Special Event Venues: In Praise of The Creative Types

Special Event Venues

The Beverly Hilton

One way to get a man to think and act differently is to put him in a dress…. That happened recently at the annual Trailblazers conference in Scotland, hosted at the recently renovated Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa, Edinburgh. The event brought together meeting/incentive professionals and five DMOs: Switzerland Convention & Incentive Bureau, Monaco Government Tourist Office, VisitBritain, Tourism Ireland and the Canadian Tourism Commission.

For the gala finale, Spectra DMC outfitted all of the men with kilts and traditional Scottish military regalia/evening wear. That includes: Short jacket, white dress shirt, bow tie, tall wool socks, dagger/sock garter, waist purse thingy, and wingtip shoes with metal pieces in the heel so you feel like you’re River Dancing when you walk on hard floors.

The women wear a tartan throw over one shoulder. As we gathered in the Sheraton lobby, everyone was taking pictures. As we sipped pre-dinner champagne in the lower level of The Signet Library—built in 1822 within the Parliament complex—everyone was taking pictures. This is one of the most austere venues in the capital, where lawyers study law and VisitScotland hosts important events.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a better icebreaker than a room full of male executives without pants. We moved to the Upper Library for dinner inside the long room with a barrel ceiling, stoic pillars and a soaring glass dome. The gravitas of the historic building is impressive. This was the first time in Trailblazers’ 19-year history that the event took place in Edinburgh, and VisitScotland wanted tonight’s event to stick.

“VisitScotland has established a program tailored to these elite attendees, showcasing Edinburgh’s luxurious venues, engaging environment and heartfelt hospitality,” said Neil Brownlee, head of business tourism.

During dinner, while sitting next to Malcolm Roughead, CEO of VisitScotland, the topic of the new Pixar movie Brave came up. Coming as a surprise for the U.S. delegates at first, the Scots are really proud of this movie.

“Because Scotland is very much about storytelling and legends and ancient myth; that’s an important theme in Scottish culture” explained Roughhead. “And I think Brave does a good job showing that. We’re always sharing stories with our guests…. You’re never going to have an awkward silent moment with a Scotsman in the room.”

Having attended a lot of banquets in this industry, that was one of the most enjoyable ever—kilts and all.

For 2013, the Trailblazers brand is evolving into the new Torchbearers, with some slight changes possibly in the DMO lineup. Dates are July 19-22 in Dana Point, California. For more information, visit torchbearers-info.com.


If you put 50 washing machines in a room and turn them on at the same time, is that art? How do you define art’s value? How do you define value, period? Those are discussions raised at the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum of Art in Madrid to motivate groups to think laterally about questions that don’t have answers, or too many answers. The facility is actively promoting its facilities for private art-themed events including the grand lobby, large front courtyard and handsome rooftop terrace.

“The Thyssen is a nice option because you can do a tour and then have dinner with the guides,” says Alessandro Sansa, director of the Madrid Visitors & Convention Bureau.

Once the world’s second largest private art collection, Thyssen’s art works are arranged in chronological order moving from the Renaissance to Rauschenberg. We talked with Sansa for a while about this. He said art is like wine. You want to appreciate it better, understand it more, but it can be overwhelming about where to start.

“Thyssen puts all the dots together in a clear way,” says Sansa. “I think it’s good when companies visit our museums. Do you know, Madrid is the only metropolitan city in the world with six UNESCO Heritage Sites within a 1-hour drive?”

Manchester Soccer


“Women are not the ornamental and useless creatures that men have pictured,” reads the exhibit at the new National Football Museum in Manchester, which opened in July to huge fanfare. The above was written by Nettie Honeyball, who started the British Ladies Football (soccer) Club in 1894 and helped win the right for women to vote in England.

Hundreds of similar exhibits discuss everything imaginable about the game. There are also some nifty, state-of-the-art interactive stations where you can compete against colleagues in ball handling, penalty kicks, etc.

“It’s a combination of football and pop culture,” says Adam Comstive, marketing manager. “Some people are unaware how much football plays a role in popular culture, and not just in sports, but about politics and social change too.”

