While skyrocketing hotel rates and other costs are putting first-tier cities beyond the reach of many meeting budgets, there is no shortage of attractive alternatives just a few hours, or sometimes even minutes, away. Here’s a look at several locales around the country that offer affordability without sacrificing quality and convenience.
For those who want to meet in the Bay Area without incurring the high costs of San Francisco and Silicon Valley, price relief lies just across the Bay Bridge. In addition to lower hotel rates, groups meeting in Oakland will find a welcoming atmosphere, an exciting culinary scene and creative options for teambuilding and networking, according to Rahnee Palma, director of sales for Visit Oakland.
“In San Francisco, groups are fighting for space and availability, whereas hotels in Oakland can fully pay attention to your group,” she said. “Beyond that, Oakland offers a very committed and distinctive community that can enrich meeting activities. For example, we have more artists per capita than any other city in the country, so instead of the usual scavenger hunt, your group can paint a mural.”
Palma also noted that downtown Oakland—a 15-minute ride on Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) from downtown San Francisco—is experiencing a renaissance of new development and repurposing of its many historic buildings, including the renovation of the Sears Building to serve as the new headquarters for Uber and the conversion of a former auto showroom to ImpactHub, a high-tech workspace with event areas for groups. On the hotel scene, the former Jack London Inn is now the hip Z Hotel, and the Oakland Marriott, the city’s convention headquarters hotel, completed a major renovation and is one of the first Marriott properties to boast an M Club Lounge, an innovative space for work and relaxation.
For planners looking to get maximum value in Oakland, Palma suggests booking during February, March, April, August and September. She advises planners to make note of the convention calendar in San Francisco, as a huge citywide like Dreamforce can make availability tight in the region.
Just east of Oakland, Concord and the surrounding Diablo Valley is a meeting destination where groups will not only find affordability, but also sunny weather, scenic hiking trails, craft breweries, outstanding shopping, BART service and convenient access from the San Francisco, Oakland and Concord airports, according to Kerri Gay-Harris, director of sales and catering for the Concord Clarion Hotel and a representative for Visit Concord, formerly Visit Diablo Valley.
Concord offers nine hotels with 1,300 guest rooms, including the meetings-friendly Concord Crowne Plaza, Hilton Concord and Concord Clarion Hotel, and such attractions as Water World and the Concord Pavilion, a major concert venue available for events. New on the scene is Round1, an activity center featuring bowling, billiards and other games.
“We say we’re the sunnier side of the Bay—a little niche that is the best-kept secret,” Gay-Harris said. “We do well with corporate SMERF and government business—we’re convenient to Sacramento—and we do very well with the sports market, particularly youth tournaments.”
Greater Palm Springs, Calif.
Greater Palm Springs, with its communities of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage, Cathedral City, Indio, Desert Hot Springs and La Quinta, can be a surprisingly affordable alternative to L.A. and other Southern California coastal cities, even during the winter and spring high season, according to Rick Blackburn, vice president of convention sales and services for the Greater Palm Springs CVB.
“A lot of planners don’t think they can come here during March and April, but the secret is to book midweek and not on weekends when we have our big music festivals and other events,” he said. “Midweek is actually a value time for us year-round. Summer is still our lower season, but we’re getting more business then than we used to, so the difference is less.”
Another surprise to planners is the array of activities available in Greater Palm Springs, including a Bike and Brew tour highlighting the region’s craft breweries and the new BMW Performance Driving School at Thermal, an event site where attendees can put the pedal to the metal on the racetrack.
The hotel scene includes upcoming additions for downtown Palm Springs, including Virgin Hotels Palm Springs and Andaz Palm Springs, both scheduled for a 2018 opening. In La Quinta, construction is expected to start this year on Silver Rock Resort, which will feature a 140-room luxury hotel, a 200-room lifestyle hotel, a 71,000-square-foot conference center and a 5,000-square-foot event lawn and patio.