Smart Meetings Event Goes Deep

What a way to kick off 2016. Smart Meetings Northern California took place at Levi’s® Stadium in Santa Clara on Jan. 6, giving planners and suppliers a glimpse into the LEED Gold certified event space that has taken Silicon Valley by storm.

There were close to 600 one-on-one appointments that matched top meeting planners and event decision-makers with suppliers, including luxury resorts and convention and visitors bureaus. The one-day event also included keynote addresses by Michael Dominguez from MGM Resorts International and Steve Sisgold, business coach and author.

Hilary Barlesi works in special event sales for Levi’s® Stadium, home of the NFL San Francisco 49ers and 20 different indoor venues. Levi’s 501 Club is where the Smart Meetings Event took place. It features floor-to-ceiling windows that showcase Silicon Valley on one side and the football field on the other side. There are nine clubs being used for special events among the 180,000 sq. ft. of indoor event space at the stadium.

“I love how out of the box it is,” Barlesi said. “We have unique venues. It’s not your stuffy ballroom.”

Levi’s® Stadium has become a very popular event venue for nearby Silicon Valley tech companies, accommodating everything from board meetings to mega events. Cisco hosted one of the coolest events thus far, treating 30,000 to concert performances by Keith Urban and Christina Aguilera.

It was great to network with so many hospitality providers during the Smart Meetings Event. Here’s a look at a few of the suppliers who participated, updating Smart Meetings and planners with news and programs aimed at meetings and events.

Silicon Valley Meets Here

The influence of Silicon Valley can be felt up and down the California coast. Chaminade Resort & Spa in Santa Cruz is one of the properties that hosts many tech events thanks to its ICCA-certified conference center. With 156 guest rooms and 12,000 sq. ft. of event space, this luxury 300-acre property offers the perfect blend of rustic and contemporary ambience. Chaminade will complete an $8 million renovation in March, according to Lydia Bates, senior sales manager for the resort.

Seascape Beach Resort in the Monterey Bay town of Aptos is another Silicon Valley getaway. Heather Boruta, senior sales manager, says her favorite component of the resort is its commitment to sustainability. Not only does Seascape have solar panels, but it blends in with the seaside environment less than an hour away from Silicon Valley.

The newest luxe meeting property on California’s Central Coast is InterContinental The Clement Monterey. The eight-year-old property is located adjacent to the marine sanctuary and next to Monterey Aquarium. “It’s steps from absolutely everything,” said Larisa Godick, senior sales manager.

Race to Sonoma County

North of the Golden Gate Bridge in Sonoma County, Simraceway Performance Driving Center offers an adrenaline rush and wine-country experience just 45 minutes from San Francisco. Laura Rateaver, senior director of operations, says there’s lots of options for team building, including the use of the center’s fleet of Audis that can be gunned on Sonoma Raceway or taken out for group cruises to the coast. (The center is located across from Ram’s Gate Winery, so groups can conveniently have lunch or a reception at a vineyard after a few hours racing around.)

Suzy Montes of Sonoma County Tourism said that her region has seen a 17 percent increase in international visitors in the past year. The DMO has been reaching out to international markets for the past eight years and the efforts are obviously paying off. If you’re considering holding a meeting in Sonoma County, which is larger than Rhode Island, book early. Demand is starting to surpass availability.

Be Inspired

James Brown, director of sales for Zermatt Resort in Midway, Utah, says his property is currently making a push to establish itself as a learning center, where wellness and team building are designed specifically for groups. “We want to be more than a venue,” Brown said. “We want to help employees become inspired.”

Stacy Copeland, regional sales director for Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, came to the Smart Meetings Event to remind planners how much her city has changed. Upgrades include the new runway that opened at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport a year ago and several new hotels . “There are a lot of people who don’t know how much we’ve changed,” Copeland said.

Spring Creek Ranch in Jackson, Wyoming, is in the heart of town and offers amazing views of the Grand Tetons. Stephanie Buelow says that Spring Creek’s location less than two hours from Yellowstone makes her resort an ideal destination for incentive trips.

Stephanie Hannah from Beach Retreat & Lodge at Tahoe in California says being waterfront is a big reason groups like to meet at her property. There’s a new 3,054-square-foot conference center, with 1,800 sq. ft. of additional space coming by summer. Right now, about 12 percent of the lodge’s business is group oriented, but the goal is to up that to 20 to 30 percent this year.

Focus on Food

One of the neatest things I learned was that Tucson, Arizona, has recently been designated a City of Gastronomy in the Creative Cities Network by UNESCO. The recognition calls attention to the region’s rich agricultural heritage, thriving food traditions and culinary distinctiveness. Brooke Sauer, national sales manager for Visit Tucson, attended the Smart Meetings Events and shared this news with me during the closing reception. The UNESCO Creative Cities Network includes seven areas: Crafts and Folk Art; Design; Film;  Gastronomy; Literature; Media Arts; and Music.

Tulio Baruch of Nizuc Resort & Spa outside Cancun, Mexico, says his property is known for its amazing food. There are six restaurants and four bars. Besides great food, the 274-room Nizuc, which opened in 2014, has a private beach, lighted tennis courts and meeting space for up to 400.

Don’t Overlook These Guys

Marna Willmott from The Orleans Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas pointed out that her property has everything a group needs, including a location just off The Strip, which some planners prefer. There’s also 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, a 9,000-seat arena and 18-screen theater. Buyouts are possible at the 1,885-room property.

Akemi Shapiro from Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach in California shared that her property is an affordable option for groups seeking a beachfront venue. Crowne Plaza will begin a multimillion dollar renovation in March, starting with the conference space, and expects to remodel its 255 guest rooms by the end of 2016.

Stefan Cattarin from Visit Billings in Montana came to the event to remind planners about his city’s motto: Billings is Montana’s trailhead. “They come to Billings because they want to visit Montana,” Cattarin said. “Billings can launch you into all the adventure that Montana has to offer.”

Christopher Mora from Korea Tourism Organization says he understands that most planners looking to meet in South Korea will lean toward Seoul. But Mora says that Busan is another option that should not be overlooked. It’s a major cruise port and gateway to ancient discoveries.

Thanks to all the suppliers who attended the event. I learned so much in a day of networking that I can’t imagine how planners can settle on just one venue for an upcoming event. Join us at the next Smart Meetings Event to do a little research of your own if you’re a planner or tell your story if you’re a hospitality provider.

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