As groups begin to reconnect, many planners are considering more regional destinations to bring teams together, offering hyperlocal incentive activities and plenty of wide-open space.
“In Atlantic City you can become as creative as you’d like with our outdoor space, specifically the world-famous Boardwalk and free beaches,” says Larry Sieg, president and CEO of Visit Atlantic City. “The outdoor event space is ample throughout each casino resort and many venues have transformed their space since the pandemic to accommodate larger outdoor events. Groups are also attracted to our award-winning golf courses and abundance of water activities. Meeting, connecting and conducting business by the sea, what more could you ask for?”
Later this year, Caesars Entertainment will debut the Nobu Hotel Atlantic City, a hotel-within-a-hotel concept that follows the recent opening of the Nobu Atlantic City restaurant at Caesars Atlantic City.
Set to open in June 2023 at Caesars Atlantic City is The Hook, which will be the city’s only permanent entertainment destination. The new venue will be located in what was once the iconic Warner Theatre, which opened on the Atlantic City Boardwalk in 1929. The Hook is the brainchild of Spiegelworld, the entertainment company responsible for celebrated Las Vegas shows such as Absinthe. As well as a purpose-built 400-seat theater, the venue will also include Spiegelworld’s Italian-American restaurant Superfrico, and several bars with an elevated cocktail program curated by award-winning mixologists.
Atlantic City’s Steel Pier has announced two new rollercoasters set to debut in the coming years. A spinning coaster is expected to open in 2024, and a Skyrocket II model rollercoaster will open in 2025. The Steel Pier can be closed off for total buyouts that include all rides and attractions.
Showboat Resort has announced a $50 million renovation project that will remodel the property’s 800 rooms, suites, lobby and common areas. The renovation will be completed in time for the opening of the resort’s $100 million ISLAND Waterpark, which will be completed this summer.
“Attendees are looking for more experiences outdoors and ways to reconnect to their teams, attendees and even themselves,” says Brian Bossuyt, executive VP, Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau. “There’s no shortage of experiences available in the Pocono Mountains. We have resorts that are lakeside or mountainside, large water park resorts, casino and adults-only resorts. It truly depends on if the guests are looking for a more quiet experience like a wellness retreat or something more thrilling like driving a stock car or white-water rafting.”
Great Wolf Lodge in the Pocono Mountains is set to expand with the addition of a new 200-room tower, as well as 30 ten-room villas with their own private patios, fire pits and check-in area. The resort’s water park is also set to expand and two new F&B options are in the works. Opening late 2024, The Swiftwater Hotel will be an upscale, eco-friendly boutique hotel with 100 guest rooms, meeting space and an indoor/outdoor pool. The independently owned property will be situated directly behind the owners’ desaki Japanese hibachi restaurant and connected by a covered walkway.
“We are an agile industry that has rebounded faster than anyone anticipated,” says Bossuyt. “You simply can’t replace in-person events. The need to get folks together is essential for collaboration, especially with entire teams working from home. We have seen growth beyond pre-pandemic levels and we are optimistic for future growth.”
“More than a resort, Mount Airy Casino Resort is a destination,” says Hassan Abdel-Moneim, VP of resort operations, Mount Airy Casino Resort. “Nestled in the beautiful Pocono Mountains, attendees can bring their plus-ones to partake in everything Mount Airy and the surrounding area have to offer. Enjoy non-stop gaming, picturesque hiking trails, a championship golf course, world-class spa and award-winning dining on-property. Easily accessible from major interstates and less than 15 miles from many area attractions, we are the perfect meeting choice.”
New at Mount Airy Casino Resort is a concierge service that can not only plan on-property needs such as dining, but can also plan an entire itinerary that includes area attractions and off-property dining. Incentive experiences in the surrounding area include horseback riding, ziplining, wine tasting, shopping, water/snow sports and more.
“It used to be enough to just have great meeting space and AV in a property,” says Abdel-Moneim. “Meeting attendees now have higher expectations of being entertained, and savvy meeting planners look for experiential meeting sites that offer more than just a hotel room and space. Many meeting planners will choose casinos due to the increase in attendance for their event. Casino, golf, pool and spa as well as varieties of food and a host of local area attractions make Mount Airy a more dynamic choice for the experienced meeting planner.”
