Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Desert Oasis

With abundant outdoor space, venues galore, and many recent renovations, the Greater Palm Springs area is a magnet for meetings and events.

By Shelley Levitt

The Coachella Valley has surged as an event destination recently. Some 100 miles east of Los Angeles, the nine cities of the Greater Palm Springs area, with Joshua Tree National Park in its backyard, have become hot destinations during the pandemic for people eager to flee from Los Angeles and other California cities—and the heat remains for group travel. “All the things that appeal to the leisure traveler are appealing to groups, as well,” says Colleen Pace, chief sales and marketing officer at Visit Greater Palm Springs. “We have a beautiful climate, a huge range of outdoor experiences, and all the culture and amenities of a big city without the congestion and traffic.”

Tia Quinn, founder and CEO of Boost Collaborative, a San Diego-based organization that provides professional development for educators, has hosted conferences and events in Palm Springs since 2002. In April 2022, the organization chose Palm Springs for its annual four-day conference, which drew more than 2,500 attendees. 

A sculpture in Civic Center Park reminds passersby to relax.

Visit Greater Palm Springs

The Palm Springs Convention Center, with 112,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 20,000-square-foot ballroom, 10 breakout rooms, and the attached 410-room Renaissance Palm Springs Hotel with over 38,000 square feet of meeting space, was the location for the more than 200 workshops, a film festival, classes, town hall meetings, over 120 exhibitors, networking sessions, and special events. “We contracted with six hotels in Palm Springs’ city center,” Quinn says. “However, our attendees stayed at over 40 different locations throughout the Coachella Valley. We love the desert vibe of Palm Springs, and our attendees especially enjoy the Village Fest [the Thursday night street fair held year-round] and being able to walk to downtown Palm Springs to shop, eat, and explore.” Quinn already has Palm Springs booked for its 2023 conference—and she’s not alone.

“We’ve had a lot of new interest in Greater Palm Springs as well as pent-up demand from rebooking meetings and conventions that couldn’t occur these past few years,” says Pace. “That combination has created a lot of compression [higher demand for available space] in the short term.” Her advice to planners considering the destination is to book early. “The more notice we’re given, the more likely we are to be able to provide the dates that meeting planners are looking for,” she says.

Pace adds that a number of renovations and openings took place since the start of COVID-19 that planners have yet to experience. Here’s a look at what’s new.

Expanded Air Lift

Getting to Palm Springs is easier than ever. Palm Springs International Airport  now offers seasonal nonstop flights via 13 airlines from 37 destinations, including New York City, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, Denver, Atlanta, Phoenix, and Seattle. In November 2022, Avelo Airlines began offering nonstops from Santa Rosa/Sonoma, and Bend and Eugene, Oregon. On the road, FlixBus recently introduced year-round service between Las Vegas, Nevada, and Palm Springs. “We’re not just a Southern California or California draw,” Pace says. “We draw groups from all over, and we have sales teams deployed in every region of the country.” 

Visitors enjoy sculpture at the Palm Springs Art Museum

Visit Greater Palm Springs

Two Major New Venues Take a Bow

Opened in December 2022, Acrisure Arena is a 300,000-square-foot, 10,000-seat sports and entertainment center in Palm Desert. It will host major concerts presented by Live Nation and will be home to the Seattle Kraken’s American Hockey League  franchise, the Coachella Valley Firebirds. Upcoming performances include Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, the Doobie Brothers, Maroon 5, and the Eagles. “This is another wonderful nightlife option for groups,” Pace says. With 20 executive suites cantilevered over the lower seating bowl, and the East and West Loft Clubs (private premium spaces pouring local craft beers), there are options for luxe gatherings. The arena will also be available for private events for up to 11,000 guests. 

Another new venue is the Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza, a massive cultural initiative honoring California’s Native American heritage, set to open in early 2023 in downtown Palm Springs. Featuring a tribal museum, a spa, and an outdoor Oasis Trail, the Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza is the second largest of its kind in the United States and a long-awaited addition to cultural tourism in Greater Palm Springs. “We know that experiencing local culture is something that’s important to visitors, and we have seen research that says it’s also important to meeting planners because that’s what their attendees are eager for,” Pace says. “The cultural center will provide an interactive learning experience about the Indigenous culture of our destination, and also will provide a unique setting for events with the opportunity to host gatherings in the beautiful outdoor plaza area.” 

