Successful citywide meetings and conventions—“citywides” for short—highlight the urban and natural environment of a destination, while providing opportunities for forging new friendships and alliances. These megameetings are no longer microclimates that exist in bubbles. Instead, they are immersive, festival-like experiences bringing residents and delegates together. Northwest Meetings + Events talked with city representatives and out-of-state convention planners to get the scoop on how cities are putting out the welcome mat for large groups.
Vancouver, British Columbia
“Absolutely, natural beauty played a role in choosing Vancouver,” says Karen Verhey, director of operations and events for the Society for College and University Planning, based in Detroit. “I was blown away by the natural beauty embedded in the city itself and the LEED-certified convention center.” Fifteen hundred attendees enjoyed the Vancouver Convention Centre, the first double LEED Platinum convention center in the world. Set alongside Coal Harbour, with seaplanes regularly taking off and landing within shouting distance, it boasts incredible water and mountain views.
The team at the Vancouver Convention Centre provided Verhey with excellent support and a high-energy environment for her guests. Vancouver hospitality stepped up with a Show Your Badge program, offering exclusive benefits for delegates at local shops and attractions, as well as a social media concierge. Dave Gazley, vice president of meeting and convention sales for Tourism Vancouver, notes, “The Vancouver hospitality community rolls out the red carpet for citywide conventions. ... The tourism and service industries in Vancouver really work together.”
Boise is quickly becoming known as one of the coolest under-the-radar-but-not-for-long cities across the country. Meeting planners love Boise for its friendliness and its ability to host massive groups in a small area. The walkable downtown is a planner’s dream. The Grove Hotel sits next door to the Boise Centre, and stellar restaurants abound within a five-minute walk. The city is also home to numerous unique venues for team-building activities. The World Center for Birds of Prey offers groups a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view condors, falcons, owls and other raptors up close. You’ll also find the largest Basque population per capita outside of Spain in Boise, which is celebrated in its charming Basque Block. Group buyouts for big groups are encouraged for custom block parties, complete with traditional dancers and massive platters of paella for hungry guests.
Seattle is adept at hosting megaconventions, thanks to its secret weapon: the hard-working staff of Visit Seattle. They can help with planning for oversize convention crowds through venue combinations. For example, the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP), Chihuly Garden and Glass, and the Space Needle—all neighbors at the Seattle Center—can come together for one memorable block party.
Beth Ellis of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) in Bethesda, Maryland, raves about Visit Seattle and explains why her group keeps coming back to the city. “Katy Willis of Visit Seattle was our point person throughout the experience, and she made everything easy. It was like having another event planner on board,” Ellis says. Creativity was key to hosting private events for 150 chapter groups. Ellis planned gatherings at unique venues throughout the entire city, including Argosy Cruises and the legendary music venue Showbox SoDo. Innovation also ruled, with unique programs held during the convention, such as the “Showstopper Showcase,” which highlighted nearly 175 products, and a Sports Zone, showing NFL games. Postmeeting surveys revealed that a few Seahawks fans were created that day
For those who haven’t visited “The Last Frontier,” Alaska holds a massive allure for groups to head north. Anchorage rolls out the red carpet with welcome signs at the airport, in downtown stores and in restaurant windows. Visit Anchorage also offers free registration assistants, an information table, connections to local news media for event coverage and gift suggestions for organizations’ boards of directors.
Sydney Meshkov, Ph.D., a physicist at California Institute of Technology, is no stranger to the 49th state. He’s enjoyed many fishing trips there over the years with his son. He wanted to share the experience with others, so he planned GWADW 2015 (a scientific conference) for Alaska. The international group stayed in Girdwood, Alaska, near Anchorage, at the luxury Alyeska Resort. Most of the delegates had never experienced the splendor of Alaska, so it was the perfect chance to show off one of the Pacific Northwest’s most spectacular destinations. Attendees toured the Kenai Fjords and witnessed the bountiful wildlife for which the state is famous. The experience was memorable for all, thanks to the region’s hospitality and legendary beauty.