“Bleisure travel is becoming more of a focus for meeting attendees, and Niagara Falls is the perfect destination to bring both realms together,” says Reanna Darone, director of convention sales, Destination Niagara USA. “Niagara Falls is a bucket list trip for many, and meeting planners find success in attracting attendees to an event through the iconic experiences such as the Maid of the Mist and Cave of the Winds while in the destination. Often attendees enjoy bringing a spouse or family along and extending their trips to maximize their stay.”
May 2023 will see the opening of the new $46 million, 28,000-sf Welcome Center in Niagara Falls State Park. The facility will include an immersive experience and exhibits highlighting natural, industrial and Indigenous American history. A new Cambria hotel is also set to open this year, and will be within walking distance of Niagara Falls State Park and the Niagara Falls Convention Center, providing a convenient option for MICE groups.
Top incentive experiences at the destination include jet boat tours on the Niagara River; Rainbow Air helicopter tours that allow visitors to experience a bird’s-eye view of the Falls; Skydive the Falls, which offers an exhilarating freefall experience over the Falls; as well as the Maid of the Mist boat ride and unique Cave of the Winds experiences, which are only offered on the U.S. side of Niagara Falls.
“Currently there is a demand in the industry for third-tier cities like Niagara Falls to host meetings, as some people are still hesitant to meet in really large numbers,” says Darone. “Regional meetings are becoming much more of a focus.”
“The top incentive and teambuilding experience in Newport, RI is recreating an America’s Cup Challenge in the waters where the races were held for over 50 years, and then celebrating with a special awards ceremony that evening,” says Tim Walsh, VP of sales at Discover Newport. “Newport is known as the ‘Sailing Capital of the World’ and the America’s Cup is the world’s oldest continually contested sporting trophy representing the pinnacle of international sailing yacht competitions, which adds to the overall excitement of this event.
“For your event, the attendees are grouped into teams and assigned a classic monohull 12-meter racing yacht they will guide through the waters of Newport harbor along with a professional staff. Each person is shown their responsibility to keep the boat at top speed while they are taken on a tour of the race route. Then they’re off to race against their colleagues. The exhilarating day is capped off with a dinner event awarding trophies and accolades to the winning team at a Gilded Age mansion built as a Newport ‘Summer Cottage’ when the America’s Cup races first began. It’s a day your attendees are sure to remember and talk about for years to come.”
The 208-room Hotel Viking recently completed renovations to its guest rooms and meeting space, and will begin renovations to its restaurant and lounge area this year. Pebblebrook Hotel Trust has purchased a 257-room property on Goat Island, which will be rebranded as Newport Harbor Island Resort, with major renovations set to begin in the winter of 2023.
The Sailing Museum, which houses the National Sailing Hall of Fame and America’s Cup Hall of Fame, recently opened in Newport. It features hands-on exhibits and has added to Newport’s portfolio of offsite venues for receptions and dinners. Along with the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport now boasts two Halls of Fame for tours and private events.
Newport Craft Brewing & Distilling Company is set to triple its space to 30,000 sf in 2024, which will add a beer garden and provide a new offsite venue offering sporting games, brewery tours and tasting and locally produced spirits.
“Newport has always been known for outdoor activities including harbor excursions, Cliff Walk guided trail walks, Rail Explorers, croquet tournaments at the Tennis Hall of Fame, food tours and others,” says Walsh. “The year-round activities keep Newport vibrant and interesting in the shoulder season with offerings such as mixology classes, glass blowing and custom cutting board creations, allowing attendees to mix and mingle while being creative. It is more important than ever to get colleagues together, face-to-face, participating in activities that foster collaboration and communication. Post-COVID, meetings initially decreased in the number of attendees. Newport has always been an ideal destination for groups of five to 500 and planners are taking advantage of this expertise offered in the destination.”
poconomountains.com/meetings; mountairycasino.com/meetings; visitatlanticcity.com; niagarameetings.com; discovernewport.org/meetings