Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Rocky Mountain Meetings: Past, Present & Future

By Kathy Fort Carty

Over three decades ago, I moved to Vail because I loved the mountains and everything they have to offer: exhilarating activities (both winter and summer), a tight-knit community and a lifestyle that fit my work-hard, play-hard personality to a tee. It was the passion for where I live that fueled my mission when I bought a destination management company (DMC) in 1986, which was to put Colorado on the map as a desirable destination for corporate meetings and incentives.

The Rocky Mountain region has grown and matured as a desired corporate group destination during my 30 years. When I entered this industry, one-piece ski suits in bright colors were all the rage and group business in Colorado had certainly not hit its stride—the state was seen as a vacation destination. Colorado was not viewed as sophisticated, was too hard to travel to, and not high-end enough to meet clients’ expectations. Back then I was a one-woman show, meeting with clients, showcasing the state of Colorado, all while selling and producing full-service programs for groups. With that being said, working with partners who shared my vision, we knew that it had to be a top priority to highlight Colorado as a place that would not only meet our clients’ expectations but also exceed them by leaps and bounds. 

With a lot of hard work, dedication and partnerships with local convention and visitor bureaus and hoteliers, mountain resorts transitioned from being seen as only winter leisure destinations to being legitimate considerations for year-round meetings and events. I worked closely with our partners to shape the non-ski experience for corporate event planners. From rafting and hiking in the summer to skiing and snowmobiling in the winter, resort merchants understood the value of staying open, showcasing what’s captivating about every season, and creating a unique environment year-round that would inspire and rejuvenate guests.

After a decade of slow but steady growth, opportunity knocked. The Broadmoor called because they wanted DSC’s support to get into group business. My business doubled overnight and thus began DSC’s expansion into many different markets. Our markets now include Colorado mountains, Colorado Springs and Denver and have crossed state lines into Utah, Wyoming and Lake Tahoe.

It is truly amazing to watch our footprint increase and the DMC industry as a whole mature and grow. Our Denver office and the destination as a whole is a great example of this growth and maturity. Denver is now on every corporate planner’s radar. Once considered a Western cow town, the city has gone through a major renaissance. With a hot culinary scene, revitalized neighborhoods and one-of-a-kind entertainment, Denver is attracting more and more conventions and corporate direct groups, moving into a Tier 1 city competing with the likes of New York City, Chicago and San Francisco for the 7,500- to 10,000-attendee groups.

We see more and more that clients want options that are within walking distance and Denver is just that, a walkable destination, not to mention the growing number of unique venues to host an event. What group wouldn’t love closing down a city block to create an urban experience? Additionally, the city’s investment in exciting, large-scale projects like “The Next Stage” to transform the Denver Center for the Performing Arts complex— the largest performing arts complex in the country—showcases the vibrant and forwardlooking nature of the city.

Another example of the DMC industry maturing has been in line with evolving client expectations. Once seen as ground operators, today our clients increasingly think “beyond business objectives” and expect DMC partners to do the same. The company brand and culture must pull through everything they do, including meetings and events, and address real needs in the organization—from motivating a sales team, rewarding the high achievers, increasing customer loyalty or providing a social outlet after a long day of product training. It is our job to create an integrated experience; we must present full solutions to our clients that include venue selection, culinary experience, event design, entertainment and all the logistics to pull these components together seamlessly. 

As an entrepreneur, I am constantly keeping my ear to the ground, listening to our clients and challenging my team to think outside of the box when creating once-in-a-lifetime experiences. They’re asking us to design their experience for them and asking, “How do we top what we did last year?”

As the new generation of meeting planners emerge, we will need to develop more innovative event formats, creating a more real-time virtual experience for our clients. The days of clipboards are long gone, and now is the time to step up our creativity and think beyond the millennial mind!