiring multiple venues. “We have superintendents, assistant superintendents, secretary/treasurers and college presidents. On one evening of the conference, each group chose a dinner location, and Beaver Creek Village Transportation provided shuttles. The superintendents had dinner at [now-closed] Saddle Ridge, the assistant superintendents and the college presidents had dinner at Grouse Mountain Grill and the secretary/treasurers ate at Mirabelle. All venues were outstanding.” Munoz says Vail Valley and Beaver Creek partnered with him on different ideas and let the town know the group was there so businesses would benefit. “Those partnerships helped make the conference successful,” he says.
The ELC used the hotel’s meeting space as well as the Vilar Performing Arts Center, a 530-seat theater in the heart of Beaver Creek. “It all stands out — the staff, the space, F&B, the location and the beauty of it,” Munoz says. “When we did the site visit, we just knew this was the place to be. We could envision the group really enjoying Beaver Creek Village.” Standouts for Munoz were Vail Valley, Park Hyatt and Visit Beaver Creek. “All did a great job in working together to make this conference successful,” he says.
In nearby Vail, former Hotel Talisa is now Grand Hyatt Vail following a multimillion-dollar renovation. The 285-room property still has its own ski lift, making it ideal for winter incentives and meetings, though its location also offers coveted creek-side summer function space.
Aspen melds history and the grandness of nature as few towns can. At its center is historic Hotel Jerome, an Auberge Resort, still a place to see and be seen. A major renovation and expansion included incorporating the historic Aspen Times building next door and adding two 2,000-sf suites, perfect for VIPs and upscale private functions.
Western Fringes Call Adventurers
Farther west, Grand Junction, on Colorado’s Western Slope, also attracts meetings. Donna Gillette has planned the American Rock Art Research Association Conference for 25 years. The group has met at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Grand Junction, an ideal base because of its geographical location and proximity to the area’s geology and history. “The main focus of the group is rock art, and there’s a very good supply of that within a reasonable distance in this area,” Gillette says. “Additionally, the hotel facility and cost were good, Grand Junction is easily accessible from both sides of the country, and the regional airport is less than a mile from the DoubleTree.”
Gillette calls the hotel staff “excellent,” with particular praise for the sales staff. However, she says, “they’re all easy and great to work with. And the hotel was able to provide the meeting space we needed.” The group used the hotel’s A/V, Wi-Fi, tech help and catering, and there were no problems with anything. “But if there were a problem,” Gillette adds, “the hotel would resolve it.” Beyond the hotel and rock art, Gillette says another positive element is that, “Grand Junction has a lively downtown on Main Street that’s very appealing.”
The fact is, Colorado is a state with immense geographical diversity, from its prairie landscapes, to the densely forested mountains, and out to the red-rock desert formations on the western border. It’s a place where outdoor adventures abound, yet its cities and towns also offer extraordinary restaurants, performing arts and a relaxed culture that attendees love. There’s a place here for every kind of organization. Planners just have to find their sweet spot. | AC&F |