Affordable Meeting Destinations
For those in search of a destination that provides everything needed for a great meeting at a cost that stays on budget, there are numerous options in and around the region. Offerings such as free parking, lower sales and room taxes, package pricing and bundled services, low cost excursions, complimentary services - all of these things add up and equate to tremendous value. And just because these destinations qualify as affordable doesn’t mean there is anything “bare bones” about them. As a matter of fact, most offer plenty of options and opportunities for everything from off-site events to high-tech services to recreational activities and more. Destination: Cooperstown, NY “Cooperstown is home to three amazing museums: National baseball Hall of Fame, Fenimore Art Museum, and The Farmers’ Museum - all within walking distance of The Otesaga Resort Hotel,” notes Robert Faller, director of sales and marketing for The Otesaga, a AAA Four Diamond resort that sits on the southern shore of Lake Otsego. This nine-mile-long pristine lake also is known as “Glimmerglass,” which was taken from James Fenimore Cooper’s famed novels. “Golf is available on property at Leatherstocking Golf Course, as well as a range of activities from lawn games and lake sports to relaxing spa treatments at Hawkeye Spa. Cooperstown is a peaceful village where groups can come to refresh,” Faller adds. When Faller speaks to a client that has a limited budget, he and his staff try so steer them into dates where The Otesaga can be much more flexible with regard to rates. “We can offer them complimentary meeting rooms, discounted AV, discounted menu prices, upgraded guest room. If the date they choose is during our shoulder periods, sometimes we will offer a complimentary coffee break or even an open bar, depending on the size of the group.” At The Otesaga, meeting space is included with every room’s package. Wi-Fi is complimentary throughout and parking is free. Groups are welcome to bring their own audio-visual to help keep costs down. Plus, there is no food and beverage minimum or resort fees. “With large groups we offer some complimentary suite upgrades for their VIPs,” notes Faller. “During the off-season, with large groups, we will keep all rooms the same rate so they may choose who gets all the upgraded rooms. Many times we will offer basic AV complimentary.” Among those seeking affordable destinations like Cooperstown are government groups and associations. The Otesaga is able to accommodate with very reasonable rates during its off-season months. Destination: Delaware County, PA Delaware County, which rubs shoulders with both Philadelphia and the State of Delaware, has one of the smallest County footprints in Pennsylvania, yet its population of 500,000-plus exceeds that of major cities such as Fresno, CA or Tucson, AZ. In Delaware County, accessibility is everything - and so is infrastructure. I-95 and the Philadelphia Airport run straight through the county. Plus, there are a dozen more major highways that lead millions of people in and out of “Delco” every week. An area famous for the Brandywine Battlefield along with dozens of other historic sites and attractions, it also is home to the Brandywine River Museum of Art, which features the works of three generations of Wyeths. Delaware County also is part of what is called “The Nation’s Garden Capital,” which includes 30 gardens within 30 miles of each other. Some of the best golf courses in the country are located in Delaware County, too. In fact, from September 4-9, 2018 the BMW Golf Championship will take place in Newtown Square at Aronimink Golf Club. The restaurant scene here is both global and boundless, from one of the region’s top restaurants, Paramour at the Wayne Hotel on the Main Line, to a NYC-style restaurant row of more than 20 eateries in Media, to the 40 or so international restaurants dotted throughout the Drexel Hill and Upper Darby areas and along the riverfront, the taste-buds of meeting and event attendees could “travel the world” without ever leaving Delaware County. While there aren’t any very large venues here, such as those in Philadelphia, meeting and event planners will find many interesting venues from which to choose - and all at a price point that is considerably less per day than Center City properties, with savings in areas such as room costs, taxes, free parking, and lower prices in general. According to Destination Delco (the convention and visitors bureau of Delaware County) VP Marty Milligan, “Our bureau does not negotiate rates for event planners, but we feel safe in saying our venues and hotels are more flexible, because Center City venues don’t need to negotiate. They know that some groups must meet in the city… and they feel safe turning down business knowing that another group likely will fill those dates.” In Delaware County however, he asserts, every piece of business matters. Overhead, taxes and other costs are lower than in the city. To meet demand, new hotels are coming on board almost every year. In 2018 alone, four new hotels will be opening in Delaware County. According to Destination Delco’s director of communications, Barbara Lehman, “Our bureau is a very strong supporter of meeting and event planners. We identify and brainstorm potential vendors and sponsors for their event, offer marketing advice, contacts and provide actual copy and design assistance for digital ads, email blasts, posters, flyers and brochures. Based on the size, type and scope of each event, we support them in ways that they feel we can best help them ensure a successful meeting.” Reverend Carolyn C. Cavaness, a meeting planner for the 202nd Philadelphia Annual Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which takes place from May 21-27, 2018 at the Springfield Country Club, says, “We are very excited about being here on the Main Line in Delaware County. It’s the perfect location between Philly and Harrisburg with great access and environment. It’s