From the mountains to the prairies, and from tony ski resorts to laid-back dude ranches, when it comes to hosting meetings against a variety of backdrops, Colorado just about has it all. Throw in four distinct seasons, a central location in the center of the country and a roster of meeting hotels ranging from intimate to large-scale, and it’s no wonder the state is a favorite for corporate and incentive meeting planners.
For Shelby Tate, senior director of global accounts for Lamont Associates, Colorado is an ideal match for an executive retreat she is organizing this summer for the engineering firm Garver. “The state offers so many truly amazing locations to experience while refreshing, reflecting and relaxing,” Tate says. “The group loves the weather, scenery and atmosphere.”
Dara Arbuthnot, operations manager at Brownell Travel, worked with her client, a workman’s comp company based in the Southeast, on a winter incentive trip to Snowmass, Colorado and used the local CVB like an extension of their planning team. “Snowmass has the natural beauty, the outdoor activities; and it’s not just about skiing,” Arbuthnot says. “The food and restaurants are a very big draw, and, even though it’s domestic, it’s a totally different experience than what the group is used to.”
And Sylvie Boulanger, event manager at Event Travel Management (ETM), says downtown Denver “checked all the boxes” for a 400-attendee conference she organized last September. “It was a great city and location, with fabulous venues, which really made for a very successful event. I would re-create this again for any corporate meeting,” Boulanger says. “Denver also provides low-cost rail access directly from the airport to the host hotels and the Colorado Convention Center (CCC).”
The icing on the cake for planners this year: Colorado’s Meeting and Events Incentive provides pre-approved applicants with a 10% rebate up to $100,000 against the eligible hard costs of hosting meetings and events that take place through December 31, 2022. Many applications have been approved — including two at the $100,000 level — and millions of dollars are still available in the program. The online application and additional details are available at Destination Colorado’s website.
Boulanger’s group used the CCC for its general session over two days, and she lauded the amount of space the center provided to allow for changing social distancing guidelines and restrictions on the maximum number of attendees in place during the pandemic. “Colorado used a color-coded system that was very easy to follow and made it easy for the client and me to comprehend how to conduct the conference,” Boulanger says. “The great news was that we never had to consider changing venues because the general session and F&B space was so large that it would accommodate the meeting either way. This all put our minds at ease, so we didn’t consider relocating or reconsidering the event unless necessary.”
The CCC provided the group everything needed on-site, so there was no need to go outside for options. “Centerplate offered delicious food, and was very easy to work with, and the CCC also provided complimentary, professional signage so that the client did not have to buy additional banners and saved on their budget,” Boulanger says.
Because downtown Denver was limited on room availability at the time of the conference, the room block was divided between four hotels, all within walking distance of the CCC, Union Station and the Denver rail system. “I noticed a lot of locals in the area as well, so it’s not just for corporate attendees like you might find at other hotels,” Boulanger adds. “There is a unique boutique and neighborhood feel in each hotel, which made for a charming atmosphere.”
Of the four properties, Boulanger called out The Rally Hotel, located in a new development, McGregor Square, next door to Coors Field. The 182-room hotel opened last year and features 21,000 sf of private event space, including a 17,000-sf outdoor plaza available for private events. The Rally’s in-building meeting and event space includes the 1,783-sf Wynkoop Ballrooms. “The conference hosted a group dinner right at Coors Field, followed by a Rockies game,” Boulanger says. “The food, ambiance and the game made for a fun, interactive night out together, and everyone got to feel the vibe of being together once again.”
The conference also had a night off where all attendees could make their own dinner plans, and Boulanger notes there were plenty of restaurants to choose from. “It’s a great area to be in, with lots to do within walking distance.”
Early last fall, the CCC began construction on a 200,000-sf rooftop expansion, set to be completed in late 2023. The addition will include an 80,000-sf, column-free ballroom — which will be the largest in Colorado — and will have new pre-function and networking spaces, cutting-edge technology improvements, and a rooftop outdoor terrace with sweeping panoramic views of both the city and Rocky Mountains, all seamlessly integrated with the existing building.
Also early last fall, the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel unveiled its two-year, $80 million renovation as part of the Sheraton brand’s transformation of its guest experience. The new approach for Sheraton creates an intuitive and holistic experience with places to connect, be productive and be inspired. Long a familiar anchor to Denver’s iconic 16th Street Mall, the Sheraton Denver Downtown features a new arrival experience, 133,000 sf of renovated meeting space, 1,238 newly redesigned guest rooms and 138 suites, as well as new culinary and beverage offerings.
