Creative Conferences in The Carolinas

Destinations

NORTH CAROLINA

North Carolina pulsates. Whether it’s NASCAR, college hoops or Mother Nature, people are passionate here—and the energy is contagious. Raleigh, Charlotte and Asheville are North Carolina meetings destinations that are landing on the lists of meeting planners looking for value, easy access and a variety of options. And if they’re not yet on yours, read on for an eye-opening glimpse.

RALEIGH

The capital city and anchor of the region’s Research Triangle Park area, Raleigh is in the midst of an estimated $3-billion renaissance. The cornerstones of the multiyear transformation include the new Raleigh Convention Center and Raleigh Marriott City Center hotel, and a new terminal at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

“We continue to try and paint a new picture of Raleigh,” says Dennis Edwards, president and CEO of the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Through targeted messaging urging planners to ‘Think Raleigh,’ we hope to convey that this is a smart, unique, dynamic and celebratory destination.”  

Their tactics seem to be working. July 2010 was a record-breaking month of meetings and events business for the GRCVB. Looking forward, the city is preparing to host the 2011 National Hockey League All-Star Weekend. Five new hotels adding more than 500 guest rooms to the area’s estimated room inventory of 14,000 are scheduled to open prior to the January event.  

The LEED Silver-certified Raleigh Convention Center, which opened in 2008, offers 500,000 sq. ft. of flexible space, including a 32,617-square-foot ballroom and an exhibition hall with 150,000 sq. ft. of floor space. As modern and high-tech as the building design is, meeting planners can expect the same in convention services, including fiber optics and wireless Internet connections throughout the building.

Attached to the convention center via an underground walkway is the Raleigh Marriott City Center hotel. The property offers 400 guest rooms and 15,000 sq. ft. of flexible space. Meeting rooms are equipped for wireless Internet connections, and the hotel offers a substantial business center.      

The Sheraton Raleigh Hotel is a five-minute walk from the convention center and offers 353 recently renovated accommodations. Among the hotel’s 18,000 sq. ft. of event space is the 5,000-square-foot Hannover Ballroom that accommodates up to 600 for receptions.

A mile from the convention center, the Holiday Inn Brownstone Hotel & Conference Center hosts groups of up to 500 in its 8,000-square-foot Presidential Ballroom. Another 7,000 sq. ft. of event space is divided into conference rooms of various sizes. The hotel’s 187 guest rooms were updated in 2007 and include complimentary Internet access.

Post-meeting activities in Raleigh runs the full gamut. The Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts and the new Raleigh Amphitheater, both near the convention center, offer a full calendar of events. The Center for the Performing Arts is home to the Carolina Ballet and North Carolina Symphony. The Raleigh Amphitheater is the city center for major outdoor concerts and cultural events. Group activities surrounding men’s college basketball in the Greater Raleigh area are a slam dunk, especially during March Madness. High-stakes games between local rival teams Duke, University of North Carolina and North Carolina State pack the rafters with sell-out crowds.

CHARLOTTE

Known as the Queen City and home of NASCAR, Charlotte is fueled to maintain its momentum in attracting high-profile conventions and events. The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority hosted the city’s largest convention in history last May, and summer showed a sharp increase in meetings business as well.

“Short-term bookings have been on the rise lately,” says Mike Butts, executive director of Visit Charlotte, the marketing and sales division of the CRVA. “Our organization saw the number of short-term meetings grow by almost 10% in the last three months, and we expect that trend to continue.”

Butts attributes the success of 2010 and positive outlook for 2011 to such factors as increased air service through Charlotte Douglas International Airport, value-based meetings packages, and new meetings venues and attractions.

The latest buzz in Charlotte grand openings is the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The $195-million facility opened in May. In addition to celebrating all things NASCAR, this state-of-the-art facility features the 40,000-square-foot Crown Ballroom operated by the adjoining Charlotte Convention Center.

The convention center itself offers 280,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and 90,000 sq. ft. of flexible space divisible into 46 meeting rooms, including the Convention Center Ballroom at 35,000 sq. ft.

An estimated 4,100 hotel rooms are within walking distance of the center and the largest conference hotel in Charlotte is The Westin Charlotte, located adjacent to the center. The 700-room hotel offers 44,000 sq. ft. of event space, including the Grand Ballroom (16,277 sq. ft.), the largest hotel ballroom in the city.  

Located across the street from the convention center is Hilton Charlotte Center City, offering 400 guest rooms and 30,000 sq. ft. of flexible space. Guest capacity in the 11,070-square-foot Piedmont Ballroom is up to 1,200 for receptions and up to 850 for banquet seating.     


   North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh, N.C. 

