Boston Strong. Two powerful words that tell the story of the courageous people of Boston and their supporters who responded to the tragic events triggered by the bombings at the Boston Marathon on Patriot’s Day, April 15, 2013. Boston Strong and The One Fund Boston are shining examples of how the American people pull together to defeat terrorism and overcome adversity. As of this writing, contributions to The One Fund Boston (www.onefundboston.org) are nearing $30 million.
Tricia Endicott, CMP, an independent meeting planner who lives and works in the Boston area, describes what Boston Strong means to her: “Pulling together a conference takes skill, creativity and detail as well as having great vendors to partner with to create a successful event. In Boston, the industry just pulls together for an event whether you are a hotel, caterer, planner, décor, or audio-visual person where occasionally roles even cross over a little. That doesn’t bother us; the goal is the same — to have a successful event and make the client shine. Boston venues and vendors have an amazing sense of ‘knitting together.’ It’s the people that make the difference here. For many of us, it’s not just a job; it’s our passion. You can see a glimpse of that from the tragic events from the Boston Marathon. In Boston, we pull together. We do what it takes. We care.”
Beth Stehley, vice president sales and convention services for the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, is happy to report that Boston was back in business very quickly. “Since the tragic events on Marathon Monday, the Boston hospitality community has experienced an outpouring of support from around the world,” says Stehley. “Many cities have reached out to us with both financial and emotional support for the victims and families, and for that we are eternally grateful.
“Over 30 international destinations sent a letter to our mayor pledging support to promote travel to Boston. This complements the offer of various third-party distribution channels to assist in promoting Boston as the place to hold their next meeting or conference,” added Stehley.
Stehley says, “We are so proud and thankful for the resiliency of the companies that had meetings scheduled and did not cancel or postpone them.” For example, Watertown, MA-headquartered athenahealth, a provider of cloud-based Best in KLAS electronic health record, practice management and care coordination services, held its annual conference as planned. A spokesperson for the company, Amanda Guisbond, on April 25 related by email: “We’re hosting our annual’s User Conference today and tomorrow at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, MA, aka Back Bay and the Boston Marathon finish line. The area just opened up yesterday and is definitely ‘back in business.’ We have more than 1,300 users — mostly physicians — at our conference from all over the country. Naturally, our clients and our employees wanted to do something to give back to those affected by last Monday’s tragedy. As such, we are encouraging all of our attendees to donate to The One Fund Boston, and athenaGives (our corporate charitable contributions initiative) is matching up to $10,000.”
For meetings and conventions, Boston Strong means a city determined to get back to “business as usual” as quickly as possible to heal and regain a sense of normalcy. That’s what Boston’s CVB, its hospitality partners and the business community have done and continue to do. Boston is a preferred destination for many business niches that have a strong presence in the city, such as health care and insurance. It’s also a college town (in 2010 there were 152,000 students at Boston’s institutions of higher learning), which means the country is filled with people who went to school there and at one point or another, will return.
Boston may be a city that values history and tradition, but it’s gone through some revolutionary changes over the last 15 years or so, much of them propelled by the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, better known as the “Big Dig.”
While the Big Dig had a reputation of being a huge financial black hole (there are estimates its price tag will eventually reach $22 billion), its completion has had a huge aesthetic impact on Boston and spurred development in parts of the city, such as the Seaport District, that have opened up a host of new meetings- and convention-related venues.
The new I-93 and I-90 (Massachusetts Turnpike) interchange means that visitors can easily reach areas along the Boston waterfront such as the Seaport District. And when the old, ugly elevated Central Artery was finally torn down in 2004, it was replaced by the Rose Kennedy Greenway, a mile-long linear urban park filled with landscaped gardens, promenades, plazas, fountains and art, which has reconnected Boston’s downtown with sections of the city such as the Italian North End and the waterfront.
Now, the Seaport District has become a prime destination for planners bringing their meetings to Boston. Filled with acres of empty space 15 years ago, the area saw the construction of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (the BCEC was completed in 2004), and the opening of three major hotels: the Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, The Westin Boston Waterfront and Renaissance Boston Waterfront.
And the development of the area is nowhere close to being completed. Last year, the state legislature authorized the construction of seven new hotels — including a 1,200-room convention headquarters hotel — around the convention center, all of which could add as many as 2,700 rooms to the city’s hotel inventory. Two of those hotels, a 330-room Aloft hotel and 180-room Element hotel, will begin construction later this year. It’s all part of a $2 billion expansion plan also designed to double the size of the BCEC.
