Meetings Focus, by Jack Boulware It's increasingly common to consider the Pacific Northwest a progressive, technology-friendly region with national prominence in computers and aerospace. Not to mention the world's largest free wireless hot spot (Hermiston, in rural northeast Oregon, I kid you not). But the majestic natural beauty and volumes of good fresh air have always been the premier draws in Washington and Oregon, and planners can count on plenty of interesting ways to incorporate the great outdoors into agendas.
In addition to computers and coffee, the world's capital of Microsoft and Starbucks offers numerous options for world-class meetings and conventions.
Planners can book groups at venues such as the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, within walking distance of more than 6,000 guest rooms housed in a variety of meetings hotels, or the Bell Harbor International Conference Center. After the meeting, delegates are treated to amenities such as Pike Place, the Seattle Art Museum and the landmark Space Needle, with its panoramic views of the city.
The Emerald City's cosmopolitan urban experience is first-rate, but planners can also plant delegates in the heart of nature.
Just outside Seattle are several unique environments for delegates to literally get their feet wet, according to Tom Norwalk, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Seattle's CVB.
"Water excursions are popular with visiting groups," Norwalk says. "Tillicum Village features a scenic four-hour tour by boat from Pier 55 on the Seattle Waterfront to Blake Island in Puget Sound. Once on the island, guests are treated to a taste of First Nations Native American culture with a delicious appetizer of steamed clams and nectar, a traditional salmon bake and dances and legends from Northwest Tribes-all in an authentic Native American longhouse that seats 850."
Other popular excursions from Seattle include tours of wineries such as Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia, seaplane "flight-seeing" trips and skiing in the Cascade Mountains, located one hour east of the city.
The destinations surrounding Seattle brim with group venues and accommodations, in addition to a wealth of scenic surroundings.
Just east of Seattle is the growing city of Bellevue, home to the Meydenbauer Center, one of the area's preferred group facilities, while the cities of Lynnwood and Everett, set in Snohomish County just north of the city, attract groups with new facilities such as the Everett Events Center and the Lynnwood Convention Center, as well as the Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour.
Farther north, Bellingham offers facilities such as Western Washington University and Hotel Bellwether, while the San Juan Islands feature inns for smaller groups.
In Seattle Southside, which comprises the cities of SeaTac, Kent and Tukwila, groups meeting at any of the area hotels are in close proximity to Seattle International Airport, and farther south, Tacoma recently opened the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center, a high-tech facility that also boasts views of Mount Rainier.
On the western side of the Olympic Peninsula, the dynamic Washington coast never disappoints, and Ocean Shores has made it even more meetings-friendly with a brand-new 29,000-square-foot convention center.
"This is Washington state's only oceanside convention center," says Ace Martin, sales director of the Ocean Shores Convention Center. "There are over 1,000 group hotel rooms within three blocks of the convention center, most of which command spectacular views from their beachside locations."
Ocean Shores' Quinault Beach Resort and Casino is another top choice, with 16,000 square feet of function space.
From almost anywhere in the region surrounding Seattle, the great outdoors is close at hand.
In Snohomish County, one unique venue set in the middle of nature is the River Rock Inn Bed and Breakfast near Arlington. The property offers a 1,300-square-foot Great Room, which seats up to 60 people and is surrounded by fir log posts, towering beams and a massive stone fireplace. A large wall of windows provides postcard views of a trout pond and five acres of forest.
Snohomish County also offers lots of hands-on, experiential tour options, from hot-air ballooning to river rafting, orca whale watching, river float trips, and estuary tours.
In Bellingham, summertime sunset cruises on Bellingham Bay instill an appreciation of the destination's natural history and picturesque surroundings, while at the San Juan Islands, accessible via boat from Bellingham or float plane from various destinations in the region, popular activities include whale watching, sea kayaking, charter fishing, and naturalist-guided eco-tours, courtesy of San Juan Safaris.
In Seattle Southside, groups can take advantage of the 15 miles of paved riverside trails, hiking in the mountains, tours to Mount Rainier National Park, excursions on the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train, and picnics in the many state parks nearby.
"The view of Mount Rainier is visible from almost any location in the Southside," says Karla Lindula of the Seattle Southside Visitor Center. "Cedarbrook Center is the area's hidden meeting resort, two minutes from the airport but nestled in 18 acres of natural wetlands. This leadership development center has overnight amenities, meeting space and beautiful scenery and trails on the property."
With Tacoma's many intriguing museums and nearby outdoor pursuits, the city likes to bill itself as the place "Where art and nature meet." After checking out attractions such as the Museum of Glass, attendees can take a leisurely hike in the Cascade foothills, head east to Mount Rainier National Park, river raft near Crystal Mountain, or kayak on Commencement Bay.
