By all accounts, the past year has proven an exceptionally rough road for the meetings and events industry. With the COVID-19 pandemic taking center stage, all sectors have taken a hit, from travel and transportation to lodging and accommodations, to food and beverage. Yet, despite abrupt closings, cautious reopenings, postponements and/or cancellations, travel and tourism remains remarkably resilient.
And as event organizers consider sites best-suited to host upcoming meetings, there are plenty of reasons to consider mountain destinations: Fresh air in wide-open spaces allow room for social distancing; scenic outdoor settings surrounded by nature provide unlimited inspiration; friendly, welcoming communities offer exceptional service; abundant recreational activities make after-meeting hours fun and relaxing; and delectable food fare more than satisfies the palate.
Located on New Mexico’s Mescalero Apache reservation, Inn of the Mountain Gods offers a rich cultural heritage that covers 463,000 acres of abundant natural beauty and wildlife. Planners have access to more than 40,000 sf of events and meetings space, and 15 individual meeting rooms with flexible function space to accommodate any specific group size and purpose needs. There are also 273 comfortable guest rooms, including 25 suites, each designed to reflect the natural palette of the property’s colorful landscape. Spacious bathrooms, pillow-top mattresses, handcrafted lighting fixtures and custom-designed clothing armoires are among the guest room features.
Overlooking Lake Mescalero, Wendell’s Steak & Seafood is the site’s award-winning signature restaurant for indoor or patio dining. Menu selections feature aged steaks, fresh seafood and delectable desserts, from créme brûlée to New York-style cheesecake. Adjacent to the restaurant, Wendell’s Lounge provides lunch, craft cocktails and late-night snacks in a laid-back setting. Additional eateries range from the 4,752-sf Broken Arrow Tap House, with 70 beers on tap, to The Big Games Sports Bar, to the new Red Hat Grille, which honors “the first Mescalero Apache firefighters in the Southwest who risked their lives to fight forest fires.” Menu favorites include the Southwest Philly sandwich and Apache Tacos, among the selections.
When attendees “need the opportunity to connect to their fellow team members in a non-traditional work setting and be able to express freely how they feel, give ideas, be creative and begin finding their way back to being a productive team member, what better way than to book a small conference with your different teams?” asks Sarah Kazhe, director of marketing. “At Inn of the Mountain Gods, you will enjoy the ability to have a structured meeting and the option of having fun team-building opportunities all in the same place. It doesn’t have to be all about the business, but connecting to your fellow peers.”
Recreational opportunities abound at the resort, starting with responsible gaming at the 45,000-sf casino, featuring poker, blackjack, craps and roulette. Activities include zip lining, biking and hiking, kayaking, fishing, horseback riding and TopGolf Swing Suite, which offers fun games for both golfers and non-golfers. The property also features a state-of-the-art fitness center and a challenging 18-hole championship golf course. At the end of an hour or day of play, The Spa at the Inn offers a variety of soothing spa packages and services, including body treatments, skin care and massages.
Touted as Vail’s premier alpine-inspired resort and meeting destination, Grand Hyatt Vail recently underwent an $85 million transformation. It’s conveniently close to Vail Village, yet set on an expansive spot in Cascade Village surrounded by natural beauty. The mountain- and creek-side resort boasts more than 40,000 sf of event space, which includes three ballrooms ranging from 2,000 sf to 6,000 sf, five breakout rooms and two boardrooms, all with large windows and outdoor access.
Offering a combination of Vail’s largest collection of versatile outdoor and indoor spaces, Grand Hyatt Vail is an iconic setting for hosting memorable conferences, unique galas or intimate board meetings, and is an ideal venue to meet while also enjoying Colorado’s extraordinary year-round appeal and recreational activities. It has 285 total guest rooms, including 29 suites and 84 private residences, and its restaurants and bars include: Gessner, which offers fresh, Rocky Mountain cuisine; Gessner Bar & Fireside Lounge, offering cocktails and light fare; The Market, offering grab and go from morning to evening snacks; The Grill on Gore Creek Terrace (seasonal), offering cocktails and light fare; and Poolside Bar (seasonal), offering cocktails and light fare from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
As for recreational facilities, attendees can take Chairlift 20 to the top of Vail Mountain for skiing and snowboarding. There is a fitness center available 24 hours a day, seven days a week; a creek-side infinity pool; two creek-side hot tubs; and complimentary access to the resort’s Fitness Center with Peloton bikes and state-of-the-art Fitness Studio offering complimentary yoga and stretch classes.