One aspect of the waterfront’s development, particularly in South Boston, that had been somewhat problematic was the scarcity of dining spots compared to the numbers staying at the area hotels and attending meetings and conventions at the BCEC. But, the development of Liberty Wharf in 2011 has added a number of high-end restaurants to the area, including Jerry Remy’s Sports Bar & Grill, Temazcal Tequila Cantina, Del Frisco’s of Boston and a huge Legal Harborside with three floors including casual and fine-dining restaurants and a roof-top bar.
The Seaport Boston Hotel & Seaport World Trade Center, which was renovated a few years ago, offers convenient access to the Financial District, Freedom Trail, Faneuil Hall, Fan Pier and the North End. Meetings and events are a cinch as planners have a choice of more than 40 event venues, many with dramatic harbor and skyline views of Boston. Seaport boasts 180,000 sf of space — more than any other Boston hotel — situated in both the Seaport Boston Hotel and the Seaport World Trade Center, a historic Boston landmark connected to the hotel.
All of this new development, as well as a recovering economy, means the city “is hot right now,” says Colleen Kenney, CMP, associate director, events, meetings and conventions for Millennium Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, MA. “The waterfront is so popular right now. There are great properties there, good restaurants for an offsite dinner, and everything is within walking distance.”
In fact, most meeting professionals will tell you that one of the reasons Boston is such a good place to bring a meeting is that it is such a walkable city. According to the group America Walks, Boston is the nation’s third most walkable city, trailing only New York and San Francisco.
“It’s a walking city, which people just love,” says Endicott, who owns Tricia Endicott Events, Dunstable, MA. “We know that during meetings people just pack their conference schedules. They get up, have breakfast, are in meetings all day, and have a cocktail reception or dinner afterwards. How many conferences do people go to where they come back home and people ask ‘How was the city?’ and the attendee will answer ‘I don’t know, I only saw the airport and the hotel.’ ”
But that’s not the case with Boston. “Boston gives you a chance to see part of the city,” she points out. “If you have 30 minutes of free time you can see something. If you have an hour you can see something else. And that’s a great feeling for someone who wants to be able to walk to a hotel and do something in the limited time available to them.”
While Boston may be one of the nation’s most walkable cities, it’s also one of the most accessible by air, “which is a major selling point,” says Stehley. “Boston’s Logan International Airport is in East Boston, just across the harbor from the North End and the financial district, and, as Stehley points out, “most airports aren’t three miles from the center of the city. And it’s just 20 minutes from the Back Bay.”
Julie S. Nack Locke, CMP, associate regional vice president for HelmsBriscoe, agrees that the city’s easy access to the airport makes Boston attractive to meeting planners and groups, as does “its great shopping, dining, history, sports and other activities.” The city boasts some of the nation’s most revered historical sites such as Faneuil Hall and the Old North Church, world-class museums such as the Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabel Gardner Museum, and a sporting mecca in the form of Fenway Park — home of the beloved Boston Red Sox.
All of which makes Boston an increasingly appealing destination for incentives as well as corporate meetings. Like many other destinations, Boston was hit hard by the crash of 2008, but more incentive groups are returning to Boston.
If there is a downside to trying to hold a meeting in Boston, it’s the fact that the city is too “hot,” say a number of planners.
“It’s gangbusters in Boston,” says Locke. “The rates are super high, as is demand, so you’re seeing less negotiation.”
Kenney is responsible for planning about 500 events a year for Millennium Pharmaceuticals, 25 to 30 percent of which are in Boston. “The No. 1 issue for me is finding quality function space to accommodate the goals and objectives of my meetings,” she says. “If it’s a teambuilding or educational meeting the function space needs to match what we’re trying to do — and that’s not simple, especially in Boston. We book many of our meetings short term, but Boston is such a busy city we may source 20 hotels and get only about four or five proposals that really give us what we need.
“It’s not the hotels’ fault, it’s on us because of the short lead time,” she adds. “But it also tells you about demand for space, since the city is so hot right now.”
Along with the area along the waterfront, the city has seen the development of some new hotels around the city center. The 356-room Revere Hotel opened last spring in Boston’s theater district in the space that once held a Radisson hotel and the Stuart Street Playhouse, and offers more than 35,000 sf of meeting space.
While Boston is certainly the heart of New England’s meeting and convention business, there are plenty of options available to planners ranging from New Hampshire and Maine to the north, and Cape Cod, Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south.
When Kenney wants to take a group out of the city for a teambuilding event, or any other kind of meeting in which a change of scenery will do the attendees some good, she’ll look at Cape Cod, Newport, RI, and Portsmouth, NH. “They’re great destinations with great properties like the Ocean Edge Resort (in Brewster on Cape Cod), and they’re all just an hour or an hour and 15 minutes away. It just changes things up a bit when we want to get people out of their comfort zone.”
Areas such as Cape Cod and Newport, as well as areas to the north in Maine and New Hampshire make good incentive destinations as well.
“A lot of people want warm-weather destinations like the Caribbean,” says Endicott, “but there are so many groups that want to go to the Cape in the summer, or up to the ski destinations in the winter. All with Boston as an entry point.”
Cape Cod hits all the right buttons for groups, says Locke, adding that groups that want a resort that caters to golfers can go to the Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club, which is in the process of completing a five-year $40 million renovation. More than $8 million of that went into renovating the golf course, clubhouse and restaurant. It’s been upgraded to a Jack Nicklaus design, the first on Cape Cod.
To the north Locke points to several resorts, such as the Omni Mount Washington, that attract incentive business.
In Bretton Woods, NH, the grand old Mount Washington Hotel, rebranded as the Omni Mount Washington, has just completed a $60 million renovation of guest rooms and suites, a new 25,000-sf spa, a conference center, the renovation of the main dining room, and the restoration of the Donald Ross-designed golf course.
Farther to the east, The Samoset Resort in Rockport, ME, recently completed a $2 million renovation that includes brand new Italian eatery La Bella Vita Ristorante, Enoteca Lounge and a seaside spa along with three new high-end guest cottages adjacent to Penobscot Bay and the Rockland Breakwater.
To the west, Vermont actually works as a year-round group destination, says Maureen Morgan, director of sales at the Vermont Convention Bureau. Groups and individual tourists flock to the state in the fall to see the foliage, continue to visit the state during the winter for some of the best skiing in the Eastern U.S., and still find plenty to do in the warmer months, weather it’s golfing, hiking, fishing or other outdoor activities.
Morgan says the variety of activities available to visitors makes Vermont appealing to corporate groups. “If you have a group that wants to do some teambuilding activities, there’s going to be a lot to do, whether it’s onsite at the property or close by,” she says. And while Vermont is several hours away from both New York City and Boston, it’s still close enough, she says, to be an attractive destination for companies in those cities that are looking for a place “where they can really get their people away from distractions.”
In southern New England, Mystic, CT, is situated on I-95 midway between Boston and New York City. It’s home to Mystic Seaport: the Museum of America and the Sea, a living history museum celebrating the area’s — and the country’s — relationship with the sea. Mystic also is close to two of the country’s most popular casinos, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods.
Foxwoods is a complex of six casinos, more than 2,000 hotel rooms, more than three dozen dining venues, theaters, two championship golf courses, and 150,000 sf of meeting space. In terms of actual gaming floor space, it is the largest in the U.S.
Julie Bertolino, executive assistant to the vice president of world wide sales for Rapid7, a vulnerability management and penetration testing company headquartered in Boston, planned this year’s kickoff meeting for her company’s sales and security solutions team, and “wanted to do something a little different this year.”
Bertolino wanted a venue that was self-contained, and would give her plenty of options in one area, while negating the need to move her attendees around. So she chose Foxwoods.
The meeting, which took place in February, was attended by about 130 people, most from the Boston office, but also included attendees from Asia, Amsterdam and the U.S. West Coast. Most of the attendees were driven to Foxwoods by luxury coach from Boston the morning of the event.
“Initially some people were kind of bummed out that they had to get up early to get on a bus,” Bertolino says. “But, on the whole, people would rather have a service take them somewhere than have to drive on their own, and the feedback from the attendees was that there were no issues with the bus ride. They’re young people, and they know how to make their own fun.”
The theme of the event was “Play to Win,” which was appropriate, considering the venue, says Bertolino. Several speakers, for example, used chips as prizes that attendees could use at the tables that night after the daylong meeting and reception. The second day of the two-day event was cut short by an approaching snowstorm (such are the hazards of planning events in New England during the winter), which forced Bertolino to bus everyone back to Boston before the storm hit.
“The staff (at Foxwoods) were really great about staying in constant contact with us, and accommodating us in getting everyone out of there on time and without incident,” Bertolino says. As for feedback from attendees, Bertolino says most were “very happy in the sense it was a great place to keep that high energy up. We’re a fairly young company, so the work-hard, play-hard mantra works here. And with salespeople you really want to keep people interested, and they were really impressed with the whole event.”
Steeped in history, the New England states are mainly made up of quaint, small towns surrounded by lush landscapes, fishing villages and bustling, sophisticated cities such as Boston. New Englanders, known to be private, resilient, hardworking people, are often praised and admired for going out of their way to lend a helping hand to strangers without expecting something in return. It’s hard to imagine a meeting attendee who would not want to very soon experience a good dose of “Boston Strong” at their next corporate meeting or event. C&IT