The Meeting Professional
What's New in New EnglandThere are few destinations in the United States where you can find so much old world charm, culture, and natural beauty in one place. But New England offers all of this and much more. In fact, the region prides itself on its historical cities, miles of scenic coastline, fascinating architecture, the nation’s most spectacular fall foliage, and even the world’s two largest casinos.
For these reasons and more, meeting planners often book conferences in New England, which is gearing up to host even more groups with plans to open new convention facilities. Here’s a look at what’s going on in some of the region’s major meeting destinations:
To say the city is under renovation is an understatement. The massive $14.6 billion Big Dig, which is sinking Boston’s archaic highway system underground and adding acres of open park space to the city, has certainly attracted its share of media attention. Yet, the Big Dig, scheduled to be completed in 2004, is not the only giant development project underway in Beantown.
Boston is currently constructing a $700 million convention center, which will help the city compete with some of the nation’s most popular meeting venues. Slated to open in 2004, the 516,000 square-foot Boston Convention & Exhibition Center will be anchored by a new Starwood 1,120-room Sheraton hotel. Other hotels slated to open adjacent to the facility are a 460-room Renaissance Hotel and two Hyatt hotels, said Karen Saffery, director of marketing at the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority.
Boston is also adding several other new hotels throughout the city. As of January 2002, Greater Boston had 27,357 hotel rooms and the city proper had 14,074 hotel rooms, according to the Greater Boston CVB. But that figure is rising rapidly. Besides the major convention center hotels scheduled to open by 2005, there are at least 16 other hotels in the development or proposal stage in the greater metropolitan area. The new hotels and conference facilities will indeed help Boston attract groups of all sizes -- even though the city has always been an alluring destination. “Obviously Boston is an attractive destination to visit because of all the firsts which took place here,” said Saffery.
Even after the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center opens, the city will continue to draw groups into its other conference halls, like the Hynes Convention Center, Bayside Expo Center, and World Trade Center. Plus, smaller to mid-size groups will continue to return to the city’s many meeting hotels.
“Boston is a wonderful venue with all the art and culture. It has so much to offer,” said Gerry Stanton, senior manager of events production at Boston-based Forrester Research.
Every fall, Forrester’s Executive Strategy Forum is held at a Boston convention hotel. This year, the conference -- which attracts 750 technology executives from around the world -- will be held at the Westin Copley hotel.
“Attendees know it’s the fall and that it’s in Boston. They look forward to it,” said Stanton.
Each year, Forrester plans special events to highlight the city. In the past, the group has gone to the JFK Museum and the upscale 600 Club at Fenway Park. This year, the group will dine at The Top of the Hub restaurant, which overlooks the entire city.
“There is so much to see and do in Boston. Plus, it’s a walking city,” said David Keamy, vice president of marketing at the Greater Boston CVB.
Because Boston has always been such a big hit, Forrester is planning another conference in the city next year -- the first time ever that the company has planned two meetings in Boston during the same year. The company’s Healthcare Summit, which will likely draw 250 national and international healthcare executives, will take place in October 2003 at the Seaport Hotel.
The Seaport, which opened in 1998, and adjoining World Trade Center, is one of the city’s most popular meeting venues. Perched right on the waterfront, the complex boasts a 120,000 square foot exhibition hall, 40,000 square feet of meeting space, a 418-seat amphitheater, and five ballrooms with breakout rooms. To boot, many groups take advantage of the Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center’s outside reception area, which overlooks the ocean.
Perhaps one of the greatest attributes of meeting in Boston is that planners have so many options. Besides the modern properties, many opt to book groups at older historic hotels, like the Fairmont, which recently celebrated its 90th birthday. Located right in the heart of the city’s upscale Back Bay district, the Fairmont offers 21,000 square feet of meeting space and can accommodate up to 250 attendees. Groups often take advantage of leisure activities in the city. “We help arrange city tours, harbor cruises, tours of the Museum of Fine Arts, and more,” said Ellen Ryan, the Fairmont’s director of sales.
Although the tiny state of Rhode Island isn’t often top of the radar screen for meeting venues, that’s changing -- fast. For starters, the capital city of Providence takes many first time visitors by surprise. Rich in character and history, Providence has recently undergone a multi-million dollar restoration project preserving the city’s history and reviving the downtown area -- now home to a bustling arts community, high-end shopping, and world-class restaurants.
The rejuvenated river at Waterfront Park is a big draw for groups during their spare time. Attendees can stroll down the river banks or better yet, take a gondola ride through the heart of the city. In the summer, the river is lit up with WaterFire celebrations, large bonfires which draw thousands of onlookers into the city.
As far as meeting facilities go, downtown Providence’s Rhode Island Convention Center sports a 100,000 square foot exhibition hall, 20,000 square foot ballroom, and 23 meeting rooms. A 360-room Westin Hotel is connected to the convention center and three other hotels are within walking distance of the facility.
