Options, options, options. In terms of sheer volume alone, it may be impossible to top the many meeting options available in the New York City-New Jersey area. New York City welcomed 6.1 million meeting and convention delegates in 2014, up from 5.9 million the year before, according to Britt Hijkoop, manager, tourism PR for NYC & Company. With all the glamour that is New York, the city has nearly unlimited appeal.
On a different yet still exciting scale, Atlantic City offers its own unique character. Despite its small year-round population, it stands as a big-time meeting destination. Long known as the gaming capital of the Northeast and one of the country’s premier resort and entertainment destinations, Atlantic City offers a wealth of options for meeting planners. In fact, meeting pros themselves find it an attractive location for their events, as evidenced by the recent decision by Meeting Professionals International (MPI) to hold its 2016 World Education Congress in Atlantic City. The June event will take place at the brand new Harrah’s Atlantic City Waterfront Conference Center.
Certainly New York and New Jersey give meeting planners much with which to work.
“We are very fortunate that New York City still continues to be a huge draw for both international and domestic incentive clients.” — Karen Shackman
“New York City is the media and entertainment capital of the world,” says Anthony Napoli, CMP, DMCP, president and CEO of NYC-based Briggs Inc., a DMC Networking Company, one of the most respected and established destination management companies in NYC. “There’s always something to do.”
Not only is this huge metropolitan area constantly evolving, but its sheer size and complexity means every visit is different.
“The variety is fabulous for entertaining every guest,” says Linda F. Kasper, client services manager for Pennsylvania-based furniture and design firm Knoll Inc. and the company’s primary corporate meeting planner. “There is a wealth of information and professionals in the area to assist with any special need for events.”
Last year, Kasper coordinated a meeting for more than 600 company executives at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel. With nearly 60,000 sf of meeting space and 1,800 guest rooms, the newly renovated hotel easily accommodated her group’s needs. The conference included large plenary sessions as well as breakout sessions over a three-day period.
She says that along with other advantages, the hotel was flexible in letting the group adapt space to match the company’s product specialties.
“They allowed us to completely brand the meeting floor,” she says. “We re-carpeted, re-wallpapered and pulled all their furniture and only used our own. It was quite a theatrical event and everyone came away inspired.”
The prime location was a definite plus.
“The day of arrival included many cultural and historical tours around the city, most within a few blocks of the hotel,” Kasper says. “This also was a huge hit. Many people tried to book as many tours as they could fit in an afternoon. We had walking tours, as well as tours of every kind of cultural institution.”
Having a New York location is a great advantage, says Carol A. Marotta, executive assistant at global performance management company Nielsen, who also serves as the chief meeting planner for their NYC office. She recently coordinated a meeting in the downtown area for 45 of the company’s top global regional leaders.
“The downtown area is fast becoming the new place to stay because of its many new attractions, restaurants and hotels,” she says. “It worked out perfectly for us.” The proximity of major attractions helped make the event a major success. Marotta was able to arrange Wall Street tours between morning and afternoon sessions, as well as an afternoon session in Battery Park, affording views of the Statue of Liberty and the Freedom Tower. “My team is still talking about it,” she says.
In many ways, New York is unique when it comes to American destinations.
“We are very fortunate that New York City still continues to be a huge draw for both international and domestic incentive clients,” says Karen Shackman, president of Shackman Associates New York. “It has the allure that motivates guests to achieve their targets, knowing that the city has something for everybody.”
The fact that the city boasts more than 90,000 hotel rooms obviously sets it apart.
“From the meeting planner’s perspective, the city offers a great variety of hotel product, with an ever-expanding inventory,” Shackman says. She notes that while the city is perceived by many to be on the expensive side, if there is flexibility on the part of the planner and the end-user, there are definite off-peak seasons where it is possible to obtain good value for money. In addition, the abundance of corporate entities located in or around New York may be an added value to some planners.
“The city continues to expand from an accommodation and amenities perspective, offering new hotels, boutique or otherwise, in areas which were previous unavailable,” Shackman says. “In fact, for incentives and meetings that include New York in their rotation, there is always something new to offer.” In addition, she says the now accessible Meatpacking District, Lower East Side and Financial District are very welcoming. And there are very viable options for meeting and entertaining guests in Brooklyn and, to some degree, in Queens.
For a recent meeting of employees in the food services industry, Shackman says her clients selected the Trump Soho as the base for the 140 guests. The property features 10 meeting rooms and 11,485 sf of event space, and has 391 guest rooms. Attendees were an international group whose agenda included product knowledge enhancement. The location was selected as a new area for guests with the right amenities as well as proximity to several food purchasing outlets located in New Jersey and Brooklyn.
“The hotel also offered perfect size meeting rooms,” Shackman says. “And the dramatic penthouse view was the perfect backdrop for a welcome reception. It was a perfect fit for these guests from both a comfort and a service level.”
Beth Lockwood, managing director of Details NYC in Brooklyn, also points to the city’s diversity.
“New York is a perfect city for a meeting,” she says. “It’s home to countless hotels from large chains to independent properties and an endless array of venues, restaurants and activities. The sky is the limit in New York City for all attendees and visitors.”
