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Utah’s picturesque beauty inspires meetings amid the great outdoors

Published: 05/02/2011
By Julie Keller, Smart Meetings -- A longtime destination for outdoor aficionados, Utah offers a breathtaking display of natural bounty, ranging from arid sandstone deserts to verdant forests and majestic mountains.

This 85,000-square-mile state is home to five national parks, two national recreation areas and six national forests. From the amazingly colorful rock formations of southern Utah to the elegant ski towns in the north, this tourism-friendly escape truly provides something for every nature lover. As such, planners who want to blend their meetings with exciting outdoor endeavors find it to be a perfect place for incomparable events.

St. George

Adventure is at the heart of meetings in St. George, the city closest to Zion National Park. Located in the southwest corner of Utah and just two hours from Las Vegas, St. George offers a range of exciting outdoor activities, as well as facilities to accommodate everything from a corporate retreat or small meeting to a large convention and trade show.

"St. George is the land of red rocks, blue skies, year-round sunshine, fabulous meeting facilities, 12 lush green golf courses and Zion National Park," says Brittany McMichael, meeting and convention manager for the St. George Area Convention & Tourism Association. "Here, desert red rock meets alpine mountains in a stunning display of geologic majesty. Nestled in the midst of the unfolding terrain is St. George-a vibrant city with an active lifestyle, a thriving business community, great hotels, elegant spas, unique shopping, delicious restaurants and a wide variety of white-knuckle adventures."

Adds Alyson Marks, account coordinator at Red Mountain Resort & Spa, "Set in the heart of red-rock country and offering a year-round temperate climate, St. George is the ideal place to refocus company goals, build teamwork, relax and enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings."
Though outdoor activities can easily be incorporated into events of all shapes and sizes, St. George can also accommodate larger events and trade shows, thanks to the Dixie Center, which is available for groups of five to 5,000 in its 46,000-square-foot exhibit hall, two boardrooms, 19 meeting rooms and a theater/auditorium space. The atrium-style Garden Room, a rotunda, a spacious indoor lobby and pre-function areas are other convenient locations for receptions, banquets and vendor displays.

Several additional hotels feature meeting space, including the Best Western Abbey Inn, Best Western Zion Park Inn, Courtyard St. George, Hilton Garden Inn St. George, Lexington Hotel & Conference Center and Ramada Inn.

St. George is also home to two acclaimed destination spa resorts-Green Valley Spa & Resort and Red Mountain Resort & Spa, both of which are perfect for small meetings and corporate retreats where attendees can partake in healthy eating, active outdoor endeavors and team building. Green Valley features Four-Diamond accommodations, as well as a conference room that can host 100 people, an acclaimed tennis center, a range of fitness and wellness offerings, a spa and more. (For more information on wellness retreats, read "Escape to Wellness.")

Red Mountain Resort & Spa is another great venue for meetings and groups. "The resort offers many unique alternatives for corporate groups, including private group hikes, team-building initiatives and workshops, stress management classes and spa services to relax and rejuvenate," says Marks. Among the myriad team-building options available is In Search for the Cache!, in which participants use a GPS to navigate through situations, accomplishing specific tasks while they search for treasures throughout the property. Following the exercise, the group gathers with the resort's professional life coach for a debriefing, where the lessons learned during the hunt are revealed, and attendees can discover how these behaviors affect them on a daily basis. Other options include a Chili Cookoff and Let's Get It Started, during which attendees can de-stress before the meeting by receiving pre-event mini-massages.

"Designed to provide the ideal escape from dreary, fluorescent-lit office meetings, Red Mountain Resort & Spa now provides unconventional convention space for meetings and events," says Marks. "The facility allows guests to banish stress and unleash creativity with the mind-stimulating surroundings of vivid red rocks, carved canyons, songbirds, fresh-air event space and innovative group programs."

Other nontraditional options include Washington County Regional Park, which is located 10 miles northeast of St. George and is one of the premier equestrian facilities in the West. It offers a 23,000-square-foot indoor arena, a show barn and a race track. Located just outside Zion National Park, Springdale is another great location for small meetings, corporate retreats or incentive groups. "Springdale is a charming off-the-beaten-path destination, complete with enchanting shops, fine galleries, a wide variety of hotels and an abundance of eclectic eateries," says McMichael.

Canyon Point & Moab

Two other properties that take advantage of the natural majesties of the state are Amangiri, an intimate property in Canyon Point in southern Utah, and Sorrel River Ranch Hotel & Spa Resort, which is located along the banks of the Colorado River in Moab, where access to mountain biking, hiking, climbing, touring and river rafting make it a haven for adventurers.

