There seems to be a direct correlation between awesome suppliers and top-notch meeting planners when it comes to amazing events. It’s kind of like the age-old question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
The three-day Smart Meeting Event at Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, in Phoenix Sept. 11-13 featured the best of both worlds, bringing together quality planners and suppliers. The suppliers represented many of the top meeting venues from Canada to the Dominican Republic. The planners, from the corporate world to the Girl Scouts, participated in more than 2,000 one-on-one appointments.
Lots of Arizona suppliers took advantage of the Smart Meeting Event that touched down in their state. Tempe Tourism Office, which sponsored a fun run and morning yoga during the Smart Meeting Event, came to Arizona Biltmore to remind planners that it’s home to the second-most visited attraction in the state. Second only to the Grand Canyon, Tempe Town Lake is unique as a four-mile oasis that hosts rowing events, triathlons and boating. Besides being a place where locals flock, it’s quite the entertainment venue, hosting such performers as Kanye West. Matt Connelly, group sales manager, calls Tempe a “college town-plus,” with a vibrant cultural scene that includes performing arts theater ASU Gammage on the Arizona State University campus.
Visit Glendale Arizona, another key meeting destination in Greater Phoenix, is still basking in the limelight of hosting the 2015 Super Bowl. The big game took place at University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the NFL Arizona Cardinals. The stadium and Gila River Arena are key event venues that are part of Westgate Entertainment District, which features seven hotels with a combined 1,400 guest rooms. The district is great for events, featuring 90 restaurants and entertainment every night of the week. “We’re not just sports—we’re so much more,” said Danielle Dutsch, national sales manager.
Visit Tucson had some pretty exciting news regarding airlift. Brooke Sauer, national sales manager, told us that starting next month, Tucson International Airport (TUS) will have direct flights to and from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). That brings the number of nonstop service to 18 cities, including Chicago, San Francisco, Denver and Salt Lake City. TUS is connected to 300 cities with just one stop.
Smart Meetings’ San Francisco Bay Area neighbors were also well represented at our event in Phoenix, including Kerri Harris-Gay who attended to discuss nine properties in the East Bay area of Diablo Valley. Harris-Gay is director of sales and catering at Clarion Hotel of Concord, which offers 198 guest rooms and a 4,500-square-foot ballroom, which has recently been renovated. Diablo Valley has three properties in close proximity, Clarion, Hilton Concord and Crowne Plaza Concord, forming a great lodging campus for visiting youth sports teams, for example.
Also from the East Bay, Walnut Creek Convention & Visitors Bureau was in the house, represented by Scott Slocum, regional director of sales and marketing. Slocum calls Walnut Creek “the jewel of the East Bay.” He said the CVB is trying hard to make a name for itself in the meetings market by calling attention to its growing food scene and stellar properties, including Walnut Creek Marriott, which is almost done with a renovation of its 338 guest rooms and 17,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Meeting Professionals International is coming to Walnut Creek on Sept. 27 for a “Nothing but Networking” session at The Balcony. “To have that type of event in Walnut Creek is a big deal for us,” Slocum said.
Pasadena Convention & Visitors Bureau had a lot of news to share. Jean-Ann Pavoni-Biller, national sales manager for the CVB, reported that two key meeting hotels are undergoing significant renovations. The 296-room Pasadena Hilton is getting a $25 million overhaul, which is expected to be complete mid-2017. The Hilton, only a five-minute walk from Pasadena Convention Center, has 28,000 sq. ft. of event space. The Westin Pasadena will begin its renovation in early 2017 and it is expected to be complete by the end of the year. The property, which is a nine-minute walk to the convention center, has 350 guest rooms and a 5,058-square-foot ballroom. Pasadena’s newest hotel, Residence Inn by Marriott, opened in July with 144 guest rooms and meeting space for up to 80. A new Hyatt Place is expected to open across from the convention center by the end of 2018.
South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa in Las Vegas is a meeting planner’s dream come true. It’s located in the meeting capital of the world, yet off the The Strip to help keep attendees focused. Another big bonus about this property, according to Mary Andrews, national sales manager, is that the resort has every amenity imaginable. Only 10 years old, South Point has 11 restaurants, a 64-lane bowling center, a 16-screen movie theater and a 22-room spa. The 180,000 sq. ft. of meeting space includes a pavilion with 80,000 sq. ft. of usable space and a covered arena, which hosts competitions such as equestrian events. “We have everything. Attendees don’t have to leave,” Andrews says.
Lots of smaller properties were represented at our Smart Meeting Event, reminding meeting planners that bigger isn’t always better. Denver’s Hotel Teatro is such a property, with 110 guest rooms and suites and 6,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The AAA Four Diamond rated hotel is just five blocks from historic Union Station and across the street from the Four Seasons. Hotel Teatro makes sure guests know they’re in Denver with homey Western decor. According to Emily Crane, group sales manager for Hotel Teatro, one of her property’s distinctions is the natural light in its 2,500-square-foot ballroom. “People are craving natural light,” she says. Another cool thing here is The Nickel bar, which features barrel-aged cocktails. Specialty drinks are mixed in a barrel and then aged for six weeks before serving.
Of course, we were all wowed by our host, Arizona Biltmore. All of the food, decor and hospitality was extraordinary. But the one thing people kept talking about was the appetizer on opening night: short ribs served on a bite-sized crostini-like circle of crispy polenta. Yum.
Arizona Biltmore and the Smart Meeting Event made a great combo. And with 80 quality planners, who had at least 25 appointments with nearly a third of the 80 suppliers in attendance, I’d have to say we did a pretty great job of matching as well.