The Palm Springs desert communities give accessibility and convenience a new meaning
Every winter, the hottest celebrities head to Palm Springs, Calif. (think Morgan Freeman, Quentin Tarrantino and Helen Mirren). They come for the food, drinks and general schmoozing that takes place at the annual Palm Springs International Film Festival, but they return for the warm weather, luxurious spas, world-class golf and full-service resorts.
Although Hollywood’s rich and famous may have been the first to discover this Southern California desert oasis back in the era of Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball, meeting planners—who are always searching for great destinations—have been smart enough to follow their lead.
“Once they arrive, [visitors] get this ‘aha!’ feeling where they totally [relax],” says David Renker, senior vice president for the Palm Springs Desert Resort Communities Convention & Visitors Authority. “They are no longer looking at freeways, overpasses and cement…it’s all green grass and flowers. People are enamored with the beauty of this desert; it’s easy on the eyes, and there are lots of palm trees.” Once attendees get here, he says, they’ll also be treated to views of the often snowcapped mountains, which provide a strong contrast to the average 70-degree temperatures they’ll be enjoying. (As a point of reference, the area is in the Coachella Valley, surrounded on the southwest by the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountain ranges, and the Little San Bernardino Mountains on the northeast.)
But this desert community, which includes Palm Springs proper as well as Coachella Valley’s seven other cities, doesn’t just sit around and look pretty like a B-movie starlet—it works hard. “Instead of holding back due to the economy, [Palm Springs has] reinvested in itself over the past few years,” says James Canfield, executive director for the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism and the Palm Springs Convention Center. “The greatest news has been the renaissance of the destination over the last six months. There’s been $180 million invested in the facilities and hotels in the city. We joke about the ‘renaissance’ because the [revamped convention center] hotel is now a Renaissance, but it goes beyond that, to the entire hospitality industry [here].”
And Palm Springs and the surrounding Coachella Valley have hospitality covered, offering more than 18,000 hotel rooms and over 750,000 sq. ft. of total meeting space. “That’s not to mention the fact that we have 355 days [per year] where the sun is out,” Renker says. (Yes, that number is correct—there are only 10 days each year that Palm Springs doesn’t see the sun.)
With this many hotel options, you’ll be sure to find a fabulous property for your group, no matter its size. “We can turn over the [entire] city to a group that comes in,” Canfield says. “We have our own airport downtown, our own shopping district, and hundreds of restaurants and attractions. You can venture outside of the hotel lobby [and] in a short walk, you can get to Palm Canyon Drive, with shops and restaurants, and all of the other activities [that are] here,” he says.
Wetherly Suite at Viceroy Palm Springs.
Of all its great qualities, convenience is the one thing Renker hopes that planners know Palm Springs offers. “We wish that meeting planners understood how easy it is to hold a meeting here. [We have] proximity to all of the things you want to do. There’s an ease of doing business [here],” he says.
It’s easy to understand why celebrities wanted to keep this destination their own secret hideaway, but we’re sure glad the paparazzi gave them away.
For larger conferences, the Palm Springs Convention Center, located in downtown Palm Springs, is the main meetings hub. Its $32-million upgrade and expansion in 2005 sparked a renovation revolution in this desert region, and the facility now offers more than 100,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, as well as a 20,000-square-foot ballroom.
“The entire space, including exhibit space, is carpeted; everything has that higher level of finish. It feels more like a convention-hotel ballroom atmosphere than standard warehouse space, and we try to provide that hotel style and level of service,” says Canfield of the center.
This high level of service continues into the adjoining, newly remodeled (and rebranded) 410-room Renaissance Palm Springs Hotel, formerly a Wyndham property. Here, you can convene in nearly 30,000 sq. ft. of refreshed space, along with new guest rooms and a new lobby, restaurant, lounge and fitness center. “They did a great job with the renovation,” Canfield says. “[The Renaissance] is our headquarters hotel in the city, and we’ve got 2,000 additional rooms within walking distance.”
STEPS FROM THE CENTER
Just one block from the convention center is the Courtyard Palm Springs, which features 149 guest rooms and 1,300-plus sq. ft. of meeting space. Advantageous for groups, the hotel also offers complimentary shuttle service to and from the Palm Springs International Airport.