Canyon Point, home of Amangiri and situated near the border of Arizona, boasts one of the country's most dramatic landscapes. Amangiri means "peaceful mountain," and the 34-suite, 600-acre property, which is ideal for smaller groups and retreats, is perfect for nature lovers. The resort is tucked into a protected valley in the center of the Grand Circle, surrounded by such iconic attractions as the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, the Grand Staircase, and Bryce and Zion national parks. The resort has been designed to blend into the landscape, with natural hues, materials and textures. Intimate gatherings can take place in spots such as the Living Room, the Gallery, the Library, the Dining Room, the Private Dining Room and the Cellar, but activities that get guests outside, such as hiking, horseback riding and white-water rafting, provide the most enticing options.

Further north is Moab, site of the annual Moab Jeep Safari, and a haven for mountain bikers and hikers who are drawn to Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. There, Sorrel River Ranch Hotel & Spa Resort, Utah's only Small Luxury Hotel, provides planners with several sites for meetings and events, including 7,500 sq. ft. of indoor meeting facilities in six separate rooms, a 5,000-square-foot covered pavilion and a 2,400-square-foot deck perched on the banks of the Colorado River. Many corporate clients, including Land Rover, General Motors, Daimler AG, Volkswagen, Pfizer, Centex and Micron Technologies, have held executive meetings and group retreats there.

Salt Lake City

Though the capital metropolis of Salt Lake City is most definitely a more urban oasis, it is still appealing to outdoor-minded meeting planners. "Salt Lake is situated in the middle of the American West, cradled by the majestic Wasatch Mountains, and is within close proximity to 21 national parks and monuments," says Mark H. White, vice president of sales for Visit Salt Lake, the city's CVB. "There are few large U.S. cities that are immediately surrounded by mountain scenery and year-round outdoor recreational opportunities."

According to White, Salt Lake City is ideal for meetings, thanks to its accessibility, value and service. "Salt Lake City International Airport is consistently ranked the nation's No. 1 airport for on-time arrivals and departures, according to the Department of Transportation; the Corporate Business Travel Index consistently ranks Salt Lake as one of the nation's most affordable destinations; and the Visit Salt Lake Services Team of four people has 79 years of combined hospitality industry experience and is consistently awarded some of the industry's highest honors. Perhaps more importantly, the community as a whole possesses a remarkable friendliness and service mentality," he says.

"Salt Lake City truly has it all," adds Ann Bangerter, director of sales and marketing for the Hotel Monaco Salt Lake City, a Kimpton Hotel, which offers more than 3,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. "From outdoor activities such as skiing and golfing, to a wide range of eclectic nightlife and cuisine, it is one of the places where you can show up a day early or stay a day later and have a wide range of things to do." (Indeed, the city is in close proximity to several meeting-friendly ski resorts, including Alta, Snowbird and Solitude.)

Salt Lake City has venues to fit a variety of meeting or convention needs, including 675,000 sq. ft. of convention center meeting and exhibit space, 6,975 hotel rooms in the Convention District and more than 170 restaurants, cafes and bars downtown. The Salt Palace Convention Center is located in the heart of downtown Salt Lake. Its footprint is more than 1 million sq. ft., and it offers 515,000 sq. ft. of contiguous exhibit space, a 45,000-square-foot ballroom and 67 meeting rooms. The Salt Palace is among the country's most technologically advanced centers, able to network more than 10,000 computers simultaneously. Its sustainability focus is evidenced by the nation's largest rooftop solar panel installation, which is being built right now and is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The South Towne Expo Center is situated 12 miles from downtown. It offers a total of 243,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and nine meeting rooms.

The 499-room Hilton Salt Lake City Center provides an additional 24,000 sq. ft. to the meetings scene. Another option is the 504-room Salt Lake City Marriott Downtown with 22,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space.

Park City

With meeting venues of all shapes and sizes, as well as a plethora of outdoor activities that appeal to an array of activity lovers, Park City is an unbeatable place to get work done while enjoying the great outdoors. It's particularly active in the summer, when it "comes alive with outdoor concerts and music festivals," says Vicki Gaebe, Park City Chamber of Commerce/Convention & Visitors Bureau meetings and conventions marketing manager. "Park City offers music to suit all listeners...Visitors can catch the best local talent at free Wednesday night concerts at Deer Valley Resort or see the biggest names in the industry at the annual Deer Valley Music Festival."

