Utah is one of the most beautiful, yet least understood, meeting destinations.
The scenery is a study in diversity, with the snow-capped mountains of the Wasatch Range to the north and a full spectrum of color-washed cliffs and desert to the south. Add the modern architecture of Salt Lake City's newly minted city center and the swanky syncopation of Park City's nightlife to the solitude of southern Utah's resort and recreation corridor, and the perfect canvas for meetings emerges. From executive retreats to citywide conventions, the words of the Beehive State's founding fathers, "This is the place," still resonate today.
A peek into the Utah guidebooks reveals that there is plenty for guests to do before, during and after the meeting. Utah is home to 115 golf courses; 13 ski resorts, 14 national parks, monuments and recreation areas; 18 brewpubs and microbreweries; five wineries and two award-winning distilleries. The state also claims a long list of Zagat-rated restaurants, more than 30 spa resorts and eight professional sports teams, including the NBA's Utah Jazz and the 2009 Major League Soccer Cup Champions, the Real Salt Lake.
Because members of the Mormon Church, who abstain from alcohol, comprise just under half of the city's population, some meeting planners who haven't yet experienced the hospitality of Salt Lake City have some pre-conceived notions. "[Some individuals] believe there's a dearth of nightlife and the ability to drink, both of which are important to meeting professionals and meeting attendees due to the fact that a fair amount of real business is accomplished away from the convention center during non-show hours," says Shawn Stinson of the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau. According to Stinson, Salt Lake offers a wonderful dichotomy of experiences, including incredible arts and culture, dining and nightlife, unparalleled outdoor recreation (and access to it) and a friendly, outgoing community.
Salt Lake City
Convenience is the catchword for Salt Lake City. The trip from the Salt Lake International Airport to downtown is only eight minutes. TRAX light rail lines servicing all parts of the downtown are free for riders, and in 2013 construction on the new rail extension from the airport to downtown will be completed. The city's convention center is surrounded by five major hotel properties that are within walking distance. In addition to last year's landmark decision to do away with a 40-year-old requirement to classify bars as private clubs, the most recent session of the state's legislature repealed an earlier law prohibiting more than two bars per city block.
As the host city for the 2002 Winter Olympics, Salt Lake City developed an infrastructure and strategy for handling large groups. The Salt Palace Convention Center offers a total of 675,000 sq. ft., including 515,000 sq. ft. of contiguous exhibit space, 167,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, 67 meeting rooms and a 45,000-square-foot ballroom. It was the site of Meeting Professional International's World Education Conference (MPI WEC) in 2009. It is also on the short list for the 2012 Republican National Convention and will welcome the members of the American Society of Association Executives in 2016.
Often, second-tier meeting markets such as Salt Lake City try harder to impress visitors. During last year's MPI WEC, event production company Scenemakers went to great lengths to deliver the unexpected. "We were fortunate to be involved with the enormous opening reception, hosted by the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Utah State Department of Tourism," says Scenemakers' Doug Smith. The event, which spanned three-fourths of a city block and included the new downtown library, featured aerial ballet from suspended performers dancing across the glass façade of the building 40 feet in the air, as well as a mini farmers market to serve food and beverages, contemporary outdoor lounge, and world tribal-type entertainment.
Northern Utah is graced with world-class ski resorts on both sides of the mountains. Three resorts are located on the eastern slope. Snowbird is the closest mountain resort to an international airport in the country, at only 29 miles and 40 minutes from Salt Lake International Airport. It offers 500 guest rooms, 50,000 sq. ft. of event space and a 28,000-square-foot spa in a pedestrian, alpine village setting. Ski and Skiing magazines consistently rank its sister mountain nearby Alta as a top destination for skiers due to its "powder, snow quality, terrain and value." Solitude is another favorite of skiiers and event planners. It offers 1,200-plus acres of runs, fine dining and lodging for small groups.