On the Olympic Peninsula, groups meeting in destinations such as Ocean Shores can hit the beaches for whale and bird watching, horseback riding, clam digging, kite flying, and biking. Planners also often book ferry rides to Westport or visits to the Lady Washington, a working replica of an 18th century tall ship.
On the other side of the state in eastern Washington, Spokane is well equipped for smooth events, with a growing list of facilities as well as outdoor excursion options.
The Spokane Convention Center is a major regional venue, situated in downtown within walking distance of world-class hotels, dining and shopping. An $89 million expansion of the facility is slated for completion this summer, and it has already translated into a 15 percent increase in national group business, according to Pam Scott of the Spokane Regional CVB.
Just outside the convention center's back door, the Centennial Trail provides delegates with more than 70 miles of walking space along the Spokane River.
Scott says groups also often take in the natural surroundings through rafting trips on the Spokane River by Pangaea Expeditions; winery tours of Arbor Crest; and trips to the Cat Tales Endangered Species Park or one of the many family farms of Green Bluff, where delegates can pick their own fruit. Inland Empire Tours offers outings to nearby wineries, parks and the Grand Coulee Dam.
Central and Southern Washington
Central and southern Washington encompass several meetings-ready communities, including the ever-growing city of Vancouver, with its new Clark County Exhibition Center; the Tri-Cities area of Pasco, Richland and Kennewick, home to the Three Rivers Convention Center; Yakima, featuring the Yakima Convention Center; and Wenatchee Valley, offering the Wenatchee Convention Center.
The entire region features some of the most stunning vistas in the state, and winery and agricultural tours, world-class golfing and skiing, and scenic walking and hiking excursions are among the favorite activities for groups.
Regional CVBs can set up day trips ranging from river rafting to ice age geology tours. And sometimes, just leaving the hotel or convention center for a walk is the most refreshing way to recharge the batteries, as is the case in Wenatchee.
"The Riverwalk Crossing pedestrian bridge joins the downtown corridor with a 10-mile bike/walk trail that loops via an historical bridge to East Wenatchee and back again," says Wendy Le Sesne, group sales manager at the Wenatchee Valley CVB. "The loop goes through beautiful scenic parks and natural wildlife areas, and through the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia rivers. This trail is only a couple of blocks from most of the hotel properties, and it's the easiest, quickest way to get into nature."
Groups meeting in Yakima and the Tri-Cities area are within easy reach of Washington's ever-popular wine country, and planners can organize tours or off-site events at several of the countryside venues, where attendees can savor the locally produced wine and enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings.
Additionally, golf courses in the region provide scenic off-time diversions, while the area's rivers are ideal for rafting, fly-fishing and wildlife viewing, and plenty of trails lead hikers and bikers to natural treasures.
In Vancouver, the Southwest Washington CVB works with local tour companies to customize group excursions to Mount St. Helens. Hiking trips in the Columbia River Gorge and visits to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge can also be easily configured for outdoor itineraries.
Fresh-air meeting facilities include Fort Clatsop, a new 2,000-square-foot outdoor addition to Vancouver's rustic Heathman Lodge.
East of Vancouver along the Columbia River is Skamania Lodge mountain resort and conference center, surrounded by waterfalls, peaks, forests, and canyons of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The 254-room wilderness retreat has an IACC-certified conference center, a spa and an 18-hole golf course.
Delegates are almost guaranteed a "green" experience in Portland, an eco-friendly metro with 37,000 acres of parkland, solar-powered parking meters and numerous buildings that have been stamped with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
For planners, Portland is a Northwest favorite, with its recently expanded Oregon Convention Center, meetings-friendly hotels and compact, inviting downtown, in addition to its scenic setting and proximity to Mount Hood, soaring more than 11,000 feet as the highest point in the state.
Delegates can enjoy the city's 37,000 acres of open spaces, top-ranked golf courses and excellent biking. In fact, according to Bicycling magazine, Portland is America's No. 1 city for two-wheeled fun and exercise.
Day trips lead groups to the Oregon Coast, the Columbia River Gorge, the wine country, and Mount Hood, an adventure playground that has four ski resorts and North America's longest ski season, as well as intimate properties for smaller groups wishing to convene in the area.
"Mount Hood has year-round skiing and snowboarding," says Genevieve Scholl-Erdmann, destination marketing director of the Hood River County Chamber of Commerce. "Conference attendees could quite literally go skiing in the morning, windsurfing in the afternoon and still have time for a round of twilight golf at Indian Creek Golf course."
