As the bleisure trend continues, more groups are looking to small and mid-size cities for immersive local experiences.
“Travel Dubuque offers a lot for groups, especially when looking for the small details,” says Julie Kronlage, VP of sales, Travel Dubuque. “From helping gather hotel room rates to planning off-site events for groups of 5 to 500, we can do pretty much whatever the planner needs.”
Culinary experiences in Dubuque include Convivium Urban Farmstead, a nonprofit created to improve connections between food, the environment and the community. It offers cooking and gardening classes, as well as educational demonstrations of processes such as creating maple syrup and extracting honey. Groups can also take an interactive tour of the urban farm and facility that teaches about its mission and outreach efforts to increase access to healthy food in Dubuque, highlights small space gardening techniques and invites participants to eat their way through the gardens tasting herbs, tomatoes, oranges, strawberries and more.
Located in the Historic Millwork District of Dubuque, Brazen Open Kitchen is a unique restaurant by chef/owner Kevin Scharpf, a former Top Chef Contestant. With no freezers on site, every dish on the menu is made using seasonally fresh ingredients.
“Dubuque is certainly more than another river community,” says Kronlage. “It’s a progressive and sustainable community that is constantly striving to grow, while keeping to our roots. Our meeting venues, off-site locations, attractions, restaurants and community members truly know the meaning of hospitality and we show it every day. If you haven’t checked out Dubuque before, what are you waiting for.”
Schmidt Island, located on the Mississippi River, is home to the Q Casino and Hilton Garden Inn. The Q Casino has announced a $75 million expansion that will include new meeting spaces and outdoor venues, as well as a new hotel and upgrades to the casino.
The Field of Dreams Movie Site is currently undergoing a major expansion. The site used in the 1989 movie will remain the same, but the renovation has converted an 1870s barn into a 2,600-sf event center that can accommodate up to 150 guests. Additionally, a new stadium is currently under construction that will feature opportunities for off-site events and meetings.
“Gatlinburg is not short on spectacular dining options and now award-winning country music star Jason Aldean is bringing his namesake rooftop bar and restaurant to Gatlinburg,” says Dave Esslinger, VP of sales & marketing, Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Jason Aldean’s Kitchen + Rooftop Bar is going to be located on the Parkway in the heart of Gatlinburg. This convenient location is walking distance to most lodging properties, Anakeesta and Ripley’s Aquarium. “Jason Aldean’s Kitchen + Rooftop Bar in Gatlinburg joins other celebrity namesake restaurants like Blake Shelton’s Ole Red and Chef Guy Fieri’s Chicken Guy.”
New openings in Gatlinburg include The Embassy Suites by Hilton Convention & Resort Gatlinburg, slated to open in the fourth quarter of 2023. The 164-room resort will be located on Airport Road, just 0.4 miles from the Gatlinburg Convention Center and will offer 7,800 sf of flexible meeting space, a large courtyard for outdoor events and a resort-style pool with slide and lazy river as well as an indoor pool. Other anticipated openings for 2023 include the 125-room Comfort Inn Suites and the 100-room Mainstay Suites.
Trailhead Plaza is a new venue that combines the setting of a mountain getaway with the facilities of an indoor event space. The venue can accommodate up to 80 persons in round seating and is equipped with two large screens for AV connectivity as well as a cozy fireplace. An open-air patio adjacent to Trailhead Plaza allows for larger groups.
Groups seeking a unique activity that gives attendees an immersive local arts scene experience can explore The Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community. Situated along an 8-mile loop road that includes more than 100 independent artisans, the area is home to the largest arts and crafts community in North America and offers a unique “Create Your Own” program. Participating shops offer hands-on workshops for attendees to make their own crafts to take home.
“The trend in bleisure travel continues, and MICE groups continue to bring family members along before or after the meeting,” says Esslinger. “Gatlinburg is ideal for family adventures with Anakeesta, a 70+-acre award-winning mountaintop theme park with spectacular panoramic views, shopping, dining and thrill-seeking rides. For more action, there’s the Gatlinburg Skylift Park, home to the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America. Ober Mountain is open year-round with its rides, eateries, mountain biking and wildlife. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, with its array of fish and other aquatic life, is one of America’s best and a must-see. Keep the fun flowing with ziplining, miniature golf, horseback riding, whitewater rafting.”
“MICE groups looking to take advantage of Glendale’s entertainment district now have more options than just large meeting spaces and lodging amenities,” says Christian Green, economic development officer, Visit Glendale. “We are able to give attendees a full destination experience that allows them to create memories around their trip. With a wide array of meeting venues, we are able to help groups expand their footprints past a ballroom and into our entire city.”
The Westgate Entertainment District offers a wide range of culinary experiences, including the new Tulum Modern Mexican restaurant offering an elevated Mexican dining experience, as well as the woman-owned Turquoise Wine Cellar & Tasting Room, offering customized wine tastings for groups and wine education classes. Sugar Factory American Brasserie is also set to open a location in Glendale this year catering to groups with a sweet tooth. The new premises will offer 9,400 sf of indoor space and more than 1,275 sf outdoors, and can be used for unique private events.
“Glendale is a city on the rise, with exhilarating development underway,” says Green. “Experiential nightlife such as Andretti Indoor Carting and Chicken N Pickle are in the process of being built, along with Pop Stroke that just opened its doors in February. Additionally, Rainbow Ryders will now be headquartered in Glendale with hot air balloon rides just minutes from the Sports & Entertainment district. In 2024, we’ll see the return of the NCAA Men’s Final Four games, as well as the opening of the country’s first Mattel Adventure Park and VAI Resort. Groups are able to host their events without the need of a tour bus as entertainment is right within walking distance.”
“Attendees are looking for new and innovative experiences,” says Elizabeth Schrack, director of communications, Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau. “They’re trending younger and are more technologically savvy. They like technology that is easy to navigate and meetings that keep them engaged. They also like hands-on experiences at their events. Chicken N Pickle, a new establishment in Grapevine, allows just that. It’s an indoor/outdoor pickleball venue complete with yard games and great food and beverage.”
New culinary experiences in Grapevine include Harvest Hall, a European-style food hall within Grapevine Main, which offers seven unique kitchens for a culinary world tour. Mister O1 Pizza has recently opened in the Historic Main Street District offering an Italian menu of pizzas, calzones and burratas from chef and founder Renato Viola. Chama Gaucha also opened this year offering an assortment of high-quality meats, carved tableside by swift-moving trained Brazilian chefs.
Meow Wolf Grapevine will open in July of this year. The 29,000-sf space will offer an immersive, interactive, psychedelic art wonderland with a mysterious underlying story—a unique option for groups looking for a memorable experience. The Hilton DFW Lakes is currently undergoing a multimillion-dollar room renovation to be completed later this year, while The Gaylord Texan Resort and the Great Wolf Lodge both recently completed full renovations of their meeting spaces.
“Our sales team is happy to report that meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions have returned full-force following the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Schrack. “People look forward to meeting in-person once again, to safely learn, collaborate and network.”
gatlinburg.com/meetings-and-conventions; meetdubuque.com; visitglendale.com/meetings; grapevinetexasusa.com/meetings