Park City features a wide range of lodging and meeting facilities, with 4,000 hotel rooms spread among 25-plus meeting and conference properties. Within these venues, there is more than 125,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space. The most recent additions to the scene are the Montage Deer Valley, which opened in December with more than 50,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space that reflects the grandeur of nearby Empire Mountain; and the St. Regis Deer Valley, which boasts 7,500 sq. ft. of indoor function space and 7,000 sq. ft. of outdoor function space. The Stein Eriksen Lodge (host of last summer's Smart Meeting) is another option for planners with its 180 rooms and 9,713 sq. ft. of space. Another great site for meetings with an outdoor bent is The Sky Lodge, which offers an Adventure Spa program through its on-site Amatsu Spa. Guests can take advantage of such guided activities as kayaking in Rock Cliff State Park, hiking through historic mines, white-water rafting, trail rides and even outdoor yoga. There is additional space in day lodges operated by Deer Valley Resort: Silver Lake Lodge, with 15,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; Snow Park Lodge, with 15,000 sq. ft.; and Empire Canyon Lodge, with 7,000 sq. ft.

Sports lovers can get in the Olympic spirit at the Utah Olympic Park, which can accommodate groups from 20-1,000 in venues ranging from the picturesque 3,900-square-foot Day Lodge, overlooking the Park's freestyle pool and ski jumps, to the interactive Alf Engen Ski Museum. A former mining town, Park City is also home to many historic buildings that can host meetings. These include the Egyptian Theatre and the Miners Hospital, as well as the LEED Platinum-certified Swaner EcoCenter. Another fun option, Jupiter Bowl, features luxury bowling lanes, billiards, video games and Wii stations, a sports bar, fine dining and a private VIP lounge.

Utah Valley

About a 45-minute drive south of Salt Lake City sits the vibrant and tranquil Utah Valley, set against the Wasatch Mountains.

The area offers planners various meeting options. One is the Provo Marriott Hotel & Conference Center. Its 330 guest rooms and 28,000 sq. ft. of meeting space are perfect for groups planning an event in downtown Provo, the area's most prominent city. Construction on the much-anticipated Utah County Convention Center began last summer. Located adjacent to the Provo Marriott, the $41 million center will offer 120,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, and is positioned to earn LEED Silver-certification.

Other nearby options for planners include the Courtyard Provo with 100 guest rooms and 2,800 sq. ft. of meeting space, and the Orem Hampton Inn & Suites, with 129 rooms, three meeting rooms and a hospitality suite.

Or your group can meet like the stars in nearby Sundance, where the Sundance Resort is an obvious choice to host an event. Owned by Robert Redford, the resort features 95 guest cottages, 10,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space, a spa and the Sundance Art Shack. Sundance also offers the new Robert Redford Conference Center, which has an additional 3,375 sq. ft. of space for meetings.

So, whether you are headed to the red rocks of St. George, Canyon Point and Moab, the state capital of Salt Lake City or the mountain oasis of Park City, you will find, as Red Mountain's Marks says, "few places on earth match the beauty and tranquility of the natural wonders" in this stunning western state.


St. George Municipal Airport is served by Delta Airlines (via SkyWest Airlines), which provides several daily flights to and from Salt Lake City, and United Express, which offers daily service to and from Los Angeles.

Though neither Canyon Point nor Moab could be called easily accessible, both are reachable by car from smaller airports. Canyon Point is a 45-minute drive from Page, Ariz. There, commercial services are operated by Great Lakes Aviation between Page and Denver, as well as Phoenix. Driving from Salt Lake City (5 hours, 30 minutes away) or various Colorado locations is another option.

Salt Lake City International Airport serves both Salt Lake City and Park City, which is just a 45-minute drive away. Nonstop service is provided to 100 domestic and 12 international cities every day.

National Parks

With five national parks, two national recreation areas and six national forests, Utah is known for its abundance of internationally known outdoor activities. From the state's colorful red rocks to famous arches, visiting these natural wonders will surely make any meeting worth attending.

Zion National Park, Utah's first national park, is a geological wonder of towering sandstone monoliths, mysterious slot canyons and hanging gardens. "There is nothing on earth to compare it to-immense red and white sandstone cliffs stretch from the forested river bed to the brilliant and breathtaking reach of the sky," says Brittany McMichael, meeting and convention manager for the St. George Area Convention & Tourism Association.

Bryce Canyon National Park is less than two hours from Zion. It is actually a series of amphitheaters along the eastern rim of a large plateau. Visitors can drive along the rim to scenic overlooks, or they can hike in the valley below on various trails.
Located nine miles north of St. George, Snow Canyon State Park is comprised of volcanic cones, sand dunes, deep-red sandstone cliffs and twisted layers of rock. Attendees can enjoy horseback rides, ranger-guided hikes or mountain-bike rides through the park.

Arches National Park is located just outside of Moab. It is known for its more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, including the world-famous Delicate Arch.