Groups can rent equipment or secure guides and instructors through outdoor recreation outfitters that offer everything from mountain biking and road cycling to white-water kayaking, windsurfing and kiteboarding. The Pacific Crest Trail also runs through the area, and hiking is a major summertime activity.
For motorcoach or driving tours, the newly designated Mount Hood National Scenic Byway provides a ready-made itinerary, and the area is also home to the Oregon Cascades Birding Trail, a great wildlife-watching area that draws birders from around the globe.
Additionally, the Sternwheeler Columbia Gorge departs from Cascade Locks for daily cruises of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, while the historic Mount Hood Railroad offers excursion trains into the scenic Hood River Valley. Both options can be customized as dinner and brunch excursions for groups.
Just west of Portland, another alternative for meetings is Washington County, known as the "Countryside of Portland."
The region, which comprises several communities, provides 5,500 hotel rooms and more than 165,000 square feet of meeting space, and as its nickname attests, plenty of beautiful scenery. Hiking, biking, golfing, hot-air ballooning, and wine-tasting are among the activities on tap in the 727-square-mile region.
Planners will find an array of meeting sites along the Willamette Valley corridor, which is backdropped by the Cascade Mountains and includes the communities of Eugene-Springfield, Salem and Corvallis.
Eugene-Springfield is part of Lane County, where group venues include the Lane Events Center, with 70,000 square feet of function space, McKenzie River Conference Center, the Center for Meeting & Learning at Lane Community College, and the Hilton Eugene and Conference Center. The University of Oregon is also located in Lane County.
In Corvallis, home to Oregon State University (OSU), 80,000 square feet of meeting space is available at the OSU Conference Complex.
The Salem Conference Center, which opened last March with 29,000 square feet of function space, is the Willamette Valley's newest facility, while Salem also offers the Oregon State Fair and Expo Center, which recently opened a 110,000-square-foot pavilion.
Groups that step outdoors in the Willamette Valley have a variety of ways to explore the scenery beyond their doorstep.
"The area is a quiltwork of wineries, rivers, gardens, and historic sites that make pre- and post-meeting activities attractive," says Irene Bernards, tourism marketing director at the Salem CVB. "A tour might consist of wine tasting; hiking behind waterfalls in Oregon's largest state park, Silver Falls; bird watching at one of the National Wildlife Refuges, experiencing acres of iris or tulips at peak season, or sliding down a hay bale slide at a working agricultural farm."
With a landscape that runs from the Cascade Mountains to the coast, Lane County is well positioned to cater to outdoor adventurers and nature lovers. On the coast, groups can explore the world's largest sea lion cave and miles of sand dunes, or go whale watching and horseback riding on the beach. In the inland parts of Lane County, the Willamette Valley offers scenic golf courses and wineries for tastings and events, the McKenzie River Valley is prime territory for white-water rafting, cycling, hiking, and fly-fishing, and the Cascade Mountains dish out waterfalls, old-growth forest and ski slopes.
Corvallis also has its share of nature-oriented options, from garden tours and visits to vineyards to wildlife watching at dozens of parks and wilderness preserves. One unique option for groups, according to John Hope-Johnstone, CEO of Corvallis Tourism, is the ropes course at the OSU Conference Complex.
Southern and Central Oregon
Southern and central Oregon introduce delegates to a host of meeting facilities in Medford and Bend, and the wide open spaces are certain to clear the head and rejuvenate the senses.
Medford's group facilities include the Jackson County Expo Fairground and a handful of full-service hotels with meeting space, while in the Bend region, located on the eastern edge of the Cascade Mountains, planners can book groups at properties that take in the outdoor appeal of the region, including Mount Bachelor Village Resort and Conference Center, Sunriver Resort and Kah-Nee-Ta High Desert Resort and Casino, or head to the Deschutes County Fairground Expo Center in Redmond.
With Medford's location in the center of the Rogue River Valley, the destination offers ample rafting, canoeing and fishing, while winery tours are also increasingly popular among groups. Day trips can be arranged to Crater Lake National Park and Oregon Caves National Monument, and small groups can take a thrilling trip down the Rogue River with Hellgate Jetboat Excursion.
One of Bend's major selling points is its close proximity to outdoor recreation, says Maureen Mattingly, communications manager of the Bend Visitor and Convention Bureau.
"Whether it's winter snow sports or summer hiking, mountain biking, fishing, or rafting, it's all literally steps away, making it convenient to schedule leisure fun around meetings. Many groups use companies such as Wanderlust Tours or Sun Country Tours for their outdoor team-building activities."