Meeting planners have a wide range of hotels to choose from in Salt Lake City. The newly renovated Peery Hotel is a turn-of-the-century historic property adjacent to Christopher's Restaurant. The Hilton Salt Lake City Center completed a $16-million renovation in January featuring all new lighting, carpet, banquet chairs, décor, vertical buffet tables and updated technology. The nearby Salt Lake Art Center welcomes groups for cocktail receptions and dinner. Hotel Monaco, a Kimpton property known for its eclectic décor, offers 3,100 sq. ft. of meeting space, while the Sheraton Salt Lake City completed an extensive top-to-bottom $14-million renovation in 2009.
Salt Lake City is home to three Marriott hotels, each of which provides excellent facilities for meetings. Because of its proximity to the $1.5-billion City Creek Center project, scheduled for completion in 2012, the Salt Lake City Marriott Downtown renovated its rooms, lobby and meeting room technology in 2009, including the addition of a Starbucks and a newly designed lounge. The Marriott University Park has 218 guest rooms and 10,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space. In 2011, it will welcome the opening of the nearby University of Utah's Rio Tinto Museum of Natural History. The Salt Lake City Marriott City Center is walking distance from the Salt Palace Convention Center, and has 342 rooms, 17 suites and 15,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
The jewel of Salt Lake's downtown cityscape is the Grand America Hotel, the only Five-Diamond property in the city. The hotel offers 775 luxury rooms and suites, 100,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space, two ballrooms and 20 meeting rooms. The Grand America's sister property, the Little America Hotel, recently completed a renovation begun in 2009. The hotel added three new meeting rooms for an additional 4,049 sq. ft. of event space, bringing the total square footage to 34,300.
Although Salt Lake gets the credit for the 2002 Winter Olympics, many of the events were actually held in Park City, a former mining town just 40 minutes east of Salt Lake City. The Utah Olympic Park hosted ski jumping and all of the sliding sports, including bobsled, luge and skeleton. Today it's one of two Olympic training facilities in Utah. The park is a year-round destination, with meeting space at the Alf Engen Ski Museum, Quinney Conference Room, Day Lodge and two plazas overlooking the aerialists' practice pool.
Main Street in Park City is a lineup of fine dining restaurants, art galleries, shops and watering holes. It is the main hub for the annual Sundance Film Festival in January and the heart of the city's nightlife year-round. Meeting and event planner Erica Cutler of Groundwork Events describes the possibilities for meeting groups. "Park City offers a diverse array of options for all types of meetings, from an intimate board meeting for 20 to a convention for hundreds. Service levels are on par with any convention city, and pricing tends to be realistic and definitely flexible in the off-season. It works for a group of thrill seekers or those looking for relaxation in a mountain retreat," she says.
Park City hotels push the limits of luxury and value with a collection of upscale properties perfect for incentives and small-to-mid-sized groups. Located on the western slope of the Wasatch Mountains, the Stein Eriksen Lodge is the only Five-Star and Five-Diamond hotel in Utah, offering 180 guest rooms and 6,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. In December of 2009, the lodge unveiled its newly remodeled 20,000-square-foot spa. The St. Regis Deer Crest Resort is the newest property to open in the Deer Valley area, with 181 guest rooms and 10,472 sq. ft. of meeting space. The Deer Valley Resort, Lodges at Deer Valley and Chateaux at Silver Lake are additional options for meeting planners. The new Montage Deer Valley, scheduled to open in 2010, will feature 244 guest rooms, 17,000 sq. ft. of indoor meeting space, a 4,300-square-foot ballroom and a 35,000-square-foot spa.
Apart from Deer Valley there are other options for meeting groups. The Sky Lodge, at the top of Main Street, is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group. The Canyons Resort has a collection of properties including The Canyons Grand Summit Hotel, Escala Lodges, Sundial Lodge and the Waldorf Astoria Park City (formerly the Dakota Mountain Lodge). Other hotels include the Marriott Park City with 191 guest rooms, eight suites and 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; the Yarrow Resort Hotel and Conference Center, with 181 guest rooms and 12,000 sq. ft. of event space; Newpark Resort, offering 6,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; the Westgate Park City Resort and Spa and Hotel Park City.