Seven Springs Mountain Resort, which sits on more than 5,500 acres of pristine property in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, has a plethora of year-round outdoor adventures available, making it a great spot for meetings. Jerry Taggart, director of sales, says, “As we are a place for outdoor recreation, we were perfectly positioned [in the pandemic] to promote different kinds of meetings — outdoor meetings, adventure meetings with team building, etc. We have focused on offering these to our clients more than ever.” To help organizations regroup and bring people back together, the resort is offering a new initiative: “Seven Springs Re-Engage Package,” for a customized team-bonding experience, such as “Escape Trail, Nature Challenge, Guided Hikes, Surviving Seven Springs Challenge, Build a Boat Regatta and Courtyard Activities.” But it’s not all about the outdoors at Seven Springs Mountain Resort. Whether planning an intimate gathering or full-scale conference, the resort offers a variety of customizable meeting space options covering 77,000 sf of meeting and function space and 18 meeting rooms, augmented by the site’s Clean and Safe Meeting program.
Since the onset of the pandemic, Taggart says, “We implemented an even more in-depth cleaning and sanitizing program for all of our meeting and event spaces. Also, in our renovated meeting space, we have installed 86-inch flat screen monitors with an integrated A/V presentation technology that is virtually contactless with individual presentations coming directly from a laptop or mobile phone.” He adds: “We kind of hope there is not another crisis for a while. But “From the onset of COVID-19, we have consistently followed CDC guidelines and taken additional steps to keep our guests and employees safe. We will continue to monitor and stay ahead as we have in the past.”
The property provides planners with numerous guest room possibilities as well, such as 414 guest rooms and luxurious suites featuring upscale amenities in comfortable surroundings in the hotel. Most come with private balconies and each includes complimentary Wi-Fi and flat-screen televisions. In addition, more than 250 condos ranging from one to four bedrooms, 11 private rustic cottages and 16 chalets are available with complimentary parking and shuttle service offered. For fine dining, Helen’s Restaurant showcases fresh, local ingredients, while the Slopeside Restaurant features stunning slope views and all-American food fare in a family friendly atmosphere. For casual ambience, guests can select from among four bistro-like settings at Bavarian Lounge, Grille at Sporting Clays, Mountain Pizza and Mountain Perk. Meeting attendees will find no shortage of resort activities for fun entertainment during their stay, from the high-flying Adventure Center, Laurel Ridgeline Canopy Experience and Screaming Hawk Zipline to Sporting Clays, playing golf, or opting for a more tranquil and serene surrender at the Trillium Spa.
“We continue to press forward with re-investment in the resort to enhance the guest experience, including a brand new quad chairlift on our Avalanche slope, which will debut this winter season,” Taggart says. “Winter meetings have been growing [prior to the pandemic] as our group guests enjoy the picturesque winter setting full of unique mountain experiences they won’t find elsewhere.”
When Michael Burke, CMP, director, conference & travel services for The Hanover Insurance Group, considers a site for his company’s meetings, like most planners, he has specific requirements in mind. “Our President’s Club program recognizes the achievements of our very best partner agents,” he says. “As such, we like to select properties that will make our agents and their guests feel special and will offer a unique experience.” The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain, Burke says, “does just that.” He adds, “We also like more intimate properties where we are the primary group and our guests are able to interact with each other.” Here, The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain delivers yet again.
As far as the location itself, Burke thinks the property “appeals to those who are looking for a sense of adventure, as well as those who may be seeking a more relaxed environment. Culturally, the history of the area is embraced and shared in a way that enhances a stay at the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain.” Burke describes the Tucson area and The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain as “authentic” Arizona. Why? “The landscape is spectacular. The architecture blends seamlessly with the surrounding landscape. The sunsets are magical and create an amazing feeling of peace and solitude,” he says. Two of Burke’s groups have been hosted at the property, and “With both groups, we utilized all resort amenities, including restaurants, spa, golf, pools, outdoor venues and the majority of the resort’s first-class meeting space,” he adds.