For her workman’s comp client, Arbuthnot says Snowmass was the pick for a winter incentive trip, a choice driven by the client’s attendees. One of four mountains that make up Aspen, Snowmass is home to some of the best ski and snowboard terrain in North America. The town has more than 70,000 sf of flexible conference facilities, and guests can be accommodated in one or more of the 32 lodges, the largest of which is the Viceroy Snowmass. The Viceroy Snowmass has 163 residentially appointed units, ranging from studios to four-bedroom with full kitchen. The property includes a total of 11,000 sf of meeting space, including a 5,600-sf Grand Ballroom offering alpine views.
Arbuthnot says the Viceroy was selected for the event for several reasons: “It’s a new location for the group, and within walking distance into the village and all its amenities. The Viceroy’s room product was very important — there’s a fireplace in every room. It’s an all-king property, so it lends itself to couples, but families will be OK because they have pullout sofas. And they have a phenomenal spa.” Arbuthnot adds, “It’s a ski-in, ski-out resort, and there’s a full outfitter right there. Four Mountain Sports is one of the local ski companies, and they had everything from lift tickets to rental equipment right there at the hotel.”
For the non-skiers, dog sledding and snowmobiling could be facilitated, along with tickets for the Breathtaker Alpine Coaster, which takes riders on an elevated track through the forest at speeds of up to 28 mph. Meals and other events were handled as a group.
Arbuthnot applauds the members of the Viceroy team. “We had a lot of changes during the planning,” Arbuthnot says, mostly related to the pandemic. “It felt like they were an extension of our team and had all our best interests in mind, all the way through the event. The environment of travel that we’re in meant we asked a lot of questions. We had a lot of contact with both the destination and resort ahead of time, and that really helped.”
Most of the attendees were originating from secondary airports in the Southeast, necessitating connecting flights. “Everyone had at least one connection,” Arbuthnot says. “It might seem obvious, but in winter there can be weather delays, and if there are delays, there’s not a whole lot of airlift. We were tracking the weather, and on our departure day, almost all flights got canceled. But we had a back-up plan ready, and bused them down to Denver, where they could overnight and fly out the next day.”
For an annual board meeting and vendor retreat, Dan Jablan, president-owner of Cherry Point Strategies, also chose one of Colorado’s mountain resorts for a getaway, this one taking place late last summer. “The Colorado mountains in the summer are an irresistible place to meet,” Jablan says. “The beauty of the trees and flowers, coupled with the seasonal weather cannot be beat. Every year, our group of small business owners meet at a Colorado resort location for a retreat and golf outing. We looked at many locations across the state, but in the final assessment, the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa was an easy choice for us. It’s centrally located, so all our members could easily drive to the location, and for our out-of-town guests, the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek is only a 90-minute drive from the Denver International Airport.”
Located just west of Vail, 110 miles from Denver, the 190-room hotel offers a state-of-the-art conference center and more than 20,000 sf of meeting space, much of it with floor-to-ceiling windows. Jablan notes that the resort’s meeting facilities and A/V were user friendly. “The meeting room was the perfect size, and the catering for the meeting was without question first class. We used multiple venues and needed signage, and the hotel was very accommodating with our signage needs.”
The gathering was originally scheduled to take place in summer 2020, but the pandemic caused Cherry Point to cancel. “I found the Park Hyatt very easy to work with in the process and rescheduling of our annual retreat,” Jablan says. “Although there were a lot of changes and complications, they rose to the occasion and helped us create a first-class event. The thing that most stood out to me was the hotel’s professional team. In particular, I would recognize our on-site meeting coordinator for her work on our event. She stayed through the night, well past when she was scheduled to go home. Her professionalism and work ethic helped make our event a huge success.” Jablan adds, “I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the golf pro at the Beaver Creek Country Club. His help organizing our 18 vendors and golfers was nothing short of miracle work. Based on his work, I cannot recommend the course enough. The Park Hyatt Beaver Creek delivered a great product for us at a cost that was reasonable for the high quality of their hotel.”
The event Tate is organizing for the engineering firm Garver is an executive retreat to be held at the 116-room Garden of the Gods Resort and Club. The Colorado Springs hotel, located next to the Garden of the Gods National Landmark, celebrated its 70th anniversary last year. “The resort’s scenic views and easy access to the city are a definite plus,” Tate says. “But the location also allows our group to feel secluded and safe while enjoying activities. Commercial airlift into Colorado Springs is easy, but the availability of multiple private aircraft options also played a key role in the choice.” Tate continues: “It had been a while since I visited, and I appreciated Visit Colorado Springs providing all the latest updates on the destination, venues and surrounding areas. There have been no unexpected challenges in the planning process. When you choose a city that is known for hospitality and culture, you cannot go wrong. The location and quality of our chosen venue compared to other cities offered significant return on investment and unmatched options for the activities we wanted to pursue.”
