Omaha, Neb., and Council Bluffs, Iowa, are far from twin cities, but their proximity to one another makes for a multifaceted destination equipped to serve a wide variety of meeting preferences. While Omaha percolates with urban excitement and Council Bluffs has a more laid-back vibe, both offer groups outstanding amenities, accessibility and services.
Omaha is gearing up to welcome expanded convention business with further enhancements to its burgeoning Capitol District, a dining and entertainment area surrounding CenturyLink Center Omaha, the city’s 225,000-square-foot convention center and arena. Scheduled to open this summer, the Omaha Marriott Downtown at the Capitol District will be a 338-room property that will serve as a convention headquarters hotel, as does the nearby Hilton Omaha.
“The opening of the Marriott will give us two full-service hotels immediately by CenturyLink, which will greatly enhance our convention package,” said Cathy Keller, vice president of sales for Visit Omaha. “It will also give us a total of 2,800 hotel rooms in the convention center vicinity and be a great addition for the many planners who are loyal to Marriott.”
With an eye on increasing national association business, Visit Omaha recently opened a sales office in Washington, D.C.
“We’ve always targeted the national association market, but now we’re really going full-steam ahead,” Keller said. “We’re telling planners who are considering a Midwest destination to take a look at us. We’re easy to get to from either coast and we’re a great value.”
In addition to growth in association business, Omaha is seeing an uptick from the corporate meetings market, particularly in the science and engineering sectors, according to Keller. Religious meetings are another strong area for Omaha, which is hosting the Religious Conference Management Association annual convention next January.
Along with the Capitol District, the nearby Old Market district is also a magnet for visitors. The repurposed turn-of-the-century marketplace houses dozens of shops and restaurants in vintage brick buildings and is home to several stylish new hotels, including the Hyatt Place Omaha/Downtown–Old Market and the Residence Inn Omaha Downtown/Old Market Area, which is located in a restored Art Deco federal building from the 1930s.
“The Old Market, which has over 30 restaurants, is very popular for dine-arounds,” Keller said. “It’s also great for culinary walking tours and bike and brew tours where you can sample craft beers.”
Among the city’s newest areas for business and entertainment is Midtown Crossing, which offers some of Omaha’s most acclaimed restaurants as well as the Element Omaha Midtown Crossing.
West Omaha draws meetings to its cluster of group-friendly hotels in the 72nd and Grover streets area. Several properties have undergone major renovations, including the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Omaha Southwest, Aksarben Suites Omaha and the former Ramada Plaza, now the Hotel RL by Red Lion Omaha with 365 rooms and 60,000 square feet of conference space and meeting rooms.
According to Keller, many planners who come to Omaha for site visits for the first time are surprised to find how much the city offers in the way of dining, entertainment, off-site venues and support from the CVB and community at large.
“Our services department is here to hold your hand and walk you through everything,” she said. “Plus, when a convention group is in town, everyone knows it. You are completely embraced by the hospitality industry—the restaurants, bars, hotels and attractions.”
Omaha is especially proud of its wealth of off-site venues, many of them offering upgraded enhancements, Keller said.
Among these is Lauritzen Gardens, a 100-acre expanse of botanical gardens and art installations overlooking the Missouri River Valley. A new addition to the gardens is the Marjorie K. Daugherty Conservatory, a stunning glass structure filled with tropical plants and exotic flower displays. Groups can enjoy customized tours or events at spaces such as the Great Hall, which holds up to 320 people and opens onto a garden terrace overlooking the river.
Last year the nearby Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, ranked as one of the world’s top zoos, unveiled the largest project in its history, the $73 million African Grasslands, a 28-acre habitat for elephants, giraffes, rhinos, lions, cheetahs and other animals.