By Carolyn Blackburn, Meetings Focus -- While much of the good stuff about Salt Lake City and Park City remains the same as it was in earlier decades (and centuries)—such as hearing the voices of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which began spreading joy in 1873, and brushing past celebrities during the Sundance Film Festival, which started in 1978—the two destinations keep pace with the changes necessary to continually attract group business.

Upgrades at local meetings-ready properties, a focus on bookings during the three less popular (but just as incredible) seasons, and new-builds and attractions are all part of the ongoing evolution in two of Utah’s favorite locales.

Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City promotes itself as a friendly, high-service, low-cost and scenic meetings and conventions destination, and a growing number of groups are buying what it’s selling.

“The biggest trend recently is the city’s increasing popularity and recognition within the convention industry,” says Mark H. White, vice president of sales at Visit Salt Lake, explaining that in the first six months of 2013, 28 percent more groups representing 48 percent more attendees have been booked than in the first six months of 2012.

The large percentage of convention clients that repeat Salt Lake, White adds, has had a major impact on the city’s booking pace.

“I believe there are two attributes fueling this trend: Salt Lake’s ever-friendly service providers and the increased number of restaurants, retail outlets and visitor attractions,” he says.

In May, a conglomeration of companies announced plans to develop mixed-use retail, a structured parking garage and two hotels on a 3.26-acre site in downtown Salt Lake. Situated adjacent to Energy Solutions Arena and the Salt Palace Convention Center, the project will include a 159-room Hyatt House Hotel, expected to open in fall 2014, and a 175-room Courtyard by Marriott, which is on track to open in spring 2015.

The current lineup of hotels accommodating groups includes Hilton Salt Lake City Center, Radisson Hotel Salt Lake City and Hotel Monaco, which all completed major renovations last year, as well as Grand America Hotel, Little America Hotel, Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, Salt Lake Marriott Downtown and Salt Lake City Marriott City Center.

The two most recent additions to the city’s portfolio of attractions that double as off-site venues are the Natural History Museum of Utah, with a Sky Gallery & Terrace boasting great views of the Salt Lake Valley, and The Leonardo, a science and technology museum that enjoys mountain and city views, and features an auditorium, boardroom and a large dining space for events.

Other standby attractions for groups are the area’s ski and summer resorts, including Antelope Island, where they’ll see free-roaming bison and antelope, and Snowbird, where they’ll find a zip line, alpine slide, guided hikes, ropes courses and an aerial tram that climbs to 11,000 feet.

“When in Salt Lake, it’s almost obligatory to visit historic Temple Square,” White adds. “The attractions associated with Temple Square are all admission-free and include the world’s largest genealogical museum, garden tours, a large-format movie screen, pioneer homes and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which rehearses on Thursday nights and performs on Sunday morning.”

The Utah Heritage Foundation facilitates a historic pub crawl for groups. This fun evening outing highlights downtown Salt Lake bars that have historic significance, and according to White, food and beverages are an important part of this team-building activity.

Located between Salt Lake and Park City is Utah Olympic Park, where attendees might very well witness ski jumpers, aerialists and bobsledders in action during a meeting.

The park sports several function spaces, including a conference room and outdoor pavilion, and opportunities for groups to get in on the fun, such as an alpine slide, zip lining and other team-building activities.