Providence has always hosted small to mid-size meetings and trade shows, but the city recently landed its biggest coup to date. The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) chose Rhode Island for its 2003 National Convention over Orlando and Las Vegas. So, next August 4-8, nearly 10,000 law enforcement officers from the United States, Canada and other countries will converge on Rhode Island for the state’s largest convention ever.
During the almost week-long event, police officers and their families will stay in hotels, motels and beach houses throughout the area. The meetings will be held at the Rhode Island Convention Center. Direct spending by attendees is expected to top $8.4 million, according to average spending formulas developed by the International Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus.
“A lot of attendees haven’t been to the East Coast (or New England) in a long time. Rhode Island has a lot to offer and people are just starting to realize it,” said Wayne Saco, executive director of the Rhode Island State Lodge of the FOP and conference co-chairman.
During leisure time, Saco said trips will be offered to Roger Williams Park Zoo and the nearby beaches. The conference will also host a clambake and WaterFire event on the river. “The people coming from Texas want to know why we light a perfectly good river on fire,” joked Saco.
John Flaherty, vice president of convention sales and marketing for the Providence/Warwick CVB, said the state is thrilled that the FOP National Convention is coming to Providence. “Our theme is always: book a city, get a state. We’ve got some of the best beaches in the country and the whole state becomes a playground,” said Flaherty.
HEAD to the BEACH
Indeed, the coastal appeal of Rhode Island is what draws many meeting planners half an hour away from Providence to Newport, an oceanside community seeped in sailing heritage and known for its magnificent Gilded Age mansions.
With over 90,000 square feet of aggregate meeting space and 3,500 hotel rooms, Newport touts five convention hotels, including the Newport Marriott, Hyatt Regency, Newport Harbor Hotel and Marina, and the legendary Hotel Viking -- built in the 1920s to accommodate those visiting family and friends at the mansions.
“Newport is always popular,” said Jennifer Dannemiller, a meeting planner for the American Bankruptcy Institute in Alexandria, Va.
Next summer, the institute will have its Northeast regional meeting at the 264-room Hyatt Regency. Dannemiller said she plans to hold a reception in one of the famous mansions lining stately Bellevue Avenue.
Perhaps the hottest meeting destination in New England today is Southeastern Connecticut. Home to the mega casino resorts Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, the coastal region accommodates groups of all sizes and offers plenty of leisure activities.
This year the area got a major boost when Mohegan Sun in Uncasville opened its much anticipated $1 billion new casino, 1,200-room luxury hotel, 22,300 square foot spa, and 143,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. A 40,000 square foot ballroom, the largest in the Northeast, can be divided into 10 meeting rooms. Mohegan Sun also has more than 30 conference and breakout rooms, accommodating up to 5,300 people.
Despite what many think, Southeastern Connecticut is not in the middle of nowhere. “We are in the epicenter of the world’s leading corporations and group business,” said David Casey, Mohegan Sun’s vice president of sales and marketing. The casino resort is located within a 150 mile driving radius of 22 million people living in the New York and Boston areas.
“All of the amenities we offer are unparalleled on the East Coast. You have to go to Orlando or Las Vegas to find it,” said Casey.
Mohegan Sun offers more than 30 dining options, dozens of shops, top entertainers and sporting events in its 100,000-seat arena, and two casinos.
For these reasons and more, HelmsBriscoe, one of the meeting industry’s top conference resource firms, chose Mohegan Sun for its 11th Annual Business Conference to be held December 11-15, 2002. The conference will bring together more than 400 hotel sales people, 500 HelmsBriscoe associates from five continents, and other attendees. The company plans to occupy almost the entire hotel and 100,000 square feet of meeting and function space.
“Why Mohegan Sun? We have never met in the Northeast area before as a whole company. Secondly, the dynamics of Mohegan Sun and the dimension of the property all add flavor to the meeting. Mohegan Sun is a spectacular place,” said HelmsBriscoe Executive Vice President and Conference Chairman Peter Shelley.
Less than 20 minutes away from Mohegan Sun is Foxwoods, the largest casino resort in the world and another top meeting venue. Foxwoods offers 55,000 square feet of meeting space and three hotels with 1,400 rooms. The casino resort is able to easily host conferences with as many as 2,000 attendees.
“What meeting planners find is that we’re not your typical hotel. We’re a full destination with gaming, a spa, healthclubs, headline entertainment, B.B. King nightclubs, and more,” said Joan Esneault, executive director of resort sales.
Casinos aside, Southeastern Connecticut attracts groups for plenty of other reasons. “It’s evolved from a tourist destination to a meeting destination because there’s so much to do here. For groups that want leisure activities, we have the beaches, Mystic Seaport, and the Mystic Aquarium and Institute for Exploration,” said Charla Meyer, group sales manager at the Mystic & More! CVB.
