Aiming for the ‘It’ FactorApril 15, 2024

The Rise of Innovative Meeting Destinations By
April 15, 2024

Aiming for the ‘It’ Factor

The Rise of Innovative Meeting Destinations
In Montreal, at C2, in the Sky Lab, participants brainstormed business solutions while sitting in suspended chairs. Photo by Sebastien Roy / Courtesy of Korrin Bizek

In Montreal, at C2, in the Sky Lab, participants brainstormed business solutions while sitting in suspended chairs. Photo by Sebastien Roy / Courtesy of Korrin Bizek

Innovation is a key driver of economic growth. It creates new opportunities, industries and experiences. Within the meeting and events arena, cities and venues that prioritize innovation tend to be a draw for planners and attendees alike. And with competition for innovative venues increasing, choosing a trending destination with that “it” factor that can boost your attendance numbers and go the extra mile has never been more vital.

According to Liz Lathan, CMP, co-founder of The Community Factory in Hutto, TX, a sense of adventure is an underrated emotion to evoke when planning events.

“We’ve all been to the same destinations over and over again, so when a planner has the opportunity to bring attendees to an unknown, unexplored or uniquely innovative location, it immediately sparks that hit of dopamine,” Lathan says. “A little excitement goes a long way.”

Attendees are seeking connections like never before. Being able to feel connected to a destination through local experiences sparks a sense of belonging and makes them want to go back after the event is over and explore more — maybe even bringing the family, as well. Attendees don’t just want to be taken to a luxury beach spot and left alone. They want to experience local customs, local foods and feel welcome.

“The desire for attendees to want to ‘be tourists’ has been replaced with the desire to ‘blend in’ and become ‘a local,’” Latham says.

Rebecca Grinnals, co-founder of Engage! Summits, says that offering unique and interesting locations goes a long way toward generating excitement and buzz from your attendees. It also allows for so much creativity in planning food and beverage, and decor and entertainment that are inspired by the destination.

“You have a built-in story and natural theming to weave throughout the event,” Grinnals says. “Guests also are more inclined to share their entire experience via social media when they are in a hot new place, which is a win-win all the way around.”

At its core, Engage! Summits is a collection of B2B events with the mission to unite the luxury global event industry to change businesses and the market for the better. They travel the world to gather and form a community that sparks magic, ideas and innovation that shifts trends in regions spanning the globe. Some of Engage! Summits’ past destinations include Adare Manor in Ireland, multiple events in the Cayman Islands, Belmond Grand Timeo in Sicily, as well as in Mexico, Europe, U.S. and Africa.

“Most of these destinations offer fully immersive environments that allow attendees to experience the destination without ever leaving the property,” says Kathryn Arce, meeting planner and co-founder of Engage! Summits.

“They offer a range of built-in experiences and activities on-site, as well as innovative five-star dining, spas, golf and so much more. Of course, they are in locations that offer plenty of opportunities to explore should attendees wish to add in pre- and post-stays, but for the duration of the event there is no need to transport attendees off site — they are loaded with everything you need (and make for some great ‘insta moments’ too!).”

Innovative & Exotic Locales

In the real estate arena, the manta, “location, location, location” is of supreme importance. The same can be said for venues that cater to a discriminating crowd, many of whom are attendees looking for innovative experiences at the conferences, meetings, exhibitions and trade shows that they travel to. Intimate and welcoming, many of today’s exotic venues reward attendees with one-of-a-kind experiences. And while Europe and other parts of the world are home to many respected venues, meeting planners are making strides to discover venues that keep visitors coming back for more.

For example, Lathan likes places like Sirenian Bay in Placencia, Belize — a great all-inclusive resort with the ability to do a buy-out for up to 80 guests.

“Normally, all-inclusives are corporate resorts with food and beverages, but the team at Sirenian Bay brings in local chefs and local ingredients and embraces you as part of the community, telling you all about the best places to go snorkeling and which ruins to visit when you go to Belize City,” Lathan says.

Another innovative option is Ras al-Khaimah in the UAE. You’ve heard of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but you’ve probably never heard of this city. This up-and-coming destination has a strong stance on sustainability, beautiful vistas and welcoming people. They are eager to showcase their city as an alternative to the flashy Vegas-like Dubai.

Of course, when it comes to finding innovative event spaces abroad, you can’t go wrong with Tokyo, Japan. Not only does Japan offer attendees a chance to explore its rich past with stunning temples, historic castles and breathtaking scenery, but the backbone of Tokyo’s meeting and events industry is based on innovation; neon-lit streets, green havens, sacred spaces and vast high-rises that awe the senses. Tokyo’s vast metropolis sits on Tokyo Bay and is the biggest urban area in the world. Tokyo is home to several major conference venues, including Tokyo Big Sight International. The city is also full of exemplary buildings reflecting Japanese design, from the ancient to the grand. And when it comes to innovative meeting and event spaces, Tokyo excels with state-of-the-art venues.

U.S. Innovative Spots

Closer to home, with its mild temperatures and coastal vibes, Seattle is fast becoming a favorite destination for its innovative meeting options. Being easy to access, but off the beaten track is appealing for many attendees as they get a sense of privacy and luxury that’s hard to find in the more well-known destinations.

Seattle Convention Center’s Summit building is one of very few centers in North America to achieve USGBC’s LEED Platinum sustainability certification. It has a number of innovative features, such as rainwater harvesting, waste dehydrators, solar panels, upcycled building materials and plenty of reclaimed wood.

The Seattle Center is the definition of innovation as it was the site of the 1962 World’s Fair. The center features the Climate Pledge Arena, the world’s first-ever net-zero carbon arena; the Space Needle; and the Chihuly Garden & Glass — all of which leave memorable, innovative experiences for attendees.

