San Felipe de Neri Church, Albuquerque
In colorful New Mexico, rich cultural traditions mix with modernityNew Mexico reveals itself dramatically, in layer after layer of history, mystery, spirituality, tradition and natural beauty. Its nickname, “Land of Enchantment,” is appropriate because it offers attendees sights, sounds and experiences they can’t find anywhere else. It’s a state of contrasts, from space-age nuclear facilities to 1,000-year-old Indian pueblos; from virgin national forests to endless high desert, to sky-piercing mountains. Here, the ancient cultures of Native America as well as Spanish and Mexican traditions merge with the cultures of Anglo immigrants. In New Mexico, you can ski in the morning and play golf in the afternoon. You can meet in modern hotels or in adobe buildings, seemingly transported in a time machine. Attendees can’t walk very far without coming upon a place of historic significance. They can buy rugs, jewelry, pottery and ceremonial kiva (wood) ladders at outdoor Indian Markets (they’re still called “Indians” here) in ancient plazas. Or they can walk a block away to pick up classic Western art at some of America’s finest galleries. Albuquerque offers more than $300 million in recent hospitality investments and planned developments including hotels, offsite facilities, area attractions and a $23 million renovation to SMG-managed Albuquerque Convention Center. The city features 310 days of sunshine and four distinct seasons. Also, in a happy coincidence for planners, there are plenty of high-tech, attractive meeting facilities—many inside adobe buildings—as well as many outside experiences that energize attendees.
Hot air balloons flying by the Sandia Mountains, Albuquerque
AlbuquerqueIn Albuquerque, named in 1706 after the eighth Duque de Alburquerque of Spain, there are historic plazas, churches and neighborhoods everywhere you look. Old Town, the historic heart of the city, is filled with them. This area features interesting shops, galleries, artists’ studios and restaurants serving great local microbrews, along with the Colonial-era San Felipe de Neri Church. Located just minutes from the Sandia Range, Albuquerque has interesting neighborhoods such as the eclectic, upscale Nob Hill area, with some excellent restaurants. There are also world-class museums, including Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum and Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. Now, a downtown revival is taking place, making the area into a multifaceted, activity-filled gathering place. Albuquerque is a forward-looking city. But you’re never very far from the past. Only a few minutes from downtown is Petroglyph National Monument, where you can see the 1,000-year-old rock art created by Indians. Kevin Cohee, CEO of Sacramento-based Do an Event, brought 200 attendees to Albuquerque for TechCon North America 2016 last February. The event took place at Crowne Plaza Albuquerque. “Our attendees were very impressed with the history and natural beauty all around Albuquerque,” Cohee says. “They really loved the Balloon Museum…and a lesson in ballooning. They also enjoyed the cool neighborhoods like Nob Hill and the local microbrews. And our welcome reception was spectacular, in the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History. My demands for a destination are high—and Albuquerque met all of them.”
Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town
Top HotelsThe city boasts some very cool meeting hotels. One of the hippest is the Hotel Andaluz, a AAA Four Diamond winner that also was honored by the readers of Conde Nast Traveler as one of the Top 5 Hotels in the Southwest. Providing 107 authentically decorated guest rooms and 7,299 sq. ft. of meeting space, it also offers great views of the city from Ibiza, its rooftop bar. Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town provides historic grandeur and contemporary comfort. Located in the heart of Old Town, it offers 188 luxurious accommodations, as well as a restaurant, bars, an outdoor swimming pool, and more than 62,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting and event space.
Hotel Chaco rendering, AlbuquerqueHotel Chaco won’t open until April, but it’s already considered one of Albuquerque’s top hotels. The newest luxury property by Albuquerque-based Heritage Hotels & Resorts evokes Native-American spirit and design. The handcrafted furnishings, native-inspired cuisine, and spiritual art and design all connect attendees with the aura of Chaco Canyon, a sacred area for the pueblo peoples between the years 850 and 1250. The 118-room property features 1,430 sq. ft. of meeting space. Cool Meeting Venues Ever think about holding your meeting in an art gallery? It’s certainly a place that enhances creative thinking and productivity. A nonprofit contemporary arts organization, 516 Arts, operates a gallery in downtown Albuquerque. It can host meetings in a variety of flexible, very interesting spaces. Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa, located 30 minutes north of Albuquerque, features not only stables offering horseback riding tours and seven restaurants, but also 29,000 sq. feet of indoor and 25,000 sq. ft. of outdoor space, with amazing views of the Rio Grande. The property also includes the 12,000-square-foot Tamaya Ballroom. Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm is on the National Register of Historic Places as well as a leader in environmental initiatives. The Anasazi pueblo people lived on these lands as far back as the 14th century. With 20 guest rooms and 17,296 sq. ft. of event space, Los Poblanos offers a beautiful rural escape where the footsteps of history still echo loudly.
