Jeff Heilman, Meetings Focus Magazine - Situated near the southeast corner of the Great Salt Lake beneath the majestic Wasatch Mountains, Salt Lake City often appears heavenly, as when its lights start sparkling as the setting sun paints the snow-brushed Wasatch peaks pink. Remarkably, this was empty desert when Brigham Young and his fellow Mormon pioneers first encamped here in 1847, but trusting his vision, Young declared, "This is the place," and the rest is history.

Today, arrival and transformation continue to define this uniquely blended metropolitan city and the quaint mountain town as "The Crossroads of the West." Eight years after Salt Lake City and nearby Park City hosted one of the most successful Winter Olympics ever, few destinations-let alone entire states-have reaped such sustained post-Olympic economic rewards. Talk about six-ringed ROI: As of 2008 figures, Utah's tourism industry is now valued at $7.1 billion, compared to the 2000 pre-Olympic estimate of $4.25 billion. Salt Lake CVB President and CEO Scott Beck puts it best when he says, "Our brand as a legitimate world-class convention destination was born out of the Olympic experience."

The buzz keeps growing among corporate and independent planners, especially after the city's smash success hosting MPI's 2009 World Education Congress.

"Most of Salt Lake's larger hotels received in-house booking from planners who attended that event, and success of the 2009 WEC has also resonated with other organizations," says Mark White, vice president of sales for the CVB.

The Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) just selected Salt Lake to host True Value's 2012 Fall Market, and come 2016, the city will host the "Super Bowl of Conventions," the prestigious and influential American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) & The Center for Association Leadership's Annual Meeting & Exposition. Salt Lake City has also extended agreements for the Outdoor Retailer Winter and Summer Markets through 2014, potentially worth as much as $120 million in local economic impact.

Crowned the "Fittest City in America" by Men's Fitness magazine in February 2009, Salt Lake City is also the capital of America's happiest state, according to the November 2009 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index of the 50 states.

"Salt Lake City is a vibrant, clean, safe city that's run by genuine, conscientious people," Beck says. "Planners commonly tell us that we hosted one of, if not the most, successful conventions their organization ever had."

The appeal starts with two vital quotients in today's economy-accessibility and affordability.

Getting to Salt Lake City could not be easier. Just eight miles from the downtown convention district, Salt Lake City International Airport is the national leader for on-time arrivals and departures. Served by all major U.S. airlines and a hub for Delta, the world's largest carrier, the airport offers over 750 daily flights from most major U.S. gateways and 90 cities in all. It is also kind to the corporate wallet: In a March 2010 survey of Web fares from 21 domestic gateways, including New York, Orlando and San Diego, the average round-trip price was $203.

Salt Lake City's well-distributed county-wide inventory of over 17,000 hotel rooms includes almost 3,000 rooms at the airport and nearly 7,000 in the downtown core. Seemingly airlifted from Old World Europe, the city's sole AAA Five Diamond property, the 775-room Grand America Hotel, offers 75,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, including lavish gardens in the heart of the property.

Other standard-bearers include the 515-room Marriott Salt Lake City Downtown and the 499-room Hilton Salt Lake City Center, both with generous meeting space and both within walking distance of the strikingly modern, 675,000-square-foot Salt Palace Convention Center.

"Our convention center ranks in North America's 10th percentile in terms of size," White says, "with 243,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space also available at the South Towne Exposition Center."

Whether footing it in the walkable convention district or relying on public transportation options, shuttles, rental cars, taxis and limos, getting around the city's grid is also easy-and there is plenty to see and do. Set on 10 landscaped acres, historic Temple Square is the city's spiritual epicenter, featuring the famed spires of the Salt Lake Temple and the domed Tabernacle, home of the renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Tabernacle organ. Another cherished institution is the circa-1913 Capitol Theatre, renovated in 1978 and home today to cultural attractions including Ballet West and the Utah Opera. Meanwhile, Red Butte Botanical Garden, part of the University of Utah, is an ideal place for an elegant private event.