been a joy working with the Destination Delco bureau, which gave us so many resources to use. We anticipate bringing 2,000 attendees into the county from across the Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Mid-Atlantic region.” Donna Fosco, general manager for the La Quinta Hotel at the Philadelphia International Airport, which is situated in Delaware County, notes that her hotel - like many other airport properties - does not offer a large amount of on-site meeting space, but they do work with smaller event planners. “Many of those we work with are smaller organizations and companies that don’t have huge budgets or require a lot of event space. We do very well with smaller associations, social groups, military organizations and religious planners.” Destination: Pocono Mountains, PA The Pocono Mountains Region is a four-season destination that offers easy access from major metropolitan areas such as New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC, and it is home to approximately 80 percent of all the resorts within the state of Pennsylvania. Each of these resorts boasts desirable all-inclusive packages that help to make meeting planning both easy and affordable. In addition, things like free parking and Wi-Fi add up for bottom-line savings. “We are all very excited, too, about the new interactive map that just went live on our website a couple of weeks ago,” notes David M. Jackson, CMP, vice president of sales for the Pocono Mountains Convention and Visitors Bureau. He adds that this new map even offers an option for groups to check on real time “driving times” from one point to another in the area. Jackson says that today’s planner want to create memorable and lasting experiences while also staying within budget. “One way to highlight value in planning is to show cost savings. We assist the planner in creating a package that achieves their meeting goals while showing their value in reducing the costs to the client.” He adds, “We love to assist in finding the right venue through site selection. The PMVB (Pocono Mountains Vacation Bureau) will cover the cost of the planner’s overnight stay and meals with the show of a current RFP. Secondly, we will assist in finding local speakers who don’t have to travel long distances to participate in the meeting. Farm-to- table options are always available to help minimize food costs.” Another way the PMVB assists a planner on a strict budget is to recommend dates and venues during shoulder periods (times when costs are at their seasonal lowest). “Our properties let us know when the need is greatest for occupancy and we can in turn share that information with planners looking for the absolute best rates,” explains Jackson. “Flexibility in dates is a huge factor in getting the lowest prices.” Jackson notes that while planners from a wide range of industries are looking to attain the best value when planning their meetings, the Pocono Mountains plays host to a number of associations and faith-based meeting planners who are among the most focused on cost savings. Destination: Lancaster County, PA The Lancaster County area’s smaller size and the relationships between the convention and visitors bureau (Discover Lancaster) and local properties - as well as their relationships with each other - helps in attracting group business and with the ability to offer many of the same types of amenities and activities found in a larger area. Lancaster County offers a unique appeal that blends both urban and rural elements. It is home to the original and largest Amish settlement in U.S., but also has a walkable downtown replete with art galleries, fine dining, performing arts, unique shops, and boutique hotels. According to Mara Sultan, convention and international sales manager for Discover Lancaster, “Lancaster’s room rates are a good value compared to most traditional Mid-Atlantic meeting locations, plus our parking costs are low and oftentimes free. In addition, we’re easily accessible via Amtrak, several major highways, and four regional and local airports.” She adds that Discover Lancaster has a dedicated sales staff to help planners with any size or type of meeting or convention. “We can assist in distributing RFPs to area hotels and venues, set up site tours, help find speakers, provide promotional materials, refer specific vendors, assist with transportation, coordinate an official welcome or concierge service, and help direct planners to team building activities.” Destination: Ocean City, MD Ocean City, MD is home to more than 1,200 spaces of free parking, it is a “right to work” state and the beachfront town boasts more than 10,000 hotel rooms and 25,000 condo units, seventeen golf courses, three miles of boardwalk as well as 10 miles of pristine beaches and over 200 restaurants - most open year-round - and all of this is within a two-and-a-half-hour commute from Baltimore, Washington, DC and Philadelphia. Larry Noccolino, executive director for the Roland E. Powell Convention Center notes one significant difference between his oceanside community and the aforementioned metropolises, “We’re not nearly as expensive!” What’s more, Noccolino explains that the convention center offers groups “a sliding scale of space rental depending on your food and beverage needs, pipe and drape, carpet and AV costs.” According to Regina S. Brittingham, regional sales manager for the Roland E. Powell Convention Center, “Our booth setups come with complimentary pipe and drape, table, chairs and electric. We also offer complimentary basic AV with our meeting rooms, which includes microphone, screen, projector and audio-visual cart with electric. Our decorating services, AV offerings, as well as the free parking are tremendous cost saving benefits that are rarely offered at venues in larger cities.” She further notes that all groups must be budget-minded in today’s economic climate, and says that the convention center actively seeks to determine their needs and priorities, and works with them in suggesting