Traditional dance, Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, Albuquerque
Cultural AttractionsAt South Broadway Cultural Center, events run the gamut, from art exhibitions to youth hip-hop classes to dog parades, to African Guitar Summits. Meeting spaces include John Lewis Theater & Auditorium, which seats up to 309 and has a surround-sound system, and the Community Room, which seats up to 100. You can hold your meeting surrounded by the art and artifacts of New Mexico’s original inhabitants at Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. The center boasts 24,000 sq. ft. of attractive indoor and outdoor meeting space, and you can arrange something that will really spark your attendees’ imaginations—special dance and ceremonial performances exclusively for them. About an hour west of Albuquerque sits Acoma Pueblo. The original settlement still sits atop a 300-foot-high mesa, with adobe houses without electricity or running water, and artisans crafting beautiful pottery, jewelry and figurines of storytellers. Sky City Cultural Center and Haaku Museum has meeting spaces for up to 80.
Double Eagle Restaurant, Las Cruces
Las CrucesLas Cruces (pop. 100,000) offers abundant cultural and historic attractions, a growing foodie movement and plenty of value for planners. The first visitors to this region were Spanish explorers, in 1535. Settlers arrived in 1789, drawn by tales of seven ancient cities of gold. Others soon followed on the Jornado del Muerto (Journey of Death), so dubbed because the brutal desert and skirmishes with the Apache claimed many lives. The area subsequently changed hands several times among the Pueblo Indians, Americans (including the Confederates) and Mexicans. In 1907, Las Cruces (The City of Crosses) was officially incorporated as a town. Today, attendees can play golf year-round, experience a colorful variety of special events, and enjoy world-class Mexican food and historic attractions. Three national monuments are nearby, and there’s an ale trail, a wine trail and even a Green Chile Walk of Flame, all under a sun shining 320 days a year. Erica Allen, director of events and meetings for Mesa, Arizona-based Socious, brought 65 attendees to Hotel Encanto in August for MPI’s EduCon 2016 meeting. She says attendees really enjoyed the variety of unique event spaces, including the Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum. “The CVB team was very responsive, and all of us were struck by the genuine hospitality shown by the local folks,” Allen says. “Las Cruces is a very walkable town, which means a lot to attendees who’ve been inside most of the day. It’s a beautiful town, as well, surrounded by mountains and desert.”
Top HotelsMost Las Cruces meeting hotels are on the traditional side, with modern guest rooms and meeting spaces, along with easy access to all the cultural spots, restaurants and museums in town. One notable exception is Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces, a member of New Mexico’s premier hotel group, Heritage Hotels & Resorts. Accordingly, its art and decor reflect Spanish and Mexican Colonial history and tradition. If your attendees appreciate vibrant colors, rich fabrics and one-of-a-kind pieces from Old Mexico—along with luxurious amenities and a city in which you’ll probably be the big fish in a small pond—Hotel Encanto, with 204 guest rooms and 35,000 sq. ft., might be a good choice. Cool Meeting Venues Ever hear of wontons with green chile sauce? Or a green chile cheeseburger? You can sample some very funky culinary combinations at Double Eagle Restaurant in Mesilla. This 150-year-old building has a stunning collection of antiques and period pieces, and five beautifully furnished meeting rooms with capacities ranging from eight to 300. The adobe structure housing Fountain Theatre dates back to 1870. It became an entertainment venue in 1905, with vaudeville acts, plays, light opera and lantern slideshows. This theater seats 100 for meetings and events. It’s adjacent to La Posta de Mesilla Restaurant and Cantina, and food and beverage service can be easily arranged. Believe it or not, New Mexico was one of the first (and is now one of the fastest-growing) wine regions in America. Its rich soil and climate are ideal for grape-growing. St. Clair Vineyard, Winery & Bistro (also in Albuquerque and Farmington) is New Mexico’s largest winery, and offers group tastings and meeting space.
