Creativity is king these days and luxury is no longer a 4-letter word among corporate groups. Over-the-top experiences, unique destinations and elegant venues are once again enticing groups with the mantra that memorable events can be created to suit any budget. It’s not what you spend; it’s what you gain.
Fort Worth, San Diego and Montreal show us how it’s done.
FORT WORTH By the time the iron wheels of the Grapevine Vintage Railroad grind to a halt in the Rodeo Zone at Fort Worth’s Stockyard Station, the group peering out open window railcars for the 20-mile ride has downed appetizers and refilled glasses. The train is the newest addition to the Stockyards, and most of the group is eager to face the evening’s daunting teambuilding challenges: mechanical bullriding, roping and “horsecycling”—riding bikes around a barrel racing route (200 max). The rest of the group checks out Rodeo Zone’s exhibits of bronco bucking history before everyone chows down under the new Rodeo Plaza, a covered brick expanse of fountains and greenery connecting the Stockyard to the cultural district.
“Nowhere else in the U.S. can you find accessibility to an airport and meeting facilities with authentic western appeal,” says John Cychol, vp of sales for Fort Worth CVB. “With the possibility of hosting an outdoor reception at Rodeo Plaza before or after experiencing the Rodeo Zone just steps away, we’re offering groups a way to maximize their dollars for a true Texan experience.”
While Stockyard Station reflects the city’s rich history, the evolving cultural district heralds the future. The Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) took roots last spring next to the downtown botanical gardens. The mechanical agronomy and entomological research areas explore how the environment will cope with population growth. Function space was purposely built into the LEED Platinum building.
“People wanting a green, socially-thoughtful space, like manufacturing, consumer goods and pharmaceutical companies, love this place,” says Cychol.
Also new, the West 7th Street Corridor was developed to cater to “the hubbub of youthful exuberance” in Fort Worth, says Cychol. The former light industrial space has been converted into hip eateries and bars for block parties with lights strung across the streets. The 8-block square is perfect for dinearounds. “But for a cost-effective bonus for a private foodie experience, groups of 75 are booking our designated gourmet food truck plaza for dinners,” suggests Cychol.
Fort Worth’s gallop to the future continues in April 2012 when construction begins on the multimillion dollar expansion of Kimbell Art Museum in the cultural district. The 2013 completion date includes additional meeting spaces and an open air piazza designed for special events.
SAN DIEGO “When you want ROI, or as we call it: Return Of Inspiration, come to San Diego,” says Margie Sitton, senior vp of sales for San Diego CVB. “The city is the destination. People are inspired to have their meetings here, and our multifaceted family-oriented attractions, safe walkable downtown and diverse cultural offerings inspire them to stay longer.”
It all begins at San Diego International Airport, where within just minutes, you’re in the downtown corridor. No high cab fees, no hassles with traffic. The short walk across the Sky Bridge reveals the beauty of San Diego. The palm trees are swaying under usually mid-70’s blue skies year-round; the waterfront is dotted with updated group hotels around the convention center; and directly across the bay, Coronado Island is filled with the drama of San Diego’s naval history.
“Hospitality is what we do best,” says Sitton. “Do you want to have a party for 3,500 on the flight deck of the historic WWII USS Midway aircraft carrier? We can do it. What about closing down six of our 16-block Victorian Gaslamp Quarter for a street party for 3,000, as we’re doing for PCMA in January? Not many downtowns would welcome that closure. We do.”
San Diego’s growth as a unique destination is obvious. Thirteen terminals will be finished in 2013 to meet demands from daily direct flights from London, Mexico and Canada. The San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina is adding two high-tech 40,000-sf ballrooms. Their private marina on the San Diego Bay is just steps away from the Convention Center and the Gaslamp Quarter’s entertainment district. The Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego is being renovated, and the idyllic La Costa Resort & Spa in North Country is spending $50 million on new rooms, event spaces, a revitalized spa and world-class golf.
Groups don’t come to San Diego to sit in hotels. Sitton says there’s a festival happening here virtually every day of the year. Groups with flexibility plan around the events, like the Torrey Pines Golf Tournament held in the upscale resort community of La Hoya, just 15 minutes from downtown.
“Another 20 minutes and you’re in Rancho Bernardo wine country,” adds Sitton. “Did you know we’re also the craft beer capital of the world?”
That sounds fun, Margie. Planners should check it out.
“I will pay the airfare and assign a guide for any individual meeting planner who seriously wants to check out San Diego for their meeting. Our value is obvious.”
MONTREAL This is the city that first saw Ritz and Carlton unite in 1912 to become the iconic luxury hotel brand. It’s also where a funky street-performing circus act evolved into the world-class spectacle known as Cirque du Soleil. Montreal excels in creative experiences, and there’s more where that came from.
Grab your cameras and your toastiest winter wear before heading to Montreal’s new Snow Village, a gastronomic adventure that includes a 30-room ice hotel, including five igloos. Located in Parc Jean-Drapeau, a 1-stop metro ride from downtown, Snow Village’s Jan. 6-March 31 run features a circular conference center built for 200. There’s also authentic Quebec cuisine from chef Louis-François Marcotte at Mont Blanc, a 60-person restaurant with backlit ice walls and 30’ ceilings.
“The experience of sipping vodka from ice cube shooters or reclining in a hot tub on multi-level terraces watching ice chunks floating by on the Saint Lawrence River is not one easily replicated,” says Marc-André Gemme, sales assistant director for Tourisme Montreal.
If you want to forego the ski jackets and stick with the high heels, The Ritz-Carlton Montreal just finished a $150 million revamp. There’s now a chic rooftop pool; 240 rooms were converted into 130 luxurious rooms and suites; and this, we know is going to be good. Renowned French chef Daniel Boulud debuts Maison Bouloud in January, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of The Ritz-Carlton Montreal’s grand opening.