ways to minimize their costs throughout the process. Destination: Wicomico County, MD Located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay along Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Wicomico County boasts a scenic and convenient location that is home to various venues for meetings, including the recently renovated Wicomico Youth and Civic Center. This venue offers a 30,000-square foot arena, a 10,000-square foot auxiliary area, 10 meeting rooms and in-house catering. The center can accommodate events of all sizes and offers free parking. Additional meeting venues in the county include Salisbury University and its Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, the Arthur W. Perdue Stadium, and Bordeleau Vineyards and Winery. “There also are plenty of attractions for visitors to enjoy in Wicomico County and the surrounding area, including a free zoo, historical sites and more,” explains Niki Wheatley, director of marketing and public relations, Wicomico County Recreation, Parks, Tourism / Civic Center. In addition, Ocean City, Maryland’s beach and boardwalk are just a short drive away. “Many venues in our area, including the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, offer low prices and affordable packages for events,” observes Wheatley. Moreover, planners can reduce costs further by opting for shoulder season dates. “Planners also may look for venues that offer custom menus, all-inclusive packages and free parking.” Among those seeking out affordable meetings in Wicomico are corporate groups, religious groups, non-profits and start-up companies. Destination: Montgomery County, MD Montgomery County, Maryland is in one of the most bustling regions in the nation, the Capital Region. Montgomery County communities include: Silver Spring; Pike & Rose; Bethesda/Chevy Chase; Rockville; and RIO Washingtonian in Gaithersburg. “Planners tell us time and again that they love our vibrant communities and urban districts because they are a ‘one-stop-shop’ of amenities that attendees are looking for, including: dining, attractions, entertainment options and shopping - all within a safe walking distance to their chosen meeting location,” states Kelly R. Groff, CDME, president and CEO of Visit Montgomery, MD. Montgomery County is just north of Washington, DC and has several hotels and unique venues positioned along the Metro Red Line with easy access into downtown DC. Planners also have three airport options for their attendees: Ronald Reagan National; Dulles Inter-national; and Baltimore Washington Thurgood Marshall International. “There are nearly 50 hotels and 10,000 hotel rooms within the county,” explains Groff. “Our non-traditional meeting and event spaces give event professionals a variety of options from which to select, including the Bolger Center, Silver Spring Civic Building, AMP by Strathmore, Pin Stripes, and iPic.” “Our cultural and entertainment attractions serve as one of our best amenities,” she continues. “In 2001, Maryland created a program that designates Arts and Entertainment Districts throughout the state. These districts help develop and promote community involvement and tourism to attract artists, arts organizations and other creative enterprises. There are 25 of these districts in the state of Maryland, and Montgomery County has three: Wheaton, Silver Spring and Bethesda.” With over 1,000 restaurants and a variety of local breweries, there is no shortage of world-class cuisine in the county. Perhaps one of its most unique offerings, however, is its Agricultural Reserve. In 1980, the Montgomery County Council created a 93,000-acre zone in the northwestern part of the county to preserve farm land and rural space. This farmland protection program is one-of-a-kind in the U.S. Through this area, attendees can partake in various tourism activities that include flower farms, an animal sanctuary for abused, stray and neglected farm animals, a cable ferry that’s been operated since 1782, a glass blowing studio and more. “The availability of options for transportation to a destination is important,” says Groff. “In Montgomery County, the Metro Red Line and proximity to three airports… makes it easier for attendees to arrive at the destination.” “Additionally,” she continues, “we find that often our hotel partners are priced very competitively in comparison to Washington, DC, where planners can often struggle with availability, pricing and logistics.” As for ways to help planners reduce costs, she suggests planners can negotiate parking cost. “Many urban locations have hotels and other venues that have parking fees. A negotiating tool is to try to provide complimentary parking for visitors to that destination.” “Our team also is able to save them time by connecting planners to the best resources or contacts to meet their needs,” she continues, “plus we provide itineraries and suggestions to add to the experience they are looking for in their next event in Montgomery County.” Groff notes that when working with a destination marketing organization (DMO) like Visit Montgomery, MD, the DMO’s team can provide assistance with finding venues that may be willing to work with the planners to host an event and provide additional entertainment, guest speakers or other services. “Many of Montgomery County’s top attractions are offered at little to no cost,” she adds. “When planners are looking for an off-site experience, our team is able to recommend and connect planners to these locations.” Among those seeking affordable meetings in Montgomery County are faith-based and reunions groups, social events, sports tournaments, and non-profit organizations. Each of these destinations boasts a number of offerings and varying ways in which to save on upcoming meetings and events. While these are but a few of the money saving locations available throughout the region, they collectively showcase some great examples of how planners can stay on budget while providing attendees with an amazing event experience.