Lockwood points to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, situated at the center of Manhattan’s West Side, as a “one-of-a-kind, iconic facility.” It offers 840,000 sf of flexible exhibition space on four levels stretching across six city blocks, with a seven-acre green roof that serves as a wildlife habitat and absorbs up to 6.8 million gallons of storm water each year. High-speed wireless Internet access serving up to 70,000 users at one time throughout the building is a big plus. Event facilities include 102 meeting rooms, with more than 75 having been recently renovated, which feature adjustable walls for convenient reconfiguration.
A feature the city may lack compared to some cities is an abundance of huge ballrooms appropriate for very large groups. But smaller groups have exciting choices.
“A lot of boutique hotels have been opening in New York City,” Napoli says. “They can be great for smaller groups.”
Cost is another possible limitation. But planners may have more options than initially believed.
“One thing meeting planners always assume is that New York is expensive,” Napoli says. “But you can find less expensive options.” He points to the fact that the city has more than 5,000 restaurants as an example. “There are a lot of good quality restaurants with reasonable prices,” he says. “You can always work within a budget and still get good service.”
With hotels, a smart move can be to ask when their off-season is, according to Napoli.
“Rates can be radically different in their off-season from peak times,” he says. “If you want to move to an off-season time, you can save a lot of money.”
The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center is one of the country’s largest event venues, with more than 800,000 sf of exhibit space. Along with floor-to-ceiling acoustical dividing walls and more than 100 function rooms for seminars and hospitality areas, the facility offers 65,000 sf of dedicated registration space. Onsite kitchens can provide 10,000 meals simultaneously. The riverfront location is just minutes from Midtown.
Located in the city’s business media center, the Hilton New York Midtown offers more than 150,000 sf of meeting and exhibit space. Its four ballrooms include New York’s largest grand ballroom, featuring a stage with hydraulic lifts and a column-free design. Meeting facilities accommodate small and medium-sized groups including a video conference room and an executive boardroom.
A trend worth noting is the hotel’s growing use of locally sourced, house-made dishes. All of the executive chef’s top vendors are hands-on farmers practicing sustainable techniques daily.
With 55,000 sf of meeting space and the cachet of a Park Avenue address, the Grand Hyatt New York offers 55,000 sf of meeting space. Ballrooms include the Empire State Ballroom for larger events and the Manhattan Ballroom for up to 500 guests. A newly renovated conference level has 15 modern meeting rooms and state-of-the-art boardrooms. Upgraded as part of a recent $65 million renovation, the hotel’s 14th floor now features 22 executive boardrooms for smaller meetings.
With a prime location in Times Square and the Theater District, the New York Marriott Marquis offers more than 100,000 sf of meeting space and more than 50 event spaces, along with more than 1,900 guest rooms. A recent $150 million renovation included new high-speed elevators, a state-of-the-art fitness center, and six restaurants and lounges. Event space is offered on six different levels.
It may not be possible to top the name recognition of this classic hotel — The Waldorf Astoria New York — but it also offers more than reputation. Along with 300-plus suites and more than 1,100 guest rooms, the Waldorf-Astoria has 60,000 sf of meeting space. The historic two-tiered Grand Ballroom accommodates up to 1,500 guests.
Perhaps most attractive to meeting planners is the host of changes bringing new features that would appeal to meeting participants.
With the magnitude of such changes, some are calling this incredibly vibrant metropolis the “new” New York City. A new Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, opened in the Bronx earlier this year, and the new Whitney Museum of American Art adds to an already incredibly rich cultural scene.
This summer, NYC & Company expanded its Delegate Discount Pass program. Available to meeting and convention attendees as well as meeting planners, event staff and exhibitors, the pass offers discounts at more than 60 restaurants. It also can be used at some 50 tours, attractions, retailers and cultural organizations throughout New York’s five boroughs, an increase of more than 40 over the previous version. To date more than 425,000 delegates from approximately 50 conventions and trade shows have received the pass, which is good until the end of the year.
One of the most anticipated venue openings of the year is One World Observatory. Now open to the public, the observatory sits at the top of the tallest building in the Western hemisphere. From its perch on the 100th, 101st and 102nd floors of One World Trade Center, visitors enjoy great views of the city, the New York skyline and surrounding waters. “The observatory turns uniquely imagined events and meetings into a beautiful reality,” Lockwood says.
Receiving great fanfare is the sprawling Hudson Yards project being completed over a multiyear period. It is said to be not only the largest development in New York City since Rockefeller Center, but also the biggest private real estate development in U.S. history. Project planners anticipate that once completed, more than 24 million people will visit the site every year. Lockwood reports that ultimately, Hudson Yards will cover more than 17 million sf of commercial and residential space. Along with shops, restaurants, a public school and more than 5,000 residences, it will include 14 acres of public open space and an Equinox-branded luxury hotel with approximately 200 rooms.
Also of interest are greatly welcomed airport upgrades. In early August, John F. Kennedy International Airport launched a system to track the location of travelers’ phones in order to measure wait times at security checkpoints, customs areas and other areas. Other improvements at JFK include runway upgrades along with expansions by Delta Airlines bringing more gates and additional terminal space.