Especially telling of the times is the revision of Utah's liquor laws. Long at odds with reconciling its identity as the exalted home of the Mormon faith with modern secularism, Salt Lake City is taking the progressive path-a conscious decision to support the continuing invigoration of the city as a dynamic tourism and convention destination. Two recent legislative enactments-the first eliminating the state's private club system, the second lifting Salt Lake City's limitation on downtown bars-have put Utah's liquor laws on par with most other states.

As conventioneers are now discovering, downtown is an exciting destination unto itself, offering over 140 bars, pubs, restaurants and nightlife options.

Salt Lake City's multifaceted evolution also includes diversity and a spirit of welcome. During the 2002 Olympics, local volunteers, many of them Mormons who had completed their missions around the globe, spoke to foreign athletes in their native tongues. Now, the city is rapidly expanding with non-Mormons. One major driver is Utah's booming electronic game industry, which has attracted a number of software companies to the region. According to the Entertainment Software Association, Utah's entertainment software sector has grown about six times as fast as the state's economy over the past five years, with game publishers and developers contributing some $91 million to the state's economy in 2009.

Switched on like never before, Salt Lake City is "the place" to be.

Park City
Unlike fashionistas such as Aspen or Vail, this former silver mining town east of Salt Lake City evolved its egalitarian appeal organically over time. Reincarnated as a tourism and skiing destination in the 1950s after the inexorable demise of its mining base, Park City, its celebrated historic Main Street lined with restaurants, shops and galleries, is a four-season paradise with global appeal as home of the renowned Sundance Film Festival.

Nestled in the Wasatch Range's cooler hinterlands, Park City is conveniently reached via the six-lane, all-weather Interstate 80. Offering more than 25 properties accommodating groups from 10 to around 800, Park City is also a hot meetings draw, with more than 4,000 committable rooms.

Park City's world-class resorts offer a total of nearly 10,000 acres of skiable terrain. Celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2010, Deer Valley Resort has been named North America's top ski resort three years in a row (2008-2010) by readers of SKI Magazine. The Canyons Resort mixes traditional conference spaces in The Canyons Grand Summit Hotel with high-altitude options such as the Red Pine Lodge, reached by gondola 8,000 feet atop the Wasatch Mountains, while Park City Mountain Resort is a favorite for corporate getaways and mountain weddings. Under the Quick START program, visitors can exchange their boarding pass for a free first day of skiing at each resort.

Marketed as the "Luxury Accommodation Collection," Park City's amenity-rich jewels include Stein Eriksen Lodge at Deer Valley Resort and the Waldorf Astoria Park City at Canyons Resort, along with the rave-reviewed, stand-alone Sky Lodge on Main Street and the recently opened St. Regis, butler service included, near Deer Valley. Hotel Park City is another favorite choice for meetings.

Fun is the name of the game in Park City, with some 20 spas (including one for dogs), great dining options and liquid assets galore, including the High West Distillery & Saloon.

"We make it easy for groups to plan events and meetings at our mountain resort destination," says Vicki Gaebe, meeting and convention marketing manager for the Park City Chamber Bureau. "With a convenient 35-minute trip from Salt Lake International Airport, a wide variety of full-service venues, great events, hot travel deals and unparalleled recreational activities, Park City is an excellent choice for their next meeting."

Site of 14 events at the 2002 Winter Games, Utah Olympic Park is now a year-round training facility with a full menu of group and event options, including team-building programs that include bobsled rides reaching speeds of up to 80 mph.

Just south of Park City awaits the village of Midway, where in 1886 Swiss emigre "Jake" Schneitter created Schneitter's Hot Pots, a resort with geothermal baths still operating today as the Homestead. In 2006, Dr. Robert Fuller, great grandson of Jake's father, opened the full-service Zermatt Resort, an authentically rendered Swiss mountain lodge gloriously set in a valley footing the 13,000-foot-high Wasatch peaks.