The recently renovated Miramonte Resort & Spa Indian Wells

Visit Greater Palm Springs

New and Renovated Hotels

Several key group resorts in Greater Palm Springs have completed extensive renovations. The 215-room Miramonte Resort & Spa Indian Wells unveiled a $9 million property-wide renovation that transforms the resort’s secluded 11 acres into a contemporary version of a classic Mediterranean retreat. “We are excited to reintroduce the elevated resort to the community and travelers from all over the world,” says General Manager Ajit Acharya. “This transformation was designed to meet the needs of today’s leisure and business travelers while paying respect to Miramonte’s rich history, stunning location, and the unique culture of the Coachella Valley. From our new spa menu and Mediterranean-inspired dining options to the reimagined spaces throughout the property, we have created a luxurious wellness escape and know guests will appreciate the attention to detail we put into this renovation.”

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway gives riders a dazzling view of the scenery.

Visit Greater Palm Springs

Miramonte Resort & Spa offers over 35,000 square feet of multipurpose indoor-outdoor space for gatherings of up to 500 guests. 

In Palm Desert, the 884-room JW Marriott Desert Springs, a 450-acre resort featuring two 18-hole championship golf courses, 20 tennis courts, a 38,000-square-foot spa, five pools, multiple restaurants and lounges, and 287,000 square feet of indoor-outdoor event space, completed a $50 million redesign. The interior of the conference center space now exudes a cool blue midcentury chic design that includes the 25,000-square-foot Sinatra Ballroom—the largest in Greater Palm Springs. Also claiming bragging rights is the new JW Entertainment Zone, a 12,000-square-foot space available for group buyouts that is the largest arcade in the state. It offers both high-tech simulators and classic games like duckpin bowling and Skee-Ball.

Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa in Indian Wells, with 560 rooms and over 213,000 square feet of meeting space, has also spent millions on a refresh and is able to accommodate groups from 20 to 2,000. The resort has some of the prettiest outdoor venues in Greater Palm Springs, including its lovely Olive Grove, which is available for group yoga classes and other wellness activities, as well as dinners set on long tables amid the olive trees. 

The Palm Springs Architecture Museum

Visit Greater Palm Springs

In a major rebrand, the former Riviera is now the 398-room Margaritaville Resort Palm Springs. As the first West Coast resort from the Jimmy Buffet-inspired hotel brand, the property features a laid-back vibe—the bar is called License to Chill—and over 40,000 square feet of event space.   

Westin Rancho Mirage Golf Resort & Spa, formerly known as Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa, completed a two-year $15 million resort-wide renovation. With 512 guest rooms and 130,000 square feet of event space, the resort  sits on 365 acres and places an emphasis on the outdoors. The new Backyard features a stage, terrace, and outdoor kitchen. Recognizing a fast-moving sports trend, the resort also offers a dozen pickleball courts.  

“Turning the page to the resort’s next chapter … the design and renovations have been centered on bringing people together, fun new experiences, and the guest’s overall wellness, sending them home feeling better than when they arrived,” says Tom Scaramellino, the property’s general manager. 

An excursion on Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tours

Visit Greater Palm Springs

Team-building activities abound in the area, from flooring it on the track of the BMW Performance Center West, ascending more than 8,500 feet aboard the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, soaring in a hot air balloon, visiting the new Rhino Savanna at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, partnering with Big Wheels Tours for a 20-mile Earthquake Canyon Express Downhill Bike Adventure, or combining the Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tours with a scavenger hunt. And, of course, there is golf, tennis, hiking, shopping in downtown Palm Springs, museum hopping, and midcentury architectural tours.

The refreshed Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa

Visit Greater Palm Springs

With the abundance of activities, a variety of venues, and restaurants opening weekly, planners would be wise to take advantage of the complimentary services of Visit Greater Palm Springs. “We are really the best resource,” Pace says. “[For example,] a planner may not be aware of all the private estates here that are an option for a reception or a dinner. And when planners come for a site visit, we take you around to all the hotels and attractions and make sure it’s an immersive experience. Then our team helps with everything from front-end booking to the execution of the meeting.”