Exhibits include WWII German POW Bert Trautman, who played goal for Manchester. He was despised locally until he broke his neck in an FA Cup Final but stayed in to win the match. In 2004, he was appointed an honorary Officer of the British Empire for promoting Anglo-German understanding through football. There’s info about Arthur Wharton, the first-ever black professional athlete, who played for Rotherham. And there’s an art gallery on the top floor, where during our tour, the fine-art photography depicted uplifting soccer scenes in impoverished areas of England and West Africa.

Book the foyer for 250-pax dinners with an LED curtain and giant multipanel screen for presentations/branding.

special venue


In June, the InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort opened on Vietnam’s idyllic Son Tra Peninsula. As the area’s new standard of Western luxury and services, the 197-room resort is helping attract incentive travel to the region.

During the Vietnam war, U.S. soldiers spent their R&R on this peninsula extending out into the South China Sea near the old DMZ and city of Da Nang. The area is located midway between the north/south capitals of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, surrounded by primitive jungles and wide beaches like Non Nuoc—aka “China Beach” in Apocalypse Now.

The waterfront villas are the marquee accommodations with private pools facing the quiet bay. Scaling up the side of Monkey Mountain, the cluster of standard suites feature marble baths and big balconies with spectacular panoramic vistas. La Maison 1888 is helmed by Frenchman Michel Roux, the first 3-star Michelin chef in Vietnam. And at Citron, groups sit inside inverted conical dining booths perched mountainside over 300 feet in the air.

Attractions include the 15th century town of Hoi An. The UNESCO site retells 500 years of maritime commerce in Southeast Asia. And surf tourism is booming with new surf shops offering group lessons. So grab a board, cook a beach BBQ and hang 10 with the locals. Total meeting space is 7,600 sf; group rates this year run $140.


While manned space shuttles orbited earth, few visitors had access to the launch pads at Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s east coast. Following the last flight of the Atlantis space shuttle in 2011, it opened the doors to behind-the-scenes tours of the Vehicle Assembly Building and Launch Control Center.

“Companies want a place that will entertain, inspire, educate and motivate,” says John Stine, director of sales/marketing for Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. “Kennedy Space Center is that place; there is nothing else like it elsewhere in the world. When you add in stories from astronauts about how to manage crisis situations and challenges, or to talk about team leadership, it addresses a company’s needs.”

In July 2013, the $100 million Atlantis Exhibit opens with two massive beams anchoring Atlantis to make it appear like it’s orbiting. The cargo bay doors open and the robotic arm extends while groups up to 300 pax dine beneath the space ship. Groups can also tour outside exhibits devoted to the International Space Station and Hubble Space Telescope.

“We can bring in astronauts who flew Atlantis or an orbiter to share their stories,” says Stine. “There are more than 50 interactive stations so they can be fully engaged, such as learning to work the robotic arm to grab a satellite or learning how to dock the shuttle with the Space Station.”

special venue


On October 10, a brand new Blue Man Group show opened at Monte Carlo Resort & Casino. The first new thing you’ll see is the “Percussion Presession” starting on the gaming floor 45 minutes before the show. The preshow is a musical parade of performers with instruments who invite hotel guests to join them on the way to the theater.

The key piece in the new show is the Brain Drum. It’s a state-of-the-art giant percussion piece that shoots out light across the theater in a neural landscape of dazzling colors that illuminate the whole audience. There are also new Neural Backpacks that the Blue Men wear that send light around the performance hall.

Toward the end of the show, huge helium-filled balls on the ceiling light up and drop down on the audience. They’re light sensitive, so as people bang away at them they become part of the brilliant colored venue.

For groups, Blue Man offers a series of unique VIP events. For example, you can create a preshow cocktail reception with appetizers on the balcony level for 120 people. And that’s just warming up.

“We have buyout options for groups, and with that there is an entire menu for customization opportunities,” says Gina Payton, West Coast director of sales/marketing. “They can be included on the opening of the show, we can put up their logo, we can do meet ’n greets. We’ll bring a platform and a mic to the stage, create custom guest-inclusion opportunities for VIP participation, and other pre/post show opportunities.”

Groups can also go behind-the-scenes and meet privately with the Blue Men, who by the way never speak when in character. Stage managers do the talking but the Blue Men certainly have their own unique way of working a group.