Smaller corporate groups and associations particularly enjoy meeting at the Mystic Marriott Hotel & Spa, the region’s newest meeting hotel with just under 25,000 square feet of meeting and function space.
Mark Fallon, general manager of the Mystic Marriott, said that the hotel facility -- which includes an Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa -- combined with the alluring Mystic seaside location, allows the hotel to compete with other popular New England meeting locations, like Boston, Newport, and Cape Cod.
Hartford Ushers in New Connecticut Convention Center
In Hartford, within an hour from the Mystic coast, a sea of change is also underway.
The state’s capital is preparing to open the Connecticut Convention Center in early 2005. The conference facility will have 145,000 square feet of exhibition space, a 40,000 square foot ballroom, and 25,000 square feet of breakout room space. The convention center will be part of the new $775 million Adriaen’s Landing mixed use development on riverfront plaza, which will include the 409-room Hartford Marriott hotel. The property will feature 13,500 square feet of flexible meeting and banquet space, which can be divided into 11 breakout rooms. Adriaen’s Landing will also include a new science center, retail stores, entertainment, and housing. Once the new facility opens, historic Hartford -- which is located within a two hour drive of Boston and New York -- should attract many more large conferences, said H. Scott Phelps, president of the Greater Hartford CVB.
“We expect to attract groups from the Northeast and nationally. We have the Connecticut River, architecture dating back to the 17th century, the Mark Twain home, and we’re one of the oldest cities in America,” said Scott Dresser, vice president of sales for the Greater Hartford CVB.
Scenic Resorts Set the Stage for Productive Meetings
Several New England resorts attract smaller meetings and incentive groups with top-notch facilities surrounded by scenic mountains or pristine coastlines.
Vermont and New Hampshire offer a bevy of mountain resorts that host groups, particularly those looking for team-building experiences. Smugglers’ Notch in Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont may be best-known as a family-friendly resort, but it also caters to small incentive groups who want to experience the Vermont countryside. Hikes, rock-climbing, kayaking, canoeing and more can all be arranged, said spokesperson Barbara Thomke.
Dannemiller at the American Bankruptcy Institute has taken Northeast regional groups to the century-old Mount Washington Hotel & Resort in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire and StoweFlake Mountain Resort & Spa in Stowe, Vermont. Although the past groups enjoyed the mountain resorts and villages, The American Bankruptcy Institute was especially pleased with its July 2002 meeting at Ocean Edge Resort in Brewster, Ma.
The largest meeting resort on Cape Cod, Ocean Edge was able to accommodate the 380 attendees and family members. Set on more than 400 acres, the resort includes a golf course, 11 tennis courts, four restaurants, six outdoor and indoor pools, two fitness centers, and a private 700-foot stretch of beach along Cape Cod Bay. Meeting space is located at the resort’s centerpiece Victorian mansion and carriage house. Thirteen rooms with 13,000 square feet can accommodate up to 400 attendees.
A conference highlight was the institute’s golf and tennis tournament at the resort. Attendees also took advantage of biking on the Cape Cod rail trail and visiting the nearby pristine beaches.
“We loved the climate and the quaint Cape Cod atmosphere. Just getting away from the city is appealing. It was our first trip to Ocean Edge and we would absolutely go back,” said Dannemiller.
Cape Cod in general has become a much more popular meeting destination in the last few years. Along with Ocean Edge, the Sheraton Hyannis Resort and Sea Crest Resort in Falmouth are also equip to handle mid-size groups, which now come to the Cape during all four seasons. “Our winters are really pretty mild. Out of 41 golf courses, 32 are open year-round,” said Patti Lloyd, vice president of sales at the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce/CVB.
Another popular seaside meeting venue is the Samoset Resort in Rockport, Maine.
The only AAA Four Diamond full-service resort in mid-coast Maine, Samoset recently completed a $10 million renovation. Located on 230 manicured acres overlooking Penobscot Bay, the resort has 178 guest rooms -- most with ocean views -- and offers 22,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 4,600 square foot outside meeting area, ideal for Maine lobster bakes. The resort also sports an 18-hole championship golf course overlooking the ocean. Three hours North of Boston and 1 1/2 hours away from Portland, Maine, Samoset attracts groups from all over. In the summer of 2002, for example, the resort hosted the Annual Conference of the Chief Justices and State Court Administrators.
Supreme court justices, as well as lower court state judges and their families took over Samoset. “It was a great conference set at one of the most beautiful places for a meeting in Maine,” said Keith Citrine, president of Citrine Events in Portland.
Citrine helped plan the social events for the justices, which included tours of the Farnsworth Art Museum (which has one of the best Andrew Wyeth collections in the country); a drive to the top of Mount Battie, which touts spectacular views of the ocean; and a boat trip out to a nearby island for a lobster bake.