The city of Ogden, 40 minutes north of Salt Lake City, is fast becoming a winter sports hub and year-round activity center. A former railroad town, Ogden hosted the Men's and Women's Olympic Downhill, Super G and Combined events in 2002 at Snowbasin Resort, one of three ski resorts in the area, along with Powder Mountain and Wolf Creek . It is surrounded by 67,000 acres of national forest and the Great Salt Lake. The downtown's historic 25th Street is lined with restaurants, bars, art galleries and pubs. The historic Peery's Egyptian Theatre is at the heart of the city's arts and entertainment district. The Ogden Convention and Visitors Bureau is your go-to resource for information about the area.
The Ogden Eccles Conference Center is the largest meeting facility in Ogden, with more than 50,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space. It is adjacent to the 137-room Hampton Inn and Suites Ogden. The Marriott Ogden features 14,107 sq. ft. of meeting space and 292 guest rooms and suites. The University Inn and Conference Center at Utah State University is a 40-minute drive from Ogden through the scenic Cache Valley to Logan. Also, the Sherwood Hills Resort Conference Center and Spa, located near Logan, can accommodate groups up to 400.
The Davis Conference Center features 70,000 sq. ft. of meeting and exhibit space, plus high-speed Internet access and an adjacent Hilton Garden Inn Salt Lake City/Layton. According to the Davis Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, there are nine hotel properties near the conference center, including the newest, Home2 Suites by Hilton, making 1,500 rooms available for groups meeting in Davis County. Area attractions include the Lagoon amusement park, Antelope Island State Park, Bountiful Davis Art Center and the Hill Aerospace Museum.
The Utah Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau is looking forward to the August 2010 groundbreaking of the new 124,000-square-foot Utah County Convention Center in historic downtown Provo. In addition, the Redford Conference Center at Sundance Resort will be completed this summer, adding 3,500 sq. ft. of meeting space featuring reception areas, wrapping patios, a large group fireplace and a full-service kitchen to the existing resort facilities. Thanksgiving Point is another major Utah Valley attraction, showcasing 55 acres of themed gardens, 13,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and a championship golf course designed by Johnny Miller. Utah Valley is home to two universities, Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University, which are both affordable options for small- to medium-sized meetings.
Less than 20 minutes west of the Park City/Deer Valley area, and less than an hour from Salt Lake International Airport, is Heber Valley, featuring several resort/spa properties and famous hot springs that bubble up from the ground. The Heber Valley Chamber Bureau describes the area as having "European charm and western adventure." The Four-Star Zermatt Resort in Midway is a re-creation of a Bavarian resort and spa offering 158 guest rooms and suites, 126 condominium units and 19,519 sq. ft. of meeting space, plus 10,422 sq. ft. of exhibit space. The Homestead Resort encompasses a championship golf course, 13,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, 94 guest rooms, 27 suites, 23 condominiums and a full-service spa. Area attractions include the Heber Valley Railroad and the Soldier Hollow recreation area.
The St. George Area Convention and Visitors Bureau presides over territory that is home to Zion National Park, Snow Canyon State Park and the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The city is 90 minutes from Las Vegas and five hours from Salt Lake City. It is known for its 12 golf courses, pleasant year-round weather, Tuacahn Amphitheatre, and world-class health and wellness spas, including Red Mountain Spa, Green Valley Spa and the Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge. The Dixie Center at St. George, together with the adjacent Hilton Garden Inn St. George, has 47,500 sq. ft. of exhibit space and 32,000 sq. ft. of meeting space in 21 rooms. In January 2011, the St. George Airport extension will be completed, enabling it to receive five times more traffic than it presently does as a Delta SkyWest hub.
In the southeastern part of the state, a 90-minute drive from Grand Junction, Colo., or four hours from Salt Lake City, the Moab area is famous for its red rock and recreation options. The Sorrel River Ranch Resort is 20 minutes from Moab and offers 15,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space, guest accommodations and a spa. The Red Cliffs Lodge is 14 miles from Moab on the Colorado River, with a meeting center and winery on property. The Old Spanish Trail Arena welcomes both equestrian and nonequestrian events in its 24,000-square-foot facility. Moab is also home to Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. For information on how to navigate the area, contact the Moab Area Travel Council.