A $10-million renovation at the Charlotte Marriott City Center was completed in 2009 and included complete makeovers of the hotel’s 438 guest rooms. Meeting planners have 20,000 sq. ft. of flexible space divisible into 12 meeting rooms to choose from. The Grand Ballroom (9,100 sq. ft.) seats up to 1,200 guests.  

Outside the conference room within the Wells Fargo Cultural Campus is the new Mint Museum Uptown , which can host private events for up to 400 attendees.

ASHEVILLE

The Blue Ridge Mountains are the star attraction of Asheville, especially in the fall when forests drape the mountainsides in a palette of fiery colors. Asheville is just over 120 miles from Charlotte and less than an hour from Great Smoky Mountains Park, the most visited national park in the country.
“You come to Asheville to clear your mind. That’s the point of having meetings away,” says Tim Lampkin, CDME, director of convention sales and group services at the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau.      

While Asheville is an appealing destination for the recreation-minded, the city is equally dialed for business travelers. Full-service, grand-scale conference resorts are the norm here, yet there is nothing cookie-cutter about the selection.    

The historic Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa is situated on a mountainside overlooking downtown Asheville. The 512-room resort opened in 1913 and features the world’s largest collection of Arts and Crafts-era light fixtures and furniture. Meeting planners have 50,000 sq. ft. of space to work with, and attendees can enjoy such resort amenities as the 18-hole golf course and $42-million spa.

Crowne Plaza Tennis & Golf Resort is a full-service conference hotel located a mile from downtown Asheville. Along with 274 guest rooms, it features a 9-hole golf course and 20 new indoor and outdoor tennis courts. Meetings and event space totals 34,000 sq. ft., nearly half of which comprise the hotel’s Crowne Plaza Exposition Center located adjacent to the main hotel.

Walking distance from downtown restaurants, attractions and nightlife is the Renaissance Asheville Hotel, with 21,000 sq. ft. of function space and 277 guest rooms.

The Asheville darling for corporate events is the Biltmore Estate. Built by George W. Vanderbilt in 1895, this historic mansion is the largest private residence in North America. Choose among five meeting rooms at the Inn on Biltmore Estate, the formal Italian Garden, the Barn in Antler Hill Village and a dozen other venues.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Distinguished by its lowcountry geography, Mid-Atlantic coastline and poignant place in American history, South Carolina’s Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Charleston and Hilton Head Island offer a rich experience where meeting planners can execute successful programs with a touch of Southern charm.

COLUMBIA

The capital of South Carolina, Columbia is primed for business travel. Downtown offers approximately 1,480 guest rooms within a mile of the convention center, group-friendly restaurants, entertainment and attractions. Columbia Metropolitan Airport is nine miles from downtown.

Meeting planners will find 142,500 sq. ft. of flexible space within Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. The column-free exhibit hall offers 24,700 sq. ft. of space, while the ballroom measures 17,135 sq. ft.

Located adjacent to the convention center, Hilton Columbia Center is the city’s only official convention center hotel. Facilities include 6,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and 222 guest rooms.

The largest hotel ballroom in Columbia is at the Radisson Hotel Columbia & Conference Center. The property’s Congaree Ballroom offers more than 10,000 sq. ft. of function space and can be divided in two. Total event space at the hotel is 20,000 sq. ft. Featuring 273 guest rooms, the property is also conveniently located just six miles from the convention center.  

Other options include the Courtyard Columbia Downtown at USC, which has 189 guest rooms and suites, and three meeting rooms totaling 5,000 sq. ft. Its prime location across the street from the Carolina Coliseum expands options by another 50,000 sq. ft. for events. The Coliseum features arena seating for 12,500, and a 20,000-square-foot floor that’s perfect for banquet-style events with up to
1,800 guests.

According to Ric Luber, president/CEO of the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports & Tourism, “Right now Columbia is hosting a lot of science and technology meetings. Their [University of South Carolina] Innovista campus, which is geared toward innovative research of the science and technology fields, has been able to create an awareness of
our region.”

MYRTLE BEACH

The Myrtle Beach area, referred to as the Grand Strand, is home to more than 425 hotels and resorts that compose the region’s inventory of 89,000 accommodations. There’s no shortage of recreation either. Golf courses number more than 100, and the new $6-million Oceanfront Boardwalk and Promenade offers scores of restaurants, shopping and live entertainment options.