Set in Marana, near Tucson, The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain nevertheless feels worlds away, a luxury resort in a secluded location nestled in the Tortolita Mountains. Understated, casual elegance defines the guest room decor, complete with comfortable furnishings reflecting the beauty of the surrounding desert landscape. The property includes more than 44,000 sf of flexible indoor/outdoor meeting space with several unique scenic locations. Between the 17,000-sf spa and fitness center, world-class, 27-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf course, more than 20 miles of hiking and biking trails, and three swimming pools, it’s easy for guests to find ways to relax, unwind, and re-energize.
Michael Aylmer, director of sales & marketing, recognizes that The Ritz-Carlton brand, “as well as our seven-year standing as a Forbes Five-Star property,” together with “the enhanced safety and cleanliness measures we established last year with Marriott’s Commitment to Clean program,” gives guests “tremendous confidence” when it comes to choosing a meeting destination. This past year, Aylmer says, “we’ve focused on our core values of service and experience,” noting that “While we have always emphasized our desert destination, we’ve found opportunities to enhance and expand programming that addresses what guests currently seek — such as more outdoor and family activities, flexible options for meetings and social occasions, and an increased use of digital platforms for communication.”
Food and dining takes center stage at The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain, whether enjoying a breakfast at Core Kitchen & Wine Bar, where guests are invited to pick their own citrus from the site’s 42-tree orchard; Latin food fare at Turquesa Latin Grill; live music and pub food at Ignite; craft beers at Cayton’s Burger Bistro; or a quick coffee, tea or smoothie at TOIGO. “A noteworthy surprise to come out of this year has been our food and beverage team’s refocus on incorporating hyper-local ingredients into our menus,” Aylmer says. “The hotel now grows all herbs on-site and forages cactus fruit and prickly pear from the surrounding desert. And while fruit has always been gathered from our on-site orchard, now we also harvest the flowers for citrus blossom oil. Both our restaurant and banquet menus have been elevated with ingredients from local farms and nearby artisan businesses.” He adds, “We understand our guest have lofty expectations, and when they chose to stay with us, they expect the very best experience. Our ladies and gentlemen delight in exceeding their every expectation every day.”
The 2020-2021 global pandemic isn’t the first time Mohonk Mountain House has endured such adversity, says Barbara Stirewalt, vice president and general manager. “Mohonk Mountain House survived the Spanish Flu in 1918 at a time when the epidemic was at its worst in New York City and came out even stronger. I think this is a true testament to Mohonk’s adaptability and strength.”
Located 90 miles north of New York City, the award-winning Hudson Valley National Historic Landmark resort covers 40,000 acres of pristine forested wilderness. For planners seeking an intimate site for both relaxation and exploration, from wellness to adventure, culinary distinction or a rich historic setting, Mohonk Mountain House offers an ideal destination getaway.
A variety of guest accommodations include Grove Lodge, with six 700-sf guest rooms — four with two queen beds, two with one king bed — and one Great Room. Private stone patios, stone fireplaces and expansive 180-sf tile bathrooms offer the ultimate in luxury. Victorian and Tower rooms include wood-burning fireplaces, while most suites also feature private balconies, as do the Victorian rooms. Special room enhancements, such as fresh flowers and sweet treats, are also available. The main dining room overlooks panoramic views of the Catskill Mountains and spotlights original 1893 woodwork. For breakfast to go, Lakeview Breakfast provides a continental menu that includes eggs, bacon and potatoes, which guests can enjoy “al fresco” overlooking Lake Mohonk on the Lake Porch or Parlor Porch. Wind down the day with signature handcrafted cocktails in a warm, intimate ambience at The Carriage Lounge, or opt outside at Spirits on the Sunset on the Sunset Porch. For casual outdoor dining, The Granary features tasty picnic food fare on wooden picnic tables with checkered tablecloths, while The Old-Fashioned Soda Fountain is the perfect spot for a morning latte or espresso, or late-night snack.