Boston and Cambridge in Massachusetts are also key innovative destinations for meetings and events. This stems from a unique cross-pollination of higher education, world-class healthcare, a rich start-up ecosystem, burgeoning fintech, lots of venture capital and unparalleled biotech innovation. According to David O’Donnell, vice president of strategic communications at Meet Boston, these sectors interact to produce not one but two innovation clusters in Boston – Seaport and Kendall Square (Cambridge).

“We’ve heard from many planners and clients that they choose Boston because they want to tap into this culture of innovation via osmosis and through dedicated programming,” O’Donnell says. “Hosting events in Boston drives further investment and enhanced interest in future meetings here and how delegates can be inspired by our singular modality of ingenuity and innovation. It infuses everything here.”

Sunny Orlando, Florida is constantly reinventing itself, presenting attendees and planners with a variety of innovative meeting venues. Cozy, awe-inspiring and monumental, these Orlando gems offer unique accommodations and amenities aplenty.

From Universal Orlando Resort to Rosen Hotels & Resorts to Caribe Royale Orlando, these properties are just a small sampling of the unique venues Orlando is known for. Not only do these venues exude luxury, but they also showcase some of the most up-to-date, innovative amenities available in the meetings and events arena today.

Las Vegas has long been a “go to” destination for planners. And this innovative destination never gets old as new resorts, hotels and venues frequently come on the scene.

As one of the more dynamic, diverse, innovative cities in the country, San Antonio, Texas is an attractive landscape for any kind of meeting. It has expansive and versatile infrastructure, an expanding culinary and attractions scene, and a recently renovated convention center in a highly walkable downtown core. It is also an evolving city, with new and reimagined venues, like the Alamodome, Pearl, Hemisfair and Southtown, that keep the destination fresh for repeat groups and visitors. San Antonio is a big draw for meeting professionals thanks to its accessibility of location, price and variety of options.

In addition, one of the country’s pre-eminent convention centers is located in Dallas. The Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center Dallas (KBHCCD) is one of the largest convention centers in the nation and connects to the Omni Dallas Hotel via an expansive sky bridge. With over 1 million sf of exhibit space, the KBHCCD offers three large ballrooms and a 21,290 square-foot arena with 9,815 seats. In addition, Dallas offers more than 35,000 hotel rooms.

For San Francisco Bay Area meetings and events, the iconic waterfront city of Sausalito offers a vibrant, beautiful venue. The views are the best-in-the-bay, with panoramas of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco skyline, historic sailing ships and hillside mansions. During their off time, attendees can enjoy outdoor activities like paddle boarding, myriad hiking trails (accessible directly from the downtown shopping area), seaplane tours, as well as art galleries and artisanal cuisine.

When it comes to unique, innovative venues, Sausalito’s Conference Campus, through the Sausalito Center for the Arts, is located in the heart of downtown and features a number of cultural exhibits and speakers throughout the year. They provide flexibility with hourly, day or multi-day rental options, and are easy walking distance to the ferry and bus lines.

“The Sausalito Center for the Arts, right in the center of downtown, made it easy for people to see how beautiful the city is,” says Justine Kahn, Founder and CEO of Botina Skincare and event organizer of Winter Market. “It was easy to walk to the restaurants and shops, and the venue provided the versatility we needed to put our own imprint on the event and brand it professionally. The city of Sausalito helped make it easy for us to coordinate, clean and prepare for the event. Plus there was plenty of parking.”

The space is 4,600 sf, with an open modular floor plan — making it versatile enough to host any event. There is also an opportunity to coordinate team-building activities, guest lectures, food from local chefs and special lodging packages through SCA. Other meeting spaces include Casa Madrona and a number of stellar restaurants.

Neighbors to the North

Recently, Korrin Bizek, senior director event operations at SHW in Seattle, WA, looked to the north — specifically Montreal — to experience the innovative environs of Montreal for her corporate client and planning team.

“We experienced Montreal’s robust spirit in three diverse seasons — site visits in winter’s several feet of snow and spring’s abundant floral, then held the meeting during summer’s mild temps,” Bizek says. “The meeting attendees could not stop raving about the city’s charm, its beauty, the ease of navigation and the warm hospitality of the locals. From indulging in the vibrant culture to picking up a few French phrases along the way, our experience was nothing short of unforgettable.”

The city’s innovative prowess can be experienced most readily at The Palais, Montréal’s convention center in downtown and featuring 508,756 sf of exhibition surface area, in a building that has been awarded BOMA Best 3 sustainability certifications. Space rental options include an array of high-definition screens (perfect for advertising sponsors), a configurable mobile event app, an e-commerce client portal and a stunning rooftop space.

Another innovative space is Montreal’s PHI Centre, a meeting place for creative minds, where new concepts reflect a continuing exploration and understanding of art and technology. Along with a specialization in virtual realities and flexible halls that can be transformed for a variety of events, including launches, conferences, screenings, shows, concerts and installations, the PHI also contains creative and production studios. Espace 4 is the largest space, a multifunctional salon equipped with a professional kitchen and linked to the rooftop terrace.

Continuous Innovation

“Events are on the rise as a way to connect and a way to create content,” Lathan says. “With this increase in quantity, enticing people to your event is harder and harder. I believe that everyone will attempt to differentiate themselves by making their destination feel more innovative and that’s a good thing. Rising tides lift all ships.”

Grinnals also believes that innovative destinations will continue to be the preferred choice for companies, planners and attendees alike.

“With more and more unique destination resorts being unveiled,” Grinnals says, “they are both an event planner and attendee’s dream.” C&IT


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