New seasonal air service provided by Spirit Airlines, American Eagle and Allegiant Air has further bolstered Myrtle Beach’s appeal to meeting planners. “Many spring and summer conference attendees, who were also last-minute bookers, have been able to take advantage of some great fares with the new low-cost carrier routes,” says Danna Lilly, CMP, director of sales at the Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In the heart of central Myrtle Beach, the Myrtle Beach Convention Center is the region’s primary conference-specific facility. Flexible function space totals 250,000 sq. ft., including the 100,000-square-foot, column-free exhibition hall and a 17,000-square-foot ballroom.

The Sheraton Myrtle Beach Convention Center Hotel is connected to the convention center, and offers 400 guest rooms and an in-house ballroom with capacity for up to 1,200. All other meeting and event space needs are met directly with the convention center.

Springmaid Beach Resort is the largest conference center hotel in Myrtle Beach with a beachfront address. The hotel’s 35,000 sq. ft. of flexible space includes three ballrooms, each with fantastic ocean views. Additionally, each of the hotel’s 492 accommodations sports a panoramic view of the Atlantic horizon. What’s more, Springmaid no longer charges for Internet access.

CHARLESTON

A visit to Charleston is a step back in time. The palmetto-lined cobblestone streets of the historic district and the stately mansions of the French Quarter seem faintly haunted by epochs that changed the face of America. The first shots of the Civil War were fired here at Fort Sumter, now a national monument. Drayton Hall is the oldest plantation house in the country that’s open to the public. Museum Mile attractions provide ample opportunity for delving into the country’s storied past.


   Guest room at Hilton Columbia Center, S.C.

For meeting planning, Charleston offers substantial variety in hotel accommodations, group activities and convenient air travel access. Southwest Airlines announced in May 2010 that it will begin air service within 12 months to Charleston International Airport, although routes are yet to be announced.

The Charleston Area Convention Center Complex is a dream-come-true for meeting planners. The complex features the Charleston Area Convention Center, North Charleston Coliseum, North Charleston Performing Arts Center and Embassy Suites North Charleston Airport/Hotel & Convention Center, which offers 255 suites and complimentary airport shuttle service.

The convention center offers a 76,960-square-foot exhibition hall divisible into three spaces. Embassy Suites services the complex’s 25,000-square-foot ballroom and 14 meeting rooms, plus offers its own 3,000 sq. ft. of space within the hotel.  The Coliseum features 30,000 sq. ft. of floor space, arena seating for 14,000 people and two small meeting rooms. The North Charleston Performing Arts Center is an alternative for auditorium-style events with complete event-planning support services.

Historic downtown Charleston is a popular choice for meeting planners who want to incorporate a bit of “Southern Belle” into their program.

The Francis Marion Hotel
is a grande dame of historic hotels. At the center of the Charleston social scene since its opening in 1924, an event at the Francis Marion is gilded. Antique crystal chandeliers, ornate ceilings, marble fireplaces and dramatic window coverings set the stage for elegant programs. The hotel offers 19,000 sq. ft. of function space and 233 guest rooms, including seven penthouse suites.  

Charleston Place, with 442 guest rooms, is another landmark in grandeur. The duel staircase with a dramatic crystal chandelier hanging from the center of the ceiling sweeps down to the lobby, welcoming guests to another place in time. Charleston Place offers more than 40,000 sq. ft. of space configured into 20 breakout rooms and the 14,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom. The hotel also offers a wholly dedicated website for meeting planners.

Situated along the Ashley River, just a few blocks from downtown restaurants and shopping, is the Charleston Marriott Hotel. The 348-room hotel offers 50,000 sq. ft. of function space, including the Aqua Terrace rooftop lounge, a chic option for welcome receptions.

The Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau recommends interesting alternatives for groups. The Carolina Belle vessel can host up to 250 passengers, and offers catering and a ballroom and upper deck with a bar. It’s also a great way to take in the sites of Charleston harbor from a seaside vantage point. The Charleston Visitor Center, located in a circa-1856 railroad depot, offers more than 11,000 sq. ft. of space for up to 400 attendees.

HILTON HEAD ISLAND

Full-service resorts, more than a dozen championship golf courses and 12 miles of pristine Atlantic shoreline give Hilton Head Island an exclusive quality. Nearly two dozen properties with conference facilities vie for meetings business on the 12-mile-long, five-mile-wide island, located 90 miles south of Charleston.

With 513 accommodations, Hilton Head Marriott Resort & Spa is the largest oceanfront resort on Hilton Head Island. The property features 45,000 sq. ft. of function space with 17 meeting rooms and the Leamington Grand Ballroom (17,600 sq. ft.).


   The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa, S.C.

The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa comprises 412 guest rooms and 30,500 sq. ft. of function space divided into 15 spaces, including the 13,200-square-foot Grand Ballroom. The covered outdoor beach pavilion and deck is an impressive choice for welcome receptions or closing events.