“We’re looking forward to bringing back Mohonk’s Victorian Holidays this holiday season after an extremely successful inaugural year in 2020,” Stirewalt says. “The holidays are always a magical time at the Mountain House, and we’re excited to bring families together to celebrate. Next year, we hope to build on Mohonk’s vast calendar of events with new programs, activities and partnerships that we hope our guests will love.” While understanding that moving forward for the foreseeable future means that meeting planners most likely will keep groups small, Stirewalt notes: “We have a vast array of programming available for meetings groups and look forward to hosting these groups, and giving them a chance to reconnect and build stronger teams. We have staff dedicated to meetings coordination, so any leisure and business travelers interested in booking meetings at Mohonk can rest assured that our team won’t miss a single detail for their meetings and team-building activities,” such as “ropes courses to tricycle polo, to scavenger hunts.”
Beautiful The Hythe Vail (formerly Vail Marriott Mountain Resort) in Vail Village and nearby Lionshead Village sets the tone for relaxed sophistication in a natural setting, attracting guests who seek outdoor adventures, rest and relaxation, or state-of-the-art event and meeting spaces. While many consider Vail a premier winter sports destination, Sean McAdams, director of sales, notes: “You don’t need to be a skier, snowboarder, mountain biker or passionate hiker to enjoy Vail. Spending time in the mountains is healing for your soul, regardless of how you spend your day. Whether it’s a quiet walk listening to the gentle flow of our gold medal trout stream, Gore Creek, or a day spent shopping at our world-class boutiques with friends, there are amazing options for all of our guests, whatever their passion.”
The property features more than 28,000 sf of space in 20 flexible breakout rooms and 13 event spaces. Stylish hotel guest rooms offer spectacular views of the mountain landscape while spacious suites provide full kitchenettes and private stone fireplaces. Dining services include American and French food fare at Tavern on the Square with signature dishes, such as Buffalo Meatloaf, Grilled Elk Lettuce Wraps and Lobster Mac & Cheese; Garfinkel’s for pub food, such as burgers and sandwiches; and Cucina Rustica, located inside the hotel, featuring hearty American traditions.
Endless outdoor recreational activities await guests year-round, providing plenty of opportunities for inspired meeting breaks. Located just 150 yards from the Eagle Bahn Gondola, skiers of all levels have easy access to the top of the mountain. Other popular resort activities include fly-fishing, hiking and biking, and swimming in the outdoor heated pool. Indoor amenities feature the Well & Being Spa, offering a full menu of beauty and wellness treatments, and state-of-the-art fitness center complete with cardiovascular equipment, free weights, stationary bikes and FitnessOnDemand.
With the completion of the final phase of a $40 million renovation, the resort will mark its highly anticipated debut as The Hythe, Luxury Collection Hotel, Vail this winter. Joining Marriott International’s luxury brands, the resort’s reinvention will offer a European-Swiss inspired mountain refuge in soothing alpine splendor. Four new food and beverage concepts, an elevated welcoming arrival and lobby experience, and exclusive mountain excursions, are all set to permeate the property in year-round celebration and adventure.
One destination that offers top-notch mountain venues and activities is Colorado Springs, Colorado. The second-largest city in Colorado — which in 2021 celebrated the 150-year anniversary of its founding — has a population of 478,221, and as many as 738,939 in the metro area. There are 14,500 lodging rooms in the Pikes Peak Region as well as 450,000+ sf of meeting space.
Annual visitors reach 24 million, and they can find lodging at popular hotels and resorts such as The Cliff House at Pikes Peak, Glen Erie Castle and Cheyenne Mountain Colorado Springs, A Dolce Resort. Popular larger convention venues include The Broadmoor, which offers 315,000+ sf of meeting space; the aforementioned Cheyenne Mountain Colorado Springs, which offers 40,000 sf; DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Colorado Springs, which offers 31,000+ sf of total event space; and Colorado Springs Marriott, which offers 24,000 sf.
Attractions in the area consistently win Top-10 accolades, such as #5 Best Hotel Pool, #6 Best Romantic Hotel and #10 Best Historic Hotel for The Broadmoor from USA Today’s 2021 10Best. Other venues and attractions placing in the USA Today’s 2021 10Best include #2 Best New Museum, for the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum; #4 Best Zoo, for Cheyenne Mountain Zoo; and #3 Best Wildlife Safari Park, for the Colorado Wolf & Wildlife Center.
Other attractions include the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park, Pikes Peak — America’s Mountain, Garden of the Gods Park, Seven Falls and Cave of the Winds. The region also offers whitewater rafting and fishing on the Arkansas River, biking, hiking and horseback riding through Garden of the Gods Park. I&FMM