Native American rugs
Cultural AttractionsNew Mexico’s 3,000-year history of farming and ranching comes alive at the 47-acre New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum. There’s 24,000 sq. ft. for meetings. Attendees can see different breeds of cattle, horses, mules, donkeys, sheep, goats and cows, and demonstrations including milking, blacksmithing, quilting and dowsing. New Mexico State University boasts NMSU Center for Performing Arts, a state-of-the-art cultural center and meeting place. There, you can meet in the 464-seat Medoff Theatre; exterior terraces with panoramic views of Las Cruces, holding 20, 40 and 100, respectively; a rehearsal hall seating 200; and a classroom seating 76. At Las Cruces Railroad Museum, your attendees can meet in the city’s original 1910 train station. Here they can roam among classic model-train sets, separate 1910 men’s and women’s waiting rooms (!), and hundreds of railroad memorabilia items. Meetings take place in the Education Room, which accommodates 50 to 60.
La Fonda on the Plaza, Santa Fe
Santa FeSanta Fe has more adobe buildings than any other city in America. In this state capital, attendees will wander alleys first trod by explorers and conquerors and Colonial governors hundreds of years ago. This is the Southwestern art capital of the world, and Canyon Road has more fine galleries per footstep than any place in the United States. Many local hotels are iconic landmarks with histories dating back centuries, and some of their restaurants merge foodie experimentation with classic New Mexico cooking. Larry Farrow, executive director of Austin-based Texas & New Mexico Hospice Organization, likes Santa Fe so much that he brings four or five groups there each year for gatherings ranging from annual conferences to board meetings. “Our people love going to Santa Fe because it’s so much different than anywhere else in America,” Farrow says. “They love exploring the galleries and museums. They love the out-of-the-ordinary shopping. They love the distinctive restaurants. And they believe meetings here are more productive because of the unique atmosphere and the natural beauty.”
Top HotelsHotel Santa Fe the Hacienda & Spa, the city’s only Native American-owned hotel, features 163 luxurious rooms and suites and nearly 6,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The upscale, pueblo-style Eldorado Hotel & Spa Santa Fe, an AAA Four Diamond downtown property, features 219 guest rooms and 17,520 sq. ft. of meeting space, including a new 7,000-square-foot ballroom. Hilton Santa Fe Buffalo Thunder, situated under the picturesque Sangre de Cristo Mountains, offers a casino, six restaurants, a spa, three golf courses, 393 guest rooms and 66,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. La Fonda on the Plaza sits on the site of Santa Fe’s first inn, established with the city’s founding in 1607. It features comforts of Colonial New Mexico, as well as free Wi-Fi, 180 guest rooms and 20,112 sq. ft. of technologically advanced meeting space. Hotel Chimayo de Santa Fe, only steps from Santa Fe Plaza, has a modern infrastructure with 6 guest rooms and 1,736 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Cool Meeting VenuesIf you’d like to immerse attendees in a stylish Santa Fe experience, Coyote Cafe is the place. This restaurant has become a local landmark. The design and the cuisine are nouveau New Mexico, though the menu features a few classic dishes. There’s a rooftop cantina and private space for 90 attendees. Meow Wolf, an arts company that creates immersive multimedia experiences, offers shows that are trips into amazing realms of fantasy. And well they should be—one of the founders of Meow Wolf is George R.R. Martin, creator of Game of Thrones and a Santa Fe resident. There’s meeting and event space for up to 500 people. Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino, located in Mescalero, is widely known for its gaming options, but also features 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, along with four restaurants, an indoor pool and a fitness center. Located adjacent to Santa Fe’s sensational Railyard Park, Santa Fe Farmers’ Market Pavilion is much more than a farmers market. This 9,300-square-foot building can accommodate up to 600 people for meetings and events.
Ceramic pottery, Acoma Pueblo
Cultural AttractionsMuseum of Indian Arts & Culture is an inspiring place to hold a meeting or event, with spaces such as the lobby and galleries, with 48,000 sq. ft.; Meem Auditorium, which seats 132; and Doris & Arnold Roland Sculpture Garden, where smaller groups can hold events. Speakers are able to take the same stage as well-known actors, singers and dancers at Lensic Performing Arts Center. In 2001, this building was transformed from a movie theater into a beautiful Moorish/Spanish Renaissance-style performing arts center. It hosts groups and meetings in the 821-seat auditorium. Inside New Mexico Museum of Art—a must see—is a most unusual meeting place. St. Francis Auditorium, completed in 1917, can hold 250 people. This auditorium actually resembles a Colonial church, with rows of carved wooden benches and vigas (huge beams, shipped by railroad from California) supporting the roof, and stucco walls.
Steve Winston is an award-winning writer who has traveled extensively and writes for national and international magazines.