Mattingly adds that Wanderlust has even taken Nike executives snowshoeing to the top of Mount Bachelor, and Central Oregon Adventures can take attendees on guided snowmobile tours and ATV excursions.
Coastal Oregon spans nearly 400 miles of idyllic oceanfront and offers a variety of waterfront meeting space and lodging in the destinations of Astoria, Seaside, Lincoln City, Florence, and Coos Bay.
In quaint Astoria, filled with Victorian homes, groups can meet at properties such as the historic, newly renovated Hotel Elliott, and just south of Astoria, Seaside boasts the Seaside Civic and Convention Center.
Farther down the coast, Lincoln City offers meeting facilities at various hotels and a convention center at the Chinook Winds Casino, and in the Florence area, Driftwood Shores Resort and Conference Center is an inviting choice.
With its waterfront beauty and inland valleys, coastal Oregon is a big draw for outdoor enthusiasts.
In Astoria, groups can arrange full-service river cruises, fishing trips and eco-tours, and with 1,500 oceanfront guest rooms, the ocean is always on view in Lincoln City, while post-meeting activities include bird and whale watching, and fishing, canoeing and kayaking at nearby Devil's Lake.
Pendleton, which has a 24,000-square-foot convention center, is the most-frequented group destination in eastern Oregon, and there are several unique meetings property options in the area, including the Western-themed Bar M Guest Ranch and the newly upgraded Wildhorse Resort and Casino, featuring 18 holes of golf. Both properties are set in the foothills of the Blue Mountains.
Eastern Oregon's landscape includes rolling valleys, rugged mountains and canyons crisscrossed by rivers. Many delegates enjoy taking tours of Lake Owyhee Dam and agricultural sites in the area, and the Pendleton area's 2.5-mile Umatilla River Walkway is a favorite with runners and bikers.
For More Info
Bellevue Convention Sales Group 425.450.3721 www.bellevueconventions.com
Bellingham/Whatcom County CVB 360.671.3990 www.bellingham.org
North Olympic Peninsula Visitor and Convention Bureau 360.452.8552 www.northwestsecretplaces.com
Ocean Shores Convention Center 360.289.4411 www.oceanshoresmeetings.com
Olympia/Thurston County Visitor and Convention Bureau 360.704.7544 www.visitolympia.com
San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau 360.378.6822 www.guidetosanjuans.com
Seattle's CVB 206.461.5800 www.seeseattle.org
Seattle Southside Visitor Center 206.575.2489 www.seattlesouthside.com
Snohomish County Tourism Bureau 425.348.5802 www.snohomish.org
Southwest Washington CVB 360.750.1553 www.southwestwashington.com
Spokane Regional CVB 509.624.1341 www.visitspokane.com
Tacoma Regional CVB 253.627.2836 www.traveltacoma.com
Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau 509.735.8486 www.visittri-cities.com
Washington State Tourism Department 360.725.5052 www.tourism.wa.gov
Wenatchee Valley CVB 509.663.3723 www.wenatcheevalley.org
Yakima Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau 509.575.3010 www.visityakima.com
Ashland COC 541.482.3486 www.ashlandchamber.com
Astoria/Warrenton Area COC 503.325.6311 www.oldoregon.com
Bay Area COC 541.266.0868 www.oregonsbayareachamber.com
Bend Visitor and Convention BureauBureau 541.382.8048Bureau www.visitbend.org
Clackamas County Tourism Development Council 503.655.8490 www.mthoodterritory.com
Convention and Visitors Association of Lane County 541.484.5307 www.visitlanecounty.org
Corvallis Tourism CVB 541.757.1544 www.visitcorvallis.com
CVB of Washington County,Ore. 503.644.5555 www.countrysideofportland.com
Greater Newport COC 541.265.8801 www.newportchamber.org
Hood River County COC 541.386.2000 www.hoodriver.org
Lincoln City Visitor and Convention Bureau 541.996.1274 www.oregoncoast.org
Medford Visitors and Convention Bureau 541.779.4847 www.visitmedford.org
Ontario Visitor and Convention Bureau 541.889.8012 www.ontariochamber.com
Oregon Tourism Commission 503.378.8850 www.traveloregon.com
Pendleton COC 541.276.7411 www.pendleton-oregon.org
Portland Oregon Visitors Association 503.275.9750 www.travelportland.com
Roseburg CVB 541.672.9731 www.visitroseburg.com
Salem CVB 503.581.4325 www.travelsalem.com
Seaside Visitors Bureau 503.738.3097 www.seasideor.com
Upper Rogue Regional Tourism Alliance 541.878.3626 www.upperrogue.org