Replete with a full-service spa and 27-hole championship golf course, Garden of the Gods Resort has seven flexible function rooms, measuring a total of more than 12,000 sf, along with customizable outdoor space consisting of six terraces and lawn areas, measuring more than 10,000 sf. “The meeting space is flexible and offers a uniquely special space for guests to enjoy such lovely views while meeting,” Tate says. “We are working through all of the options at present, but we’ll have a few outdoor activities, such as hiking, and we fully intend to maximize our access to activities in the Colorado Springs area. There is so much to choose from — breweries, restaurants, outdoor activities, shops.”
Another group drawn to Colorado Springs was the property management software provider LCS. Brittany Christerson, COO and conference coordinator, says the company’s event rotates to a different U.S. destination each year. “We want to easily accommodate our customers from all 50 states and provide a fresh experience to returning attendees,” Christerson says. “Colorado was our top choice for November 2021 — we’d never held our User Conference there, and we have a dense customer base across the state. Colorado Springs is easily accessible in terms of travel, and is full of gorgeous scenery and memorable activities we could market to our attendees, such as skiing, Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods, Seven Falls, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum — the list goes on.”
Christerson notes that initially the company hesitated using the iconic resort The Broadmoor for its event. “The resort is absolutely stunning, a major draw and tourist attraction,” Christerson says. “But we’re a software company, and we tend to choose locations that feel ‘techy’ and modern. However, once you’re inside the hotel, it only took about 2 seconds to realize that you’re in one of the most incredible places imaginable. We loved the regal feel, the architecture and the unbelievable surrounding scenery. The hotel’s history was so riveting that we included it in a scavenger hunt during our Opening Reception.” Christerson continues: “When finalizing a location for our conference, we always ask ourselves, if I were attending this event, could I see myself spending five days at this resort? And the answer was a resounding, ‘Yes!’ Our conference is jam-packed with educational sessions and networking events. We liked the thought of providing a relaxing, vacation-like experience for attendees to unwind after a full day of taking in new … knowledge and industry trends. The pictures of the hotel alone helped us attract a record-breaking number of attendees.”
After the pandemic canceled LCS’s 2020 event, Christerson says the company reduced attendance expectations. “In 2019, we were at approximately 950 attendees,” Christerson says. “We were seeing about a 50% reduction in attendance from other trade-show related events in our industry. When we first started planning for 2021, our goal was to hit 800 attendees, which we considered a ‘stretch’ goal. We were very surprised when our end result was the largest conference attendance to-date — 1,019 attendees. I think people were ready to get out and experience some sense of normalcy.”
A new asset for The Broadmoor is Bartolin Hall, which was completed in 2020 just as the world was shutting down. The venue has 125,000 sf of flexible event space, including 93,500 sf of true exhibit space designed specifically for trade shows. Bartolin Hall features polished concrete floors, 32 breakout rooms, 25-foot-high, black-piped ceilings and direct connection to the resort’s 60,000-sf ballroom. The introduction of the venue brings the total function space of The Broadmoor to more than 315,000 sf. “Bartolin Hall is spacious and modern,” Christerson says. “We debated whether to use this space for the actual exhibit hall and decided instead to use it for our meals. The space was a little ways from the rest of the ballrooms, so we were concerned that if we put our vendors in this area, we would struggle to push traffic down to their booths. Having meals in this space worked out perfectly because people will always find where the food is being served. We used the private meeting rooms behind Bartolin Hall as reserved spaces for our sales staff and VIP customers.”
Christerson notes that, because they utilized all four of the resort’s large ballroom spaces, the conference was very spread out. “It was very important that we were able to utilize 100% of the conference space for our event, which The Broadmoor was able to accommodate,” Christerson says. “But we did have a few attendees who struggled with the walk back and forth in between sessions. If you utilize the entire conference space, make sure you plan enough time in between breakout sessions and networking events for your staff and attendees to catch their breath. The Broadmoor staff was extremely accommodating when we needed help, but all the walking back and forth across a very large blueprint tired my staff.” Clear and concise signage is a must at The Broadmoor, she adds.
Christerson says the entire staff at The Broadmoor was excellent, but particularly points out the A/V team: “The use of The Broadmoor’s A/V and technical equipment was critical to the success of our conference. We are software developers, and we have thousands of customers that depend on us to run their business every single day. It was critical that we not only had stable internet for the conference, but advanced A/V equipment that would allow us to demo our software and all the new features introduced at the event. Overall, we were very happy with the result and with the Broadmoor’s A/V team, who helped us through production while we were on-site.”
“The entire staff at The Broadmoor were overly accommodating and helped us with anything we needed,” Christerson says. “Everyone just seemed genuinely happy, even if you were just passing someone in the morning on the way to the convention space.” C&IT