Not Your Assembly Line Meeting

Hotels & Resorts

His group will be meeting at MicroTek Computer Labs, where instead of handing out big, thick manuals, he’ll provide everyone with a JumpDrive for the entire presentation. When they plug it in, it’ll display the same (slide) as on the screen, with a notes page beside it.

Chuck Salem, headquartered in Pennsylvania, is holding a sales workshop in San Francisco this month. His group will be meeting at MicroTek Computer Labs, where instead of handing out big, thick manuals, he’ll provide everyone with a JumpDrive for the entire presentation. When they plug it in, it’ll display the same (slide) as on the screen, with a notes page beside it. “We can do that because we’re holding the workshop in a computer lab instead of a hotel,” he says. It’s an appropriate choice because, as president of Unique Venues, an Internet-based company representing 7,000 venues, Salem walks the walk.

The CMP, who has seen his Web site hits grow exponentially the past two years (now 115,000 unique visitors a month), is actually part of a growing trend. According to MPI’s “Future Watch 2006,” an average of 22 percent of North American meeting planners are turning to non-hotel and non-convention center meeting venues to make
their events distinctive, engaging and different. And the trend is likely to continue.
The reasons are simple enough, he says. Anything different is inherently more memorable than something that’s standard. And unique venues are often more affordable, as the ambience or décor may already be built in, or you represent auxiliary business. Added to these factors is the flexibility these locations may offer. “Hotels want to put heads in beds,” he says. “You’re kind of less desirable to a venue if you come in and want a five-hour or one day meeting or event.”

And some venues—such as MicroTek—have technology built in for their core business, with no additional costs for off-site A/V assistance or tech equipment. Their very uniqueness, however, may require a little additional planning on your part initially, or at least a few additional questions, such as: Are permits required? Is extra staffing needed? Are there time constraints due to noise or the venue’s daytime hours? What about alcohol? Is additional A/V assistance needed? Is there a charge for using the in-house equipment? But once you’ve covered the bases, if you can imagine a venue or an experience, you can find it. We’ve come up with a few ideas, grouped into categories that may also help trigger ideas of your own.

Opened on December 7, 2006, the brand new Pacific Aviation Museum in Honolulu adds a new dimension to special-event dining for history or aviation buffs. The first phase of a larger museum, it’s located in Hangar 37 in the center of Pearl Harbor, and still bears the scars of World War II’s epic aviation battlefield (the next phases, Hangar 79 and 54, are set to open in the next two to four years). On the museum’s exhibit floor, you can dine in the shadow of a F4F-3 Wildcat fighter or B-25 Mitchell Bomber, or check out an authentic 1942 Japanese Zero. For the Top Guns in your group, a flight simulator allows six “pilots” at a time to try their skills; photo ops are available in the replica of a P40 cockpit. The museum’s got the history and the ambience, but you might want to budget for some Big Band music to get everyone dancing.

Theme restaurants provide instantaneous décor and ambience, but how about your own private island in San Francisco Bay? That would be Forbes—not Alcatraz—Island, a quirky but elegant “floating” restaurant with a tropical theme, featuring giant palm trees, a 40-foot lighthouse and five unique dining areas. Your group boards a shuttle at “H” Dock, between Piers 39 and 41, for the four-minute ride to the island, where you have your choice of either theme packages or a surprisingly gourmet French menu. The main dining room and a small, private room have yacht-like wood paneling and nautical accents, including portholes with a bay view—literally—as you are slightly below the waterline.

Your BlackBerry thumb may go through withdrawal, but we’ll bet that after a few hours at Asilomar Conference Grounds, an oceanfront retreat on the Monterey Peninsula, you won’t be addicted to the siren buzz. Set among 107 acres of pine trees and sand dunes, the Arts & Crafts architectural style center is a low-key experience that will allow your group to focus together while enjoying its serene natural surroundings. Accom-modations range from standard to historic, some with fireplaces and ocean views. The 38 function rooms are within walking distance of one another, so larger groups can meet in the auditorium halls and then regroup to smaller rooms for breakout sessions. The great weather and the convenient location were additional perks that drew Agatha Panday, immunology program coordinator for the University of California, San Francisco, to Asilomar a second time. “The setting was conducive to our meeting,” she says of the three-day retreat for 250 attendees.

Reward your incentive groups with a stay at an edgy, hip hotel that’ll fit their image if they’re edgy and hip, or bolster their image if they’re wannabes. The Ivy Hotel, a new luxury property opening this spring in San Diego, has 159 guest rooms that are anything but standard. Each custom-designed room comes with a 42-inch flat screen TV, in-room technology, luxurious bedding and a functional workspace (this is business, after all). There’s a very social roof and sundeck—it’s the largest rooftop in San Diego and can be rented out—in addition to its 9,000 sq. ft. of indoor meeting space. Nightlife includes a restaurant and a four-level nightclub with a smoking lounge. But The Ivy’s most unique feature may be its three specialty suites, one of which has two levels and a staircase that leads to a private rooftop cabana overlook-
ing the pool. To further feed the fantasy aspect, it’s an adults-only property. Bring the
significant other.

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