Other nearby big-name branded hotels include the 197-suite Hyatt Regency Suites Palm Springs, with 13,000 sq. ft. of newly renovated meeting space, and the 261-room Hilton Palm Springs, with 18,000 sq. ft. of function space.
Within a few miles of the center, and still easily accessible, are multiple hotels that bring their own flair to the meetings table. With renovations completed in January 2010, the Hotel Zoso has a contemporary style both inside and out. Its 162 guest rooms and 22,000 sq. ft. of conference space offer what they call a “state of mind as well as an amazing place to stay.”
Modern (in a retro kind of way) is the 409-room Riviera Palm Springs. In addition to 38,000 sq. ft. of meeting and exhibit space, which includes the 19,670-square-foot Grand Ballroom, the resort has several outdoor courtyards, gardens and poolside venues available for events.
Designed as an up-to-date interpretation of the glamorous era that preceded it, the Viceroy Palm Springs is dramatic and visually stunning. Ideal for smaller groups, it provides 67 guest rooms, including suites and private villas. It also has a 1,664-square-foot banquet-ready reception space for up to 175 guests and a private courtyard that allows receptions to flow outdoors.
MAJOR MEETINGS HOTELS
At the Coachella Valley’s northwest end are seven smaller destinations: Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells, Indio, La Quinta, Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage. Although most of these are lesser known than Palm Springs, all have standout properties for meeting groups.
In Palm Desert, the JW Marriott Desert Springs is located on 450 lush acres and provides 833 guest rooms. The vast property doesn’t skimp on meeting space, either, with 210,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor space to fit groups of all sizes.
Nearby La Quinta Resort & Club has been a retreat for film stars since 1926. The 45-acre resort has nearly 800 guest rooms, suites and villas, plus 66,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. To keep your attendees entertained, there’s five golf courses on-site, a 23,000-square-foot spa and 41 pools.
Golf in Indian Wells.
The Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa in Indian Wells was included in Conde Nast Traveler’s 2007 Gold List of the World’s Best Places to Stay, as well as Travel + Leisure’s 500 Greatest Hotels in the World list. The resort offers 100,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor space, plus 560 guest rooms. Also in Indian Wells is the 530-room Hyatt Grand Champions Resort, Villas and Spa, which features 88,000 sq. ft. of event space, plus an award-winning spa and a championship golf course.
Rancho Mirage’s meetings jewel is The Westin Mission Hills Resort & Spa, with a stunning exterior and palm-tree-lined entrance that draws you in from the moment you arrive. Encompassing 360 acres, the property is home to 472 guest rooms, 100,000 sq. ft. of function space and two golf courses, among many other amenities.
ENJOY THE OUTDOORS
The beauty that comes with 355 days a year of sunshine is that your group can enjoy outdoor activities post-meeting—all year long. Known for its world-class golf, Palm Springs and its sister communities are home to 110 courses, which means your group can tee off any time they want to. To simplify your life, both the CVA and the Bureau of Tourism can help with tee times and reservations.
According to Renker of the CVA, there are two items that your group must put on its to-do list: a Jeep tour, and a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Jeep tours can be arranged through a few local companies; one of them, Desert Adventures, has been serving the valley since 1988 and is highly regarded. Along with built-in team building, these tours also provide education for groups on the area’s geography and show off the destination’s unexpected side. “The Jeep comes to pick you up at [your] hotel, and in 15 minutes you can be up in the mountains as high as 6,000 or 7,000 feet,” Renker says.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway—with the largest rotating tramcars in the world—is located a few miles from downtown and takes visitors from the Valley Station (at 2,643 feet) to the Mountain Station (at 8,516 feet) in just 10 minutes. For groups it offers incredible views, and even an opportunity for 8,500-foot-high private dining at the Peaks Restaurant. “You can get out and walk around in the pine trees…you can even be in the snow,” he says. Needless to say, it’s a desert experience that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
Palm Springs International Airport is a convenient 5 minutes from downtown Palm Springs and 3 minutes from the Palm Springs Convention Center.