United States Capitol, Washington, DCReasons to host events and meetings in the DC area have always been abundant. It’s a place where history is made time and again, and is one of the most educated, affluent metropolitan areas in the country. The nation’s capital isn’t just for political junkies. Or history buffs. Or foodies. Or young, aspiring professionals. It’s a vibrant, trendy city that caters to all of the above and more. The city broke records in 2014, welcoming 20.2 million visitors. The following year, it hosted 1,027 conventions, trade shows and meetings, with nearly 1 million attendees. Access to political leaders, media, credible sources for research, famous venues and top-notch schools boost attendance for every type of event, not to mention the intoxicating nightlife and vivacious music scene that beckon groups. “It really ties into our current campaign, ‘DC Cool,’” says Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC. “It resonates with millennials looking for a hip destination.” Soaring right alongside DC is once-embattled Baltimore, a city that has broken away from its past to redefine itself as a key destination for citywides, festivals and culinary aficionados. Baltimore broke records of its own in 2015 with 30 citywides and is on track to host 28 this year.
Cool Downtown DC
Hyatt Regency Washington Capitol HillH Street NE has been reborn into a new and trendy hot spot for young locals and tourists. Adventurous food options, urban shopping and inspired music attract people from all walks of life to this cultural epicenter. H Street Country Club offers margaritas and Mexican cuisine served on the breezy rooftop, and Neapolitan-style pizza and craft brews are just steps away at Red Rocks. Soccer fans can be found crowding around The Queen Vic, a true British pub with beers and grub to match. “We just got a Michelin Guide,” Ferguson says. “We’re the fourth American destination to receive one. That plus great retail, hip neighborhoods and young and diverse crowds make us appealing to young convention-goers.” Atlas Performing Arts Center, which holds a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, comes alive at night with plays, exhibits and musical performances. Late-night eateries abound on this street that doesn’t sleep. Copycat Co, Dangerously Delicious Pies and Taylor Gourmet are just a few of the night owl gatherings open until 3 a.m. or later. Steps away from H Street corridor is the newly remodeled Hyatt Regency Washington Capitol Hill, with 836 spacious guest rooms that are walking distance to Smithsonian Museums and the National Mall, among other attractions.
Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade CenterIn between the famous museums and The White House is another iconic landmark building, Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. It’s the largest structure in DC (3.1 million sq. ft.) and offers 65,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including 15 meeting rooms and a 635-seat amphitheater, plus dining options and retail space. Perhaps the most attractive downtown DC neighborhood for tourists and convention-goers, Penn Quarter is home to Verizon Center, where the NBA Washington Wizards take the court; notorious Ford’s Theatre, where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated; and the upscale shopping mecca and mixed-use development CityCenterDC. The secluded wine cellar at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, located in CityCenterDC, can seat up to 90 and offers delectable steaks and seafood. Penn Quarter is also home to Walter E. Washington Convention Center, with 703,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, plus 198,000 sq. ft. across 77 breakout rooms and an impressive $4 million art collection. The convention center is connected via indoor walkway to the 1,126-room Marriott Marquis Washington, DC.
Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown HotelAcross the street from the convention center, newly renovated Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel offers 807 guest rooms, 31 meeting rooms and 64,554 sq. ft. of meeting space. Just a few blocks south is the Grand Hyatt Washington, featuring 897 modern guest rooms and suites reflective of its central location, and 42,000 sq. ft. of elegant meeting space. Fourteenth Street is known as Restaurant Row and is home to some award-winning chefs and unforgettable fare from all over the world. B Too offers Belgian cuisine and can accommodate groups of 175 on each of the two floors. For those ready to crash into bed after filling up, W Washington DC and 335-room InterContinental The Willard Washington DC are steps away from all the best restaurants. Just north of downtown is Dupont Circle—a hyper-social neighborhood littered with bistros, bars, boutiques and, of course, museums. It is home to the first certified organic restaurant in the nation, Restaurant Nora. The Embassy Row Hotel offers one of the city’s only public rooftops with a pool and view of bustling downtown. The quirky boutique hotel boasts 231 rooms, a meeting room for 200 and Station Kitchen & Cocktails restaurant and bar, which embodies all things local. Although 1,070-room Washington Hilton is a member of the Historic Hotels of America, its vibe is anything but historic. Walking distance from restaurants and nightlife, the hotel has guest rooms and 110,000 sq. ft. of meeting space that are cool and modern. One of five places to eat and drink onsite. The District Line Restaurant serves American comfort foods and seasonal dishes with locally sourced ingredients.
Greater Washington, DC
Bethesda North Marriott & Conference CenterOutside of the bustling downtown region, Greater Washington, DC—including bordering cities in Virginia and Maryland—offers even more attractions and places to meet that are accessible to the city by train, car and even by foot. Though just northwest of downtown, Georgetown embodies a noticeably different vibe. Cobblestone sidewalks, grand homes and tree-lined, peaceful streets give the neighborhood a slightly more upscale ambience. Georgetown is home to many fine-art galleries, leisure dining, some of the best shopping in the area, history tours and thrilling nightlife. Blues Alley is the place to go for live jazz shows and Fiola Mare is consistently ranked one of the city’s top fine-dining restaurants. The hotels in the neighborhood reflect the upscale beauty, as well. Forbes Five Star, AAA Five Diamond Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC is one of the area’s premier hotels. The 222-room hotel is composed of separate east and west wings, connected by a glass-enclosed garden walkway. North of Georgetown in Woodley Park is Omni Shoreham Hotel, one of two historic hotels in close quarters to fitness-lovers’ Rock Creek Park and National Zoo, home to famed giant pandas. The AAA Four Diamond property has played host to presidents, world leaders and inaugural balls. The urban retreat features 834 guest rooms and 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. One of the many benefits of DC’s location is its proximity and accessibility to Maryland and Virginia, which have their own unique attractions and meeting spaces. In Maryland, Frederick, Baltimore and Annapolis are within easy driving distance of the nation’s capital, and just over the DC line are lots of destinations accessible via Metro trains. Silver Spring is a vibrant downtown area that is home to AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, a restored Art Deco movie palace that screens old and new flicks and hosts an annual documentary film festival. Available for board meetings and receptions, the venue’s three theaters seat 400, 200 and 75, and the 5,000-square-foot lobby is perfect for prefunctions. For top-notch technology meetings and lavish amenities, Bethesda North Marriott & Conference Center has it all: an expansive ballroom that can accommodate 3,000, 120-seat amphitheater, 48,092 sq. ft. of high-tech event space, 13 event rooms, a conference center and 447 guest rooms. Further outside of DC, another Maryland destination is receiving some much-deserved attention. Visit National Harbor debuted in May, with full support from several key players in the destination’s portfolio, including MGM National Harbor, Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center and Tanger Outlets. The destination features more than 150 retail shops, 30 restaurants and seven hotels. “With its close proximity and easy access to Washington, DC, National Harbor provides the best of all worlds for meeting planners,” says Bruce Gudenberg, executive director of Visit National Harbor. “The micro city has more than 3,000 hotel rooms and 1 million sq. ft. of meeting space, including the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.” The 2,000-room Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center is the largest combined hotel and convention center on the Eastern Seaboard. The $1.3 billion MGM National Harbor is scheduled to open by the end of 2016 and will feature 308 guest rooms and suites, along with a casino and world-class spa and salon. “MGM National Harbor will bring luxury suites and additional restaurants, amenities, gaming and entertainment,” Gudenberg says. Attendees at meetings in National Harbor can also visit Washington, DC, via the water taxi as a great way to see our nation’s capital.” Across the Potomac River, Arlington, Virginia, offers a wealth of places to stay just minutes from DC that are often more budget-friendly. Home of Arlington National Cemetery and the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, plus lively villages and more than 40 hotels, Arlington is bursting with American history and culture. The 685-room Crystal City Hyatt Regency at Reagan National Airport boasts 52,240 sq. ft. of meeting space, a five-story atrium and is a 10-minute drive to the Capitol. This summer, Arlington Convention and Visitors Service is helping to promote the #FindYourPark campaign in celebration of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary. Hotels taking part in the celebration include 627-room DoubleTree by Hilton Washington DC-Crystal City and 267-suite Embassy Suites by Hilton Crystal City National Airport.
Baltimore: Where Citywides Happen
Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace HotelMore and more groups are looking to Baltimore to book their meetings, events and trade shows, and a closer look at this comeback city helps explain the sudden interest. For starters, its waterfront location provides lots of opportunity for beautiful venue settings, not to mention the fresh local seafood it delivers, which is further enforcing its growing reputation as a foodie destination. It’s also attracting a younger generation of tourists thanks to its outstanding breweries, diversity (the number of African-American visitors was more than double the national average in 2013), CSR opportunities and out-of-the-box programs hosted by local museums. Inner Harbor is surrounded by all kinds of attractions and meeting venues, creating a walkable, friendly meeting epicenter. “We’re a city that’s easy to get to and we’re also a city that’s easy to navigate once you’ve arrived,” said Amy Calvert, senior vice president of convention sales and services for Visit Baltimore. “We have one of the most walkable cities on the East Coast, a great airport and transportation from the airport directly to downtown.” Baltimore Convention Center boasts 300,000 sq. ft. of contiguous exhibition space, 50 flexible meeting rooms and a 36,672-square-foot ballroom—and it’s continuing to grow and improve. The center is investing more than $20 million in renovations, including a recently completed 27,000-square-foot outdoor terrace that doubles as a green roof over the exhibit hall and new restrooms, paint and carpeting.
Hyatt Regency BaltimoreThere are more than 8,500 hotel rooms around Inner Harbor and Baltimore Convention Center that can serve as overflow or provide intimate settings for smaller groups. Hyatt Regency Baltimore, connected to the convention center via skywalk, offers 488 guest rooms and 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The AAA Four Diamond Baltimore Hilton also connects to the convention center via enclosed walkway and offers 757 guest rooms and 60,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Three blocks away, AAA Four Diamond Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel overlooks Inner Harbor, and has 622 guest rooms and 27,584 sq. ft. of meeting space. The 337-room Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel offers 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space that includes a 7,500-square-foot ballroom and 16 breakout spaces.
Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel, Washington, DCRecent hotel developments and renovations include a full historical restoration of 440-room Lord Baltimore Hotel (a 1928 French Renaissance landmark) and a $5 million renovation of 750-room Baltimore Marriott Waterfront that has integrated the ground-level restaurant, lounge and great room for more socializing. Royal Farms Arena was recognized by Billboard magazine in 2015 as Top Concert Venue for its size. The 11,000-seat arena accommodates events for up to 14,000 people, and the venue hosts more than 700,000 guests annually. Seven connecting meeting rooms can host intimate cocktail receptions and meetings, and its close proximity to the convention center makes it a perfect venue for overflow or general sessions. You don’t have to be an Orioles fan—or even a baseball fan—to appreciate Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Named America’s most beautiful ballpark by Conde Nast Traveler, the retro-style park is a must-see attraction. While you’re there, try a crab mac and cheese hot dog, because you haven’t experienced Maryland until you’ve had crab.
Lighting the WayLight City Baltimore kicked off the tourism boom this year, with more than 400,000 visitors flocking to the Inner Harbor area for a festival of lights, music and innovation, and filling neighboring hotels and restaurants as a result. The first large-scale, international light festival in the United States, Light City Baltimore included a 1.5-mile BGE Light Art Walk displaying 50 attractions and free musical performances. CNN named the event in its list of 16 Things to See and Do in 2016. Events took place at the Columbus Center, American Visionary Art Museum; Baltimore Visitor Center; McKeldin Square; 66-room Pier 5 Hotel, A Harbor Magic Hotel (just steps away from the National Aquarium) and various other venues around the city March 28–April 3. On top of making a name for itself as a midsize meetings city, Baltimore’s culinary reputation is thriving. Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen took home Baltimore’s first James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic in 2015. The city just wrapped up its annual Baltimore Restaurant Week in July, where street-food vendors, award-winning chefs and restaurateurs came together to offer and taste discounted prix-fixe menus from restaurants around the city. Renowned restaurants that cater to groups include Dempsey’s Brew Pub in Camden Yards, Ciao Bella Ristorante in Little Italy and Tin Roof: A Live Music Joint in Inner Harbor.
Baltimore BondingIn 2015, Visit Baltimore unveiled a program for midsize groups that offers a dozen immersive team-building and social activities that emphasize unique aspects of the city. These range from learning how the American railroads were built to understanding the science of wine, making Neapolitan pizza and learning about the life and mind of legendary Baltimore native Edgar Allan Poe. They also partnered with Business Volunteers Maryland to identify needed projects throughout Baltimore in order to provide groups with myriad voluntourism opportunities. Charm City Cakes offers a sweet team-building option. Founded by Food Network star Duff Goldman (host of Ace of Cakes), this bakery hosts private cake decorating tutorials and everyone goes home with their own six-inch cake.
Cool MeetingsToday’s meeting attendees want it all: modern amenities, live music, fun CSR opportunities, healthy and locally sourced food, intriguing history and out-of-the-box event venues. Groups of all ages and sizes are flooding Greater DC and Baltimore because they’ve found places that offer all of this right outside their hotel rooms. With lots of growth on the docket, there’s plenty more cool on the way. “To call yourself cool is one thing, but when Forbes says it, that really emphasizes it and gives people the chance to think about us from a different perspective.” –Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO, Destination DC
Capital GainsDC’s renaissance is just beginning. More restaurants, hotels and venues have their eyes on the capital than ever before, ensuring a bright, prosperous future for the metropolitan area. The Watergate Hotel just completed a $125 million renovation. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 336-room property offers 27,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space, a high-end restaurant and a lounge. The $200 million Trump International Hotel, Washington DC is expected to open this fall at the historic Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue. The 262-room luxury hotel will offer 39,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, a spa, a restaurant and retail space. Another top luxury brand has its sights set on DC, with a projected opening date of 2018. The Conrad Washington, DC, owned by Hilton Worldwide, will boast 350 rooms and 30,000 sq. ft. of retail space in CityCenterDC. From 2018 to 2020, the 23-mile Silver Line Metrorail will expand to connect downtown DC to Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD).
Marriott Properties Give DC a Big Boost
Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, DCAfter decades of losing residents and businesses to its suburbs, Washington, DC, has been growing by leaps and bounds. The city’s population is scheduled to reach nearly 1 million by 2045, and politicians, including Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, like to point to the cranes spotted all over the city, signaling new construction. Marriott Marquis Washington, DC—a luxury property with 1,175 guest rooms and 101,642 sq. ft. of meeting space—has been central to the recent development of the city. Situated near Penn Quarter, CityCenterDC and Verizon Center, the $520 million hotel is connected to Walter E. Washington Convention Center via an underground concourse. It is the newest of six properties that I visited during an ambitious media trip to Greater Washington, DC, in June. All of the properties—which also included Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, Washington Marriott Wardman Park, Crystal Gateway Marriott, Baltimore Waterfront Marriott and Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel—are part of Marriott’s Convention & Resort Network, and all have distinct identities that appeal to meeting groups.
Waterfront, Alexandria, VirginiaMarriott Marquis features a grand lobby with an atrium skylight, and five retail and restaurant outlets on the ground floor. The focal point of the lobby area is a stunning 56-foot high, 27,000-pound sculpture, Birth of the American Flag, by Rodney Carroll. Clearly, the hotel was designed with millennials in mind. They have accounted for much of the population growth of the city, though their influx has slowed down recently. Marriott Marquis, above all, is innovative and progressive—from the visually dramatic, three-dimensional sculpture pieces that provide integral functionality to the flow of the hotel, to the informal gathering spots for small to midsize groups found in virtually every nook and cranny of the property. The trip concluded with a stay at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, on the shores of the Potomac River, downriver from Washington, DC, and across the river from Alexandria, Virginia. Though not large by Gaylord standards, the property feels like a small village, with a host of unique restaurants and shops, a rejuvenating spa, an indoor pool, a state-of-the-art fitness center and many other outstanding features. It’s the largest combined hotel and convention center on the Eastern Seaboard. Ideal for meetings, Gaylord National, which opened in 2008, offers 1,996 guest rooms and more than 480,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space, including a 178,787-square-foot exhibition area.
Potomac River, Washington, DCThe property’s central hub is the 19-story glass atrium, which offers sweeping views of the Potomac River. A highlight of our trip was an unexpected visit to one of the property’s suites, where we enjoyed a stunning view of the river while being treated to an elegant seafood spread and creative cocktails. On the final night of our trip, we gathered for a dinner at Old Hickory Steakhouse, a roomy, relaxing restaurant featuring premium beef, artisanal cheeses, hand-crafted cocktails and an outdoor cigar terrace. It’s a great spot for groups and offers a fabulous view of the Potomac River. –Dan Johnson