And at La Guardia Airport, long the object of widespread criticism, a huge improvement project announced this year will virtually remake the airport by 2021.
Approximately one-third of the United States population lives within driving distance of Atlantic City, and the Northeast captures $16 billion of the nation’s meetings and conventions, yet Atlantic City currently only captures one percent of that business.
Caesars Entertainment Senior Vice President of National Meetings and Events Michael Massari wants companies to stay in the area and come to Atlantic City for their events. “There are so many Fortune 500 companies in the area that do large product launches and have national sales meetings and are forced to go to Dallas or Orlando or Las Vegas. These are all fine destinations but we want to see them be able to stay here at home in the fine state of New Jersey,” he said in a statement.
A major new meeting facility, which just opened in August, will prove crucial in ensuring a successful future for Atlantic City, say city officials, and promises to make the city more attractive to meeting planners: The new Harrah’s Atlantic City Waterfront Conference Center is the largest convention center-hotel complex from Baltimore to Boston. The new facility, which will host MPI’s 2016 World Education Conference, offers two 50,000-sf ballrooms that can be divided into 29 individual sections and offers state-of-the-art, technologically advanced meeting space that can be utilized by up to 5,000 attendees. In addition, Harrah’s Atlantic City, the tallest hotel in the region, offers more than 2,500 hotel rooms that will be directly accessible from the meeting space, making it the perfect year-round destination where attendees can eat, sleep and meet all in one location.
Including Harrah’s, Atlantic City offers some of the most attractive hotels anywhere. It has a combined room inventory of 15,630 rooms including eight major casino hotels and multiple non-gaming hotels, reports Jessica Merrill, communications manager for Meet AC.
Resorts Casino Hotel, the first hotel casino to open in Atlantic City, recently opened its new multifaceted conference center. “Resorts Casino Hotel is dedicated to ensuring that our leisure and business travelers are always offered the best that Atlantic City has to offer,” stated Morris Bailey, owner of Resorts, in a news release. “We are committed to continuing to reinvest in the property and to offer the finest in meeting space, lodging, gaming, dining and entertainment.”
Now group meeting attendees at Resorts can wirelessly connect laptops and personal media devices simultaneously, while sharing screens with each other and even with colleagues in remote locations. Convenient touch-panel controls and built-in wireless microphones offer ease for presenters as well.
Other highlights of the new technology include full 1080P resolution on all screens, and up to four devices can share the screen in QUAD view. Resorts installed higher resolution capabilities in anticipation of future needs, high-capacity Wi-Fi, electrical and Telecom connectivity hidden in the floors, and architectural LED lighting on dimmers with programmable pre-sets. Twelve breakout rooms keep productivity high with built-in 80-inch or 90-inch LED monitors, drop-down screens and cinema-quality projection. Two theaters offer seating for 300 or 1,350 with state-of-the-art sound and light technology.
In addition to the 12 new meeting rooms, the showpiece of Resorts’ conference center is the Atlantic Ballroom with a multiuse pre-function area, with natural lighting. Four sets of operable walls divide the main conference hall into five potential spaces and allow groups to have an adaptable floor plan for a variety of uses. The new conference center brings the total offerings at Resorts to 24 meeting and function rooms with more than 64,000 sf of usable space, most featuring natural light and ocean views.
Bally’s Atlantic City, with more than 1,200 guest rooms, has 33 meeting rooms and 80,000 sf of meeting space. Facilities include nine park and garden rooms with space from 700 to 1,000 sf and three ballrooms, including a 12,000-sf ballroom overlooking the boardwalk. An executive boardroom and 450-seat theater also are available.
Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa offers 24 meeting rooms with capacities ranging from 10 to 3,500 people. Options include a 12,000-sf meeting facility, three 4,500-sf meeting rooms, four 1,250-sf rooms and two 550-sf boardrooms.
Along with 1,100-plus guest rooms, Caesar’s Atlantic City has 28,000 sf of meeting space and 12 meeting rooms. Event facilities include the 17,135-sf Palladium Ballroom and 10 individual meeting rooms. And the renovated Circus Maximus Theater seats more than 1,500 people for special events.
The Playground, formerly known as The Pier Shops at Caesars, is a 464,000-sf self-contained entertainment venue resting over the Atlantic Ocean. It includes eight live entertainment clubs and restaurants, high-end retail establishments, bowling alley, swimming pool and a sports bar.
Gardner’s Basin, located in the marina district, is undergoing an expansion and redevelopment project designed to provide additional restaurants, shops and entertainment venues. Plans also include reconstruction of The Boardwalk from Revel to Gardner’s Basin.
A 200-foot-high observation wheel is coming soon to the iconic Steel Pier. The $14 million project will offer riders views of both the ocean and the Atlantic City skyline from inside climate-controlled gondolas.
Borgata Festival Park, the city’s newest outdoor entertainment venue features a 4,000-person capacity concert space adjacent to the hotel casino. It includes a main stage, bar, Ping-Pong tables and amenities